The ten countries that joined the European Union in May have embarked on a great economic and political adventure. Business travelers to Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia may be in for adventures of their own. To appreciate capitalism, stay in a hotel built by Communists! As accession spurs business travel to what's literally a new Europe, Institutional Investor has consulted a variety of sources and prepared an EU-annex Baedeker.
Gateway cities tend to be the most up-to-the-minute. "Within the framework of the new accession states, you have some star destinations, such as Budapest and Prague," says Robert Barnard, director of London-based PKF International, an accounting and consulting firm that specializes in the hotel industry. "These capitals of the old Austro-Hungarian empire were more difficult to visit during the Soviet era, but people flocked in when it ended, and the hotel scene responded and opened good international hotels."
Barnard, in fact, foresees an oversupply of luxury accommodations, especially in Budapest, which already has about 3,000 five-star rooms. Among the major hotel chains flying their flags in the Hungarian capital: Hilton International, Hyatt International, InterContinental Hotels Group, Kempinski Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International and Le Meridien Hotels & Resorts. High-speed Internet, business centers and even spas are pretty much the norm at international chains, which "assure a certain standard and shouldn't be dismissed as so many cookie cutters," contends Barnard.
Readers especially like the Hilton Budapest (Institutional Investor, December 2003) in the historic castle district, ten minutes from the city center. Melding a contemporary structure with 13th-century remains, the hotel offers a fitness center and spa, a wine cellar that once belonged to Dominican friars and dazzling views of the Danube River. Another impressive hostelry is the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal, built at the turn of the 19th century and reopened in all its former splendor last year after $100 million in renovations.
Next month the newly refurbished, 179-room Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest, a temple of art nouveau, will open its doors. Italian chain Boscolo Hotels, which owns the stylish Exedra in Rome, is opening its first hotel in Budapest next year. Seasoned traveler Barnard counts among his favorite Budapest hotels the old-world Danubius Hotel Gellert on the riverfront. Le Meridien Budapest is a converted nine-story office building, yet is "intimate and elegant," reports one American conference organizer.
Prague, too, has its share of upmarket hotel labels: InterContinental, Four Seasons, Marriott, Radisson SAS and Renaissance. Most of these name-brand hotels are centrally located around the city's ancient squares or along the Vltava River; several new hotels have risen on the river's right bank. Boscolo Hotels' new Carlo IV is a brief stroll beyond the gates of Gothic Old Town. The Riverside Hotel Prague offers views of Prague Castle from most of its 72 rooms. Notable small, high-end additions to the hotel scene include Le Palais, in a scenic residential area on the right bank, and the Aria, a boutique hotel with 52 rooms, each dedicated (eclectically) to a different musician, from Antonin Dvorák to Elvis Presley.
Across the river from Prague Castle, the 162-room Four Seasons Hotel Prague combines a modern structure with three venerable but thoroughly refurbished buildings in each of three architectural styles: renaissance, baroque and classical. The views are stunning from the terrace of the hotel's Allegro restaurant. You can hear cool jazz in the Be Bop Bar at the art deco Radisson SAS Alcron Hotel Prague, just off Wenceslas Square near the Old Town. The InterContinental Prague's rooftop Zlatá Praha restaurant serves first-rate Czech and international fare and affords a panoramic cityscape.
Warsaw may lack the charm of Prague, but it is enjoying something of a revival as a lively destination for tourists as well as businesspeople. Decimated during World War II, Warsaw's historic center has been restored so extensively that it is today a Unesco World Heritage site.
An apt symbol of the post-Communist era is the Warsaw Marriott Hotel, catercorner from Stalin's behemoth Palace of Culture and Science. For a dozen years the towering but unfinished steel hulk blighted Warsaw's skyline as a "symbol of Communist inefficiency" before it was taken over by Marriott and opened in 1989, says a hotel spokesperson. Unusually self-contained, the 522-room hotel boasts Marriott's signature rooms-cum-offices and has its own doctors, police and fire brigade. The charming Le Royal Meridien Bristol in the historic town center offers gracious accommodations and an old-world ambience. Warsaw's traditional business hotels include the 350-room postmodern Sheraton Warsaw Hotel & Towers and the Sofitel Victoria Warsaw. The 45-room Hotel Rialto purports to be the only boutique business hotel in town.
American entrepreneur Boris Zemtzov, co-founder of the American Chamber of Commerce in Latvia, likes the Hotel Grand Palace in Riga. The restored 1877 period piece in the capital's cobblestoned Old Town is surrounded by European art nouveau architecture and is within walking distance of the Smilshu financial district. "The rooms are small, and there's just one conference room," acknowledges Zemtzov, "but the restaurant and the bar are exotic." Another popular option with business travelers: Hotel de Rome, which has a business center and three meeting rooms.
The sleek new 25-floor Radisson SAS Hotel is a sound choice in Tallinn, Estonia's capital, offering every modern amenity for business travelers. But if you prefer atmosphere, try the Schlössle Hotel in the historic district.
In Vilnius, Lithuania, the Radisson SAS Astorija Hotel is housed in a classic 1901 building. Its Brasserie Astorija is considered one of the Baltics' best restaurants.
The imperial-style Radisson SAS Carlton Hotel in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, dates from the mid-1800s and has been splendidly restored. The hotel is across Hviezdoslav Square from the Slovak National Theater and a short walk to businesses.
The Grand Hotel Union, which graces the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, consists of two adjoining buildings managed as one hotel. Opt for the "executive" accommodations in the landmark 1905 building, where president Bill Clinton stayed during a 1999 visit. The hotel "is beautifully restored and just 50 paces from the lovely little Triple Bridge over the Ljubljanica River," says PharmaSwiss manager Stuart Swanson. A Slovenia booster, he urges visitors to sample the country's unspoiled nature: One third of its 7,827 square miles is under government protection. "It's one of the few Eastern countries with golf," Swanson happily points out.
Malta, meanwhile, is attracting more and more hotels that cater to both holiday and business guests. The main island -- Malta -- has hotels representing the Corinthia Group of Cos., Hilton, InterContinental, Le Meridien and Radisson chains. Newly renovated is the seven-year-old, grand-scale Westin Dragonara Resort just six miles from Malta's capital, Valletta.
Cyprus, historically a natural stepping-stone between Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is today thoroughly globalized. The Hilton Cyprus, near the banking district, is a fine choice for business travelers. The country also has world-class resort hotels.
"The culture of Cyprus is quite European," says Aram Tavitian, a PricewaterhouseCoopers partner based in Nicosia. "Plan to stay on for a weekend and see a bit of the island's ancient Greek ruins, swim in the sea and windsurf." Your faxes will be waiting for you back at the hotel.
Here's a list of popular hotels in the ten new European Union states.
*The daily rates below are for a standard room unless otherwise noted. All rates are approximate and subject to change.
*BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA Radisson SAS Carlton Hotel, $226 single or double occupancy; (421-2) 5939-0000; www.radissonsas.com
*BUDAPEST, HUNGARY Hilton Budapest, $170 single or double; (361) 889-6600; www.hilton.com
*LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA Grand Hotel Union, executive accommodation $155 single, $203 double* (business accommodation slightly less); (386-1) 308-1270; www.gh-union.si
*NICOSIA, CYPRUS Hilton Cyprus, $244 single, $274 double; (357) 223-77777; www.hilton.com
*PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC Four Seasons Hotel Prague, $355 single or double; (420-2) 2142-7000; www.fourseasons.com
*RIGA, LATVIA Hotel Grand Palace, $241 single, $292 double; (371) 704-4000; www.schlossle-hotels.com
*TALLINN, ESTONIA Radisson SAS Hotel, $174 single, $190 double*; (372) 669-0000; www.radissonsas.com
*VALLETTA, MALTAWestin Dragonara Resort, St. Julian's (six miles from Valletta); $144 single or double; (356) 21-381-000; www.starwood.com
*VILNIUS, LITHUANIA Radisson SAS Astorija Hotel, $201 single, $213 double*; (370) 521-201-10; www.radissonsas.com
*WARSAW, POLAND Warsaw Marriott Hotel, $167 single or double; (48-22) 630-6306; www.marriott.com