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Bucharest Athenee Palace Hilton: A Historical Home-Away-From-Home

Athenee Palace Hilton

Photos Credit: Columbia Hillen

Sitting under a blue sky on the terrace of the Athenee Palace Hotel, one might mistakenly think one is in the midst of an exotic jungle setting. That's due to the mysterious monkey sounds emanating from the foliage of nearby tree-tops. But no, it’s not the Amazon or deepest parts of Africa. It’s Bucharest, capital of Romania, and the noise one hears is a mimicking one, a creative ruse to keep nuisance birds away from guests' tables.

Athenee Palace Hilton

It works, as guests sit leisurely, undisturbed, drinking with friends and family or eating a fine meal cooked carefully under the direction of chef Franz Conde. But monkey sounds are far from being the only intriguing aspect of this elegant, downtown Bucharest hotel. Dating back to 1914, this historic landmark, as R.G. Waldeck’s book Athene Palace points out is, "one of the world’s grand hotels. Survival, triumph, journalism, politics, and intrigue have all contributed to (its) current fame.”

Athenee Palace Hilton

Take the English Bar for example. More recently home to the country's exclusive Cigar Club, it carries aloft an enviable history. During World War II, this intimate, cozy, ground-floor corner bar was the scene of nefarious, dramatic goings-on as elites, including members of European royal families from neighboring countries, fled the advancing Nazis to the temporary safe haven of neutral Romania, mixing together over cocktails with spies from all sides sitting at nearby tables.

Athenee Palace Hilton

Today’s ambience could hardly be more different than that of yesteryear. Then, tension was at its highest, but now the English Bar provides utter relaxation, a highly-valued place to unwind, complete with plush surroundings, a mix of muted reds and yellows, with soft light projected from chandeliers and gentle music easing from overhead speakers.

Here, guests settle deeply into armchairs and linger over an impressive range of cocktails, cold beers and light bites from the international snack menu, all served with élan by long-time staff members, Lili and Daniela. By day, the bar can be equally busy, a suitable place for working or using complimentary Wi-fi, with a cup of tea or coffee in hand. With more than 40 whiskeys from around the world, the bar also hosts a Thursday Gin & Jazz event, the mellifluous voice of Viorica Pintilie being one of the highlights, and occasional themed parties, as well as a big-screen TV for major sporting events.

Athenee Palace Hilton

A very different atmosphere settles itself at La Strada terrace facing the broad Boulevard Calea Victoriei. Here, in fine weather, an airy atmosphere is enhanced by colorful hanging baskets of red geraniums, a three-tiered mini fountain, varnished wooden flower beds, scattered slim saplings, shaded tables under canopies of wood and canvas, slatted wood chairs and tables, an outdoor barbecue grill and a semi-circle outdoor bar. Don’t worry—imitation primate sounds mean you’ll receive no surprise plops from overhead.

Athenee Palace Hilton

The fare can best be described as high-class and served warmly from attentive waiting staff under the guidance of affable restaurant manager, Daniel Dumitru. Hungry after a long, leisurely stroll through the Old Town, a ten-minute walk away, my companion and I dined on several courses, avoiding heavy meats, as the evening was warm. 

Athenee Palace Hilton

Our healthy selection over a relaxed three-hour dining experience included smoked swordfish with lime cream, fried capers and crostini; risotto with asparagus and parmegiano regiano; melanzane parmegiano; a mixed grill of king prawn, yellow-fin tuna and cod wrapped in pancetta; and grilled octopus with chickpea puree. After a short break to permit partial digestion, we leapt at the warm chocolate cake with melting vanilla ice cream and a caramel and chocolate parfait with lime zest.

Athenee Palace Hilton

For a more formal interior dining experience, try Roberto's Restaurant, just inside from the terrace. Scenes from old, 1950s classic movies line the walls featuring erstwhile stars such as Sofia Loren, Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Marcella Masyriani and Claudia Cardinale, adding a nostalgic, cinematic touch. For something more informal, there’s also the street-level Café Athenee where French specialties and gourmet desserts are among the menu.

Athenee Palace Hilton

Re-opened in 1997, the overall décor of the Athenee Palace Hilton has been revitalized and replenished by Hilton International, overlaying a modern, 21st century hotel upon an immensely historical building, creating seamless charm and grace. In many ways, this hotel’s pedigree is every bit as impressive as the Parker House in Boston, the Langham and Ritz in London and Madrid, and Le Negrescu in Nice.

Rooms are classically designed using the finest of materials on curtains, bed-linens and flowing carpets. Our suite on the third floor, even though it overlooked the busy Calea Victorie, provided a quiet haven. Located on the executive floor, we also enjoyed access to the hotel’s lounge facilities, where a tasty array of complimentary hot and cold snacks, as well as soft and alcoholic drinks, were provided throughout most of the day. 

Athenee Palace Hilton

The view from here uplifted one’s spirits, granting clear views over the nearby Athenee Palace Concert Hall and the National Art Gallery. Even one of Romania’s most intriguing museums, including a fascinating numismatic collection dating back to antiquity—housed in the National Bank of Romania and the pride of 27-year-bank governor Mugur Isarescu and curator, Ruxandra Onofrei—was within short walking distance of the hotel.

Athenee Palace Hilton

Lingering in the comfort of the room, we couldn’t help but cast our minds back to what it must have been like during the sensitive inter-war period when chambermaids made extra cash by selling the contents of guests' waste-baskets and others passed on sensitive secrets by listening to hushed conversations through ventilator shafts.

Guests can also enjoy comfortable leisure facilities, including a small, well-equipped gym, a Jacuzzi, a sauna, a steam-room and a boutique-sized swimming pool. Massage services are available upon request, either in-room or in a private space on the ground-floor near the gym.

Taking its rightful place in the annals of European history and with a complete renovation that combines gleaming marble pillars, floors and furnishings with ultra-modern amenities, the Athenee Palace Hilton possesses multiple attractions to allure select travelers.

Sean Hillen

Sean Hillen has been an international journalist and editor for almost 40 years and is also a published author. His latest book is a high-end contemporary fiction novel, Pretty Ugly - a thrilling, intriguing ride through the murky undercurrent of corporate and political machinations bridging the complex worlds of medicine, media and modeling. http://www.seanhillenauthor.com/ His experience spa...(Read More)

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