Having lived in Budapest, Hungary for the past six years, I have yet to grow weary of this incredible, diverse city. I am constantly in awe of the fabulous architecture where even the most inconsequential building is festooned with fanciful cherubs and angels. Once the wealthiest city in all of Europe, elaborate coffee houses have been a way of life for centuries. One of my favorite haunts is the baroque New York Café. Built in the mid-1800s, this feast for the eyes is considered the most spectacular coffee house in the world.
New York Cafe
Indoors isn’t all there is to café life. One doesn’t have to spy budding leaves and blooming flowers to know spring has arrived in Budapest—outdoor seating will suddenly appear along the sidewalks signaling a season that continues until the last autumn leaf drops on those die-hard holdouts sipping cappuccino and wrapped in cozy blankets provided by the house (you can usually find me there as well).
But there’s something else in this city that is a unique way of life, one that has given me hours of pleasure. Nicknamed the City of Spas, beneath Budapest lies a vast underground hot spring. As a result, bath houses have thrived here since the 16th century. The interiors of these fabulous buildings dazzle with intricate tile work. There are over a hundred spas throughout Hungary, with at least twenty-four of them in Budapest alone. I take advantage of them as often as possible.
The largest spa in Europe, Szechenyi Baths, is a neo-baroque-style palace situated in City Park, about two blocks from where I live. This is my favorite that house (I get there by strolling through the park, past a picturesque castle, and take a right one block). The thermal spring waters bubble up to feed twenty-one pools, both indoor and outdoor. Pure and loaded with healthy minerals, the water refreshes itself every two days. I love the outdoor pools in winter when hot water meets frigid air, enveloping me in a cloud of steam. Wrapped in my own little world, I leisurely write chapters of my books in my head while I luxuriate until my skin prunes. Not only does the Szechenyi complex have thermal waters, it also hosts an outdoor Olympic size swimming pool, a huge jacuzzi, steam chambers, massage rooms, a gym, saunas, you name it. The baths are also part of the health system here. I have been sent by my physician on two separate occasions after I had sprained my back, each prescription good for three weeks of treatments.
If you are ever in Budapest, please feel free to contact me ahead of time, and I will gladly send you my list of favorite, must-see sites. And if I happen to be available, let’s meet in one of the fabulous coffee houses for a fun chat!