Spend a day touring St. Stephen’s Basilica. // © 2018 Getty Images
Feature image (above): Budapest has several options for clients seeking a faith-based vacation. // © 2018 Getty Images
Hungary is perhaps most famous for its hearty goulash soup and thermal spas. Few would consider it a spiritual destination but, as I discovered during a recent visit to Budapest — its capital — the country’s religious roots run deep, making the city an ideal destination for a faith-based retreat.
Whether clients come here to seek a deeper understanding of life or simply to listen to the world’s finest collection of pipe organs in churches north of Rome, Budapest has become a city for the do-it-yourself pilgrim.
Although Hungarian meals are available during a stay at Saint Arnold Retreat House, lunches are best enjoyed on the road — in true pilgrimage fashion. The Great Market Hall or Lehel Market offer the best selection of bread rolls, sausages, langos (fried bread), smoked cheese and wine from Hungary’s Tokaj wine region.
Encourage clients to check out the terraced bistros and cafes near St. Stephen’s Basilica Square. Near the downtown churches, Aszu Etterem features outdoor dining, waiters who speak English and authentic Hungarian food. Meanwhile, in the nearby Jewish Quarter, bistros such as Frohlich Cukraszda serve superb flodni (an apple, walnut and poppy-seed pastry) and kifli (crescent-shaped cookies).
Saint Arnold Retreat House is run by Society of the Divine Word, the world’s largest Roman Catholic order of missionary priests and brothers. The house welcomes people of all faiths and beliefs for a self-guided retreat, spiritual rejuvenation and counseling, and each stay is customized according to personal needs and requests of the clients.
The house can hold about 50 guests in comfortable rooms with private baths. A chapel and a meditation garden allow for spiritual contemplation, and on-site meals feature authentic Hungarian fare. Additionally, the property can arrange itineraries that focus on religious and historical attractions of the city.
On my personal pilgrimage, I purchased a 72-hour Budapest Card — which provides unlimited use of the city’s rail, bus and subway system — for exploring the city’s churches. On a grand scale, St. Stephen’s Basilica will take nearly a full day to appreciate. But I found that my most inspirational finds were smaller churches tucked away on Budapest’s side streets.
The city’s Cave Church offers services each day and is well worth a trip. My favorite, however, is St. Anne’s Church, which features baroque design, magnificent frescoes and religious decor that rivals the cathedrals of Rome. I sat there alone on a Friday afternoon, mesmerized by the ecclesiastical pipe-organ music that filled the church.
Scheduled religious and classical-music events are scheduled throughout the year at many Budapest churches. Clients should end the day with a visit to the Szechenyi Bath and its world-renowned therapeutic waters that are said to help heal the mind, body and spirit.