One of the first things you’ll notice upon entering Mystery Hotel Budapest is the Aladdin-style magic carpet that “floats” above the reception desk.
This is the first indication that there is much more to this boutique hotel than meets the eye.
Then there are the countless light boxes on the walls showing animated images that change several times a day and the elevator, partially hidden by velvet curtains.
Depending on which room you’re in, you might find yourself lying against the headboard with a version of Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” where the “girl” has an iPhone in her hand, or a “girl “party girl” interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” complete with VIP pass to the Sziget Festival in Budapest.
And if you happen to book a visit to Pythagoras’ “secret” meeting room, you’ll have to figure out how to open it yourself (hint: there’s an unassuming box involved).
Located in the Terézváros district of Budapest, the Mystery Hotel is undoubtedly one of the most exciting hotels in the city thanks to the intrigue that lies within its walls.
It is set within what was once the main headquarters of the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Hungarian Freemasons, providing inspiration for its enigmatic theme, along with films such as “The Da Vinci Code.”
While it lacks the spectacular city views and central location of some of Budapest’s more popular hotels, the property, which opened in May 2019, is quickly becoming one of the most Instagram-friendly places to stay in Budapest.
This is certainly no coincidence. Indeed, hotel designer Zoltán Varró admits that “likes” were in mind when he conceptualized the property.
“Instagram has really changed the hotel industry,” Varró tells CNN Travel. “About 20 years ago, people wanted to go to the big names because they felt safe with them.
“Now the most important thing is to stand out. Everyone is looking for something special. Social media is vital.
“When a guest sees something amazing and takes a photo, they can share it with the rest of the world in seconds.”
Viktória Berényi, director of business development at Mystery Hotel, says social media has helped acquire a large number of bookings.
“First impressions are everything,” says Berényi. “There is a lot of competition in Budapest. At the beginning we had some difficulties with involving people.
“But we have had a lot of guests who come here because they saw the photos on Instagram.”
One of the hotel’s many intriguing areas is the Great Room, which serves as a dining room, bar, and lobby.
Varró decided to make it the centerpiece of the building after seeing photographs showing the room’s significance during the 1890s, when Hungarian Freemasons regularly gathered here.
One of the most influential and well-known secret societies, Freemasonry was founded in the United Kingdom, but quickly spread to Europe and the rest of the world.
The secular movement is inspired by medieval stonemason brotherhoods, which used secret words and symbols to recognize each other’s legitimacy.
After the former Hungarian Council Republic and then Hungarian Interior Minister Mihály Dömötör banned the activities of the Freemasons in 1920, the building became a military hospital.
It was also used by the Hungarian National Guard Association, before returning to Freemasonry use after the Second World War. But during the communist era it housed the Ministry of the Interior until the fall of the regime in 1989.
Needless to say, the building changed considerably over its various incarnations and its Masonic elements were hidden.
“After communism, the room was destroyed,” says Varró. “The Masonic aspects were completely covered, because no one wanted to talk about it.
“I didn’t want it [the Great Hall] be hidden. This is the heart of the building.”
Its fully restored vaulted ceiling is decorated with beautiful patterns, while the walls are adorned with luminous columns and lighted stages.
Although the entire hotel is filled with chandeliers, the largest hangs directly over an area of the marble checkerboard floor in the Great Hall.
At the far end of the room, two spiral iron staircases lead to the gallery, where there is a private dining area intended for larger groups.
Lit by candles, the grand staircase is one of several preserved elements of the original building, which dates back to 1896, along with the main doors.
From the sixth floor you can see elements of the facade of the old building and the new building next to each other.
Varró has preserved various motifs used in Masonic symbolism around the buildings, along with sculptures of a sphinx, a square and a compass.
The paintings in the corridors are also linked to Freemasonry, some are the work of Masonic training, while others are by artists from countries with strong ties to the secular movement.
However, Berényi emphasizes that the Mystery Hotel represents much more than just Freemasonry, noting that the organization, which has been ruined by conspiracy theories, may have negative connotations for some.
“As proud as we are of history, we can’t focus everything on the Freemasons, as they represent different things to different people,” he says.
There are three different suite styles: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Doric Rooms, which overlook the hotel’s courtyard and Secret Garden Spa, feature English Victorian-style features and are decorated in various shades of green.
The Ion rooms are located on the upper floors of the hotel and have a French attic style, while the Corinthian rooms have baroque-style furnishings, such as burgundy velvet curtains.
Located on the sixth floor, the Atelier Suite is the most exclusive suite in the building. Designed to resemble a painter’s studio, it contains a marble staircase, brick walls, huge paintings and dozens of rugs. The TV stand also takes the shape of a drawing easel.
“The original plan was to use this room as a warehouse, because it only has two small windows,” explains Varró.
“When I decided to make it one of the larger suites, the owner thought I was crazy. But it was very popular.
The suite is often requested for private gatherings, with luxury Italian fashion house Dolce&Gabbana renting it out for private events.
While the Great Hall is a tough act to follow, not to mention the rooftop bar, the Sky Garden, which offers views of the Royal Palace, the hotel’s spa is another standout.
There are plenty of beautiful thermal baths to choose from in Budapest, which means that any hotel spa here has to be pretty impressive to attract visitors.
However, the Secret Garden Day Spa definitely does not disappoint.
Located in the hotel’s walled courtyard, it has a baroque garden feel, with spectacular palm trees and a beautiful fountain.
Guests have the option to relax on the sun loungers, slip into the sauna and steam room or opt for some of the many cosmetic treatments, body treatments and massages on offer.
The spa’s lighting is also fantastic thanks to its courtyard location, along with an array of crystal chandeliers.
“This was an empty place,” says Varró. “I wanted to create something different. I think this [the courtyard] it is the perfect place for a spa. Budapest is not a very sunny city, but it is always summer here.”
Its highlight is undoubtedly the magnificent jacuzzi, which offers a fantastic view of the building’s facade.
“We don’t have thermal waters here, but we have this,” says Berényi. “This Jacuzzi is very popular on Instagram.”
Mystery Hotel Budapest, 1064 Budapest, 45 Podmaniczky Street; +36 1 616 6000