Themed hotels can be hit and miss. Sometimes the theme is so half-heartedly implemented it's hard to remember what it is. At other times, you're sledgehammered over the head with it at every opportunity. The best ones find that sweet spot in the middle.
The theme of Aria Hotel Budapest is music, but you may have already guessed that from the name. If not, you'll be in no doubt once you see the piano keyboard walkway sweeping through the lobby. The property's 49 rooms are spread across four music-themed wings – jazz, contemporary, opera and classical – with each room dedicated to a different artist. The bars and restaurants all have musical monikers and there's even an in-house music director who curates the hotel's live entertainment and extensive library of CDs and DVDs. Oh, and did I mention the music-inspired treatments in the spa?
It could easily be death by a thousand notes, but thankfully it's all been so flawlessly executed it's hard not to get swept up in the glorious over-the-topness of it all.
I'm staying in the Miles Davis suite in the jazz wing. It's a cavernous space with a vaulted brick ceiling, standalone bathtub and eye-catching lime green furnishings. Every room has books about the featured musician plus a striking caricature by Czech artist Josef Blecha. There are all the usual high-end amenities (smart TV, docking station, iPad and Nespresso coffee machine) plus a useful guest mobile phone with data roaming and free international calls.
Of course, the advantage of a themed property is that it frees designers from the traditional "where-am-I-again?" hotel palette of boring beiges and tedious taupes. The Liszt studio in the classical wing is a glorious montage of baby blue neo-baroque furniture and Murano glass chandeliers, while the Elvis room in the contemporary wing is an explosion of pop art-style primary colours.
Most rooms look into the building's glass-covered atrium, which features a space-age piano designed by Hungarian musician Gergely Boganyi. It's a lovely, light-flooded space that's the venue for both the hotel's free breakfast (an excellent buffet with hot items ordered a la carte) plus two hours of complimentary wine and cheese with live music every afternoon.
In the unlikely event you haven't gorged yourself silly on gouda, you can dine in the sleek surrounds of the Stradivari Restaurant, next to the fireplace in the cosy Satchmo's Library or in the dazzling, jewel box-like Satchmo's Bar. Both the duck liver brulee and rib-eye steak I sample are delicious, particularly when accompanied with a hearty glass of Hungarian Bull's Blood red wine.
When you're ready to explore, the hotel is ideally located in the centre of Pest, steps from the Danube, the photogenic Chain Bridge and the upmarket boutiques on Andrassy Avenue.
Interestingly, the hotel's most impressive feature is its least musical one. Occupying the entire rooftop perimeter, the High Note Skybar has gasp-inducing views of the city and St Stephen's Basilica. It's particularly enchanting at night when the space transitions into a proposal-prompting oasis of twinkling fairy lights.
Since opening in March 2015, Aria has collected a swag of accolades including the world's best hotel in the 2017 TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards. It's a bold, brave, beautiful property that's clearly hitting all the right notes.
Hercegprimas utca 5 Budapest H-1051. Rooms from €270. See ariahotelbudapest.com
Aimed at the "young and young at heart", U by Uniworld's activity-packed seven-night cruise from Regensburg to Budapest includes visits to Linz, Vienna and Bratislava. From $2499 a person (twin share). See ubyuniworld.com
Rob McFarland was a guest of U by Uniworld and Aria Hotel Budapest.