You might be impressed by the stately location of the Hotel Gellert, just over the “Liberty Bridge” on the western bank of the Danube, anchoring the old section of Buda. You might enjoy this picturesque scene especially after dark (and you’ll certainly feel compelled to take pictures) on your way back across the bridge from a night out in Pest: the entire, rambling building, frontlit, glows like some giant Art Nouveau birthday cake at the base of craggy Gellert-hegy cliff. You might be awed by the grand staircases leading from the lobby; charmed by the cosy, hideaway bar and its array of Hungarian liquors; spun around by the long corridors and various turns getting to and from your room (especially after a drink or two of Unicum at the aforementioned bar); satisfied by the size of the room – better still if it comes with a view of the river in front or hills behind. But none of this is by itself necessarily a reason to stay. There’s a greater motivation for that.
Wake up early to find out, and pull on the robe that hangs in the closet. Go to the excruciatingly slow, caged elevator on your floor. Tip the lift operator as you reach the bottom, exit and pick your way through the milling crowd to see what they’re all waiting for. Don’t be embarrassed about your state of relative undress – soon you’ll all be in the same boat. Then – behold the glory of the Gellert baths.
The grandeur of the vaulted entry hall, its tiling, statuary and skylit ceiling, is a worthy precursor to the pools themselves. First, the segregated areas: a dip in the 34°C waters, while admiring the magnificent mosaics and ornamental spouts; a sit-down in the aromatic sauna; a bracing splash in a tiny, freezing cold bath; a plunge into another pool, this one 38°C… repeat the ritual again, then finish with some invigorating laps in the colonnaded central pool, the one place where the sexes intermingle. Consider doing the backstroke to enjoy best the light streaming through the retractable stained-glass roof above. And think about extending your stay another day or two.
Hotel Gellert, Szent Gellért tér, District XI, Budapest (www.danubiushotels.com/gellert).