One of Europe’s most spectacular heritage palace buildings, Belle Epoque beauty Parisi Udvar in Budapest has been stunningly transformed into a luxury hotel. The ornate historical landmark building in the heart of Budapest needed far more than a face-lift.
Years of neglect and misguided mid-20th-century renovations had left the once glittering 100-year-old site—first designed as a glass-roofed shopping arcade—as a dusty, darkened, largely uninhabitable vestige of its former self. Some of the only use the space got over the past decade was as a Hollywood setting for Eastern European spy movies.
The last tenants, an ice cream shop and a travel agent, vacated when the property was taken over by Hungarian hospitality firm Mellow Mood Hotels in 2014. But over the course of four and a half years, with the help of a vast team of preservationists, artisans, and engineers, as well as Budapest-based design firm Kroki, the Párisi Udvar has been restored to its former glory, and then some. The 126,000-square-foot hotel, which added more than 12,000 square feet to its interior, opened for business this past summer as part of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection, operated by Mellow Mood Hotels.
If the hotel has all the modern amenities expected by well-heeled travellers, including examples of contemporary Hungarian craftsmanship in the rooms, it also has the power to transport guests to the lavish days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867–1918). Under the Dual Monarchy, Hungary’s explosion of wealth poured into Budapest’s architecture, as the country sought to erect an imperial capital to rival Vienna.
First built in 1817 as a neoclassical shopping arcade, likely modelled after the famous Passage des Panoramas in Paris, the Párisi Udvar, then called the Brudern House, was rebuilt between 1909 and 1913 by a Hungarian bank in need of spiffy new headquarters.
Most of the original structure was demolished and rebuilt, and bank offices and apartments were added upstairs. In the spirit of the era, something splashy was in order, resulting in a mix of Art Deco, Neo-Gothic, Moorish, and Art Nouveau details, with enough ceramic, metal, and wood ornamentation to adorn a town, let alone a building. With its glass domes, turrets, tiled façade, and gargoyles, it’s the kind of exquisite historical confection that once prompted the late, great chef and cultural observer Anthony Bourdain to describe Budapest’s architecture as “building porn.”
Although the Párisi Udvar (or “Paris Court”) survived both World Wars, the building suffered when the Iron Curtain was drawn on Hungary after World War II, and some ghosts of its Soviet past still lingered. The façade was damaged during the revolution of 1956, and further travesties ensued during a renovation in the 1960s. In an attempt to stabilize the glass arcade, for instance, gobs of cement were applied to its steel framework, which eventually caused it to rust. All that steel had to be replaced while preserving the fragile glass panels within.
The reconstruction also revealed that the early 20th-century reinforced concrete foundation—one of the earliest examples of the technology in Budapest—was too unstable to meet the modern building’s load-bearing needs, including the addition of more rooms and a new floor with the largest hotel suite in Budapest. “It was pioneering at the time, but the quality was terrible,” says Pólus. “So, we had to manage to strengthen the structure in a way that didn’t change the look of the building.”
Not all of the discoveries were setbacks. “The biggest surprise was when we found more than one hundred original ceramics produced by [porcelain manufacturer] Zsolnay,” says Mellow Mood Hotels director Judit Blandl, explaining that the sculptures were hidden in an inaccessible area of the building. Of the 250,000 ceramic forms adorning the building—ranging from small green tiles and floral forms to dragon heads and human figures—nearly a quarter had to be remade by the Zsolnay factory, says Pólus. The biggest challenge there, he says, was matching the discoloured glazes.
Fortunately, many archival photos and plans still exist, so details could be accurately rebuilt. The transformation of the glass domes is especially noteworthy: One is lined with hundreds of delicate stained glass panels made by Hungarian master Miksa Roth, while the other is constructed of Luxfer glass prism tiles that had become blackened with dirt. They now let glittering light into the hotel.
“The reconstruction lasted longer than building the original building,” says Pólus, who notes the scarcity of skilled artisans and restorers working in the 21st century. For that reason alone, the Párisi Udvar might turn more heads today than it did a hundred years ago.
The hotel’s 110 upscale and spacious guestrooms will ensure guests have the ultimate stay. Each palatial Art Nouveau guestroom has been elegantly designed with decorations by Hungarian contemporary artist Agnes Toth, inspired by Gothic, Moorish and Oriental styles to guarantee that guests have an unconventional stay. There are 18 luxurious suites and two Royal Residencies including the spacious Budapest Residence situated at the top of the hotel, which provides guests with stunning views of the city and a terrace to relax and watch the sunset.
Párisi Udvar Hotel Budapest offers two unique dining options, each with their own style and space. The hotel’s main restaurant, the Párisi Passage Cafe & Brasserie, serves international cuisine but also local and international wines in a cosmopolitan dining area. It is made complete with an open kitchen, allowing guests to interact with the chefs in a relaxing yet lively atmosphere. The Patisserie & Café, best known for its signature dark chocolate dessert, Párisi kocka, will serve hand-crafted juices, artisan coffee and traditional Hungarian pastries. By evening it transforms into a stylish cocktail bar.
The highly trained therapists at the hotel’s Zafir Spa will use locally inspired treatments to leave guests feeling fully rejuvenated. For guests looking to stay active during their stay, a modern, fully-equipped fitness center will be open 24 hours a day.
Párisi Udvar Hotel Budapest features four distinctive multi-functional meeting and event spaces spanning more than 3,229 square feet (300 square meters) which can accommodate up to 160 guests. Each space is equipped with contemporary conference facilities and the latest audio-visual technology. The venue caters for every request, from small intimate events in the hotel’s courtyard to special occasions for up to 90 guests in the hexagon-shaped Párisi Salon.
Parisi Udvar Hotel Budapest (Unbound Collection by Hyatt)Mellow Mood Hotels was founded in 1997 by Sameer Hamdan and Zuhair Awad for the purpose of operating hostels to serve young foreign tourists visiting Budapest. Over the years, our portfolio has been expanded to the operation of higher and higher level of hotels.
In 2019 the group owns of 12 hotels in Hungary, with a team of about 600 people. ‘In our different classes of hotels, we have a common point that our guests will come first. Their comfort, feelings, experiences, and desires guide us, and this is how we have shaped our hotels’ offers as well.’
The Unbound Collection by Hyatt brand is a portfolio of new and existing premium hotel properties, ranging from historic urban gems to contemporary trend-setters and boutique properties to resorts. Current hotel properties include Hotel SOFIA Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain; Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix; The Confidante in Miami Beach, Fla.; Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., The Eliza Jane in New Orleans; The Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia; Holston House in Nashville, Tenn.; The Driskill in Austin, Texas; Spirit Ridge in Osoyoos, British Columbia; Hôtel Martinez in Cannes, France; Hôtel du Louvre in Paris (under renovation); Jinmao Hotel Lijiang in Lijiang, China; Nish Palas in Istanbul, and Carmelo Resort & Spa in Uruguay.
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