This twin spired palace on the edge of the Danube, adjacent to the Elisabeth Bridge, was intended as a welcome to those crossing the bridge when it was built in 1902. A neo-baroque confection commissioned by royalty, Her Imperial and Royal Highness Maria Klotild of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, it quickly became a social hub in the city. Now after opening in late June as the hotel Matild Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Budapest, it aims to take that place in the Hungarian capital again.
The transformation, achieved over the course of five years, restored the intricate features of the UNESCO World Heritage Site designated palace and blended them with contemporary design and amenities. The elaborate façade, passageways, grand staircase, carved plaster details and café were brought back to Belle Epoque opulence under the strict watch of the city’s Monumental Authority supervisors intent on maintaining the building’s historical integrity. London based MKV Design then injected modern touches such as sleek, curved couches and chairs in jewel tones, geometric metal accents and spray of crystal chandeliers.
That historic/contemporary blend is carried over in the 111 rooms and 19 suites, many of which include fish bone design parquet floors, handcrafted headboards, high ceilings, views of the Danube and bathrooms tiled in gradient blue mosaic tiles punctuated with gold. Particularly special are the rooftop Loft Rooms with slanted windows, formerly the domains of Archduchess Maria’s artistic friends, the 818 square foot duplex Crown Tower Suite within a 157 foot tall tower inspired by an Austrian archduke’s crown affording 360 degree panoramic views of the Danube and the city and the Maria Klotild Royal Suite, expandable to a three bedroom 2906 square foot complex.
The culinary aspects of the hotel are also designed to attract attention. Native Austrian Wolfgang Puck is returning to Central Europe with a version of his most famous restaurant, here named Spago by Wolfgang Puck, Budapest, with dishes ranging from Chinois lamb chops to the trademark smoked salmon pizza. Puck is also overseeing the mostly raw bar menu at The Duchess, the rooftop bar serving artisan spirits and cocktails in a tucked away space the Archduchess created in the original palace as a secret hideaway for her society friends. Patrons reach it through a hidden entrance of private elevators and once on the roof have romantic views over the river, the Elisabeth Bridge and Gellert Hill.
A deep knowledge of pastry will serve Puck well when the third dining spot opens in the hotel in mid-October. The Matild Café and Cabaret was formerly known as the Belvarosi Café, predating the palace by a year, serving as a gathering spot for the elite in the Belle Epoque era and then again as the first café to open after World War II. By day it will serve local pastries (which definitely hold their own with Viennese) and Central European classics. At night, the bilevel space will transition to a cabaret courtesy of a hydraulic elevated stage that was found during the building’s renovation when a former employee came in to watch the work and casually advised them of its existence.
Even more well known than the city’s café culture is its selection of thermal baths in historic buildings; a thermal ritual is an essential Budapest experience. The hotel’s Swan Spa, therefore, contains a thermal waters section along with a hammam and treatments. It isn’t as colorful/idiosyncratic as the public baths which draw a cross section of city residents but it is more refined and, in these COVID times, private.