Budapesters are well aware that the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace is not just one of the city’s most magnificent hotels but one of the city’s most magnificent buildings, full stop. Four Seasons is a luxury chain already experienced by The Budapest Times in Paris, where we stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel George V, and now most recently in Lisbon at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz. That leaves just 96 of their hotels to go, in 38 countries.
This just might be a figure that remains out of reach though, as the Four Seasons network is constantly expanding and, not least, you do undoubtedly need a healthy wallet. For instance, at Baa Atoll in the Maldives, the group will open a private island late this year from where you will be able to go island-hopping in the Indian Ocean on their yacht.
How to get to the middle of the Indian Ocean? Well, if you are fed up flying first class, or even, tut tut, lowly business class, there is the luxuriously appointed Four Seasons private jet, where you can take a trip reaching up to 10 destinations on a curated itinerary, while sipping Dom Perignon at 30,000 feet.
In Maui, the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Four Seasons will take you by helicopter “above towering waterfalls and Haleakala volcano to Hana Ranch, a renowned organic farm on Maui’s eastern coast, where your personal chefs will prepare the ultimate gourmet feast”.
Another option, if staying with Four Seasons in Prague, is a private night at the opera where the curtain will rise just for you at a performance of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, to be enjoyed in complete privacy at the 18th-century performance hall Estates Theatre.
Available only through Four Seasons Hotel Moscow is what’s described as the glide of your life when you partner with an Olympic ice-skating great for a private lesson. Figure-skating and ice-dancing coach Alexander Zhulin is a two-time Olympic medallist and “legendary trainer responsible for shepherding Russia’s contemporary talents to national and world championships”. He will help you brush up your twizzle.
Something that must be mentioned is a private showing under the stars outside Cairo at the Pyramids of Giza, no less, of a “spectacular sound-and-light display that explores the history and mystery of the ancient Egyptian empire … As the stone monuments are illuminated, a voice booms through the night, unfolding breathtaking legends of the majestic Sphinx”.
You get to witness this entirely from a “fit-for-royalty” stage and, when the hour-long show concludes, dine privately at “an exquisite table set against the backdrop of the Great Pyramid, while the Cairo Symphony Orchestra illuminates the night at your once-in-a-lifetime dinner. A private Four Seasons chef and culinary team cater to your every epicurean fancy. It’s an evening fit for – and inspired by – Egypt’s greatest kings”.
Even more experiences are available, such as sipping rye whiskey during a private visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, available while staying at Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC. Or there is the Dive Centre at Four Seasons Resort Sharm El Sheikh that offers the opportunity to team up with shipwreck expert and author John Kean for a Red Sea dive to the historical resting place of British munitions ship the SS Thistlegorm, sunk by a German bomber in 1941.
At the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris three years ago we remember wondering if any of The Beatles had stayed in our room in 1964, and admiring the two Rolls-Royces outside, the room’s view of the Eiffel Tower and, in the public areas, the 17th-century Flemish tapestries, art deco detailing and 18th-century Florentine chandeliers hanging over classical French furnishings (Louis XVI, Napoleon I), the marble-floor mosaics and the gilded bas reliefs.
In June we find ourselves at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon, and it is as opulent as we have come to expect. Ushered in by the uniformed doorman, the welcoming lobby is alive with hanging air plants and living orchid arrangements. Boutiques sell exclusive brands but foremost perhaps is the extensive and eclectic Portuguese contemporary art collection consisting of splendid tapestries, sculptures, oil paintings and more.
The collection, which had its genesis at the hotel’s grand opening in 1959 when Portugal was ruled by the authoritarian regime of António de Oliveira Salazar, includes dozens of works from some of the country’s most renowned artists, such as Almada Negreiros, Pedro Leitão, Estrela Faria and Querubim Lapa,
One of these is known as “Portugal’s Picasso” but unfortunately we forget which one. The works can be admired throughout the public areas of the hotel, and they are truly impressive. Many people visit the hotel as if it is an art gallery, we are told.
Our room is top-notch, spacious and well-furnished with king-size bed, sofa and a private balcony that overlooks a nice park, Parque Eduardo VII, named in honour of Edward VII of the United Kingdom who visited Portugal in 1902. Next to the park is Marques de Pombal, the radiating point for various important avenues and named for a prime minister who ruled Portugal from 1750 to 1777. Of course, the roundabout comes complete with mighty statue.
On arrival in the room, there is a small bottle of port, some cakes and fresh flowers to welcome us. Next day there are some tasty chocolates and more port. The black-marble-clad bathroom is equipped with two wash basins and separate bath, shower room and WC with bidet, plus l’Occitane toiletries.
On the 11th-floor roof is a 380-metre open-air running track, and inside are fitness rooms for pilates, yoga and personal training with weights, punchbag, kettle bells, etcetera.
And there is the spa area, with an indoor swimming pool heated to 29 Celsius and, in residence now, two ladies from Koh Samui, Thailand, to help with the massages and body scrubs.
At this time of year in Lisbon, the jacaranda trees are full of their purple-blue bloom and the bougainvillea is bright red or magenta. The sun shines off the terracotta rooftops and azulejos (Portuguese tiles) that transform ordinary buildings into something more special. There are many many pavements where craftsmen have laboured to lay small white or black stones, creating elaborate patterns or even pictures that hopefully will remain forever in this charming city.