A recent influx of business and leisure travel to Romania sparked the need for luxury accommodations. Accordingly, Timisoara, Romania, now has its first five-star boutique hotel, the 20-room Hotel Elysee, which opened last year.
Hotel Elysee is located in Timisoara, a city known as "Little Vienna" for its similar architecture.
Joining the European Union has jump-started investment and tourism in Romania, as the search for unexplored vacation spots continues. Timisoara, on the western side of the country, is a hub for several European airlines, including the Romanian- and Swiss-owned Carpatair and the German Wiz, which bring in passengers from Rome, Vienna, Berlin, London and Eastern Europe. It’s an easy hop for a weekend of dining on traditional foods, wine tasting, antique hunting or wandering the area’s backroads.
The Elysee’s energetic young co-owner, Utu Onul, spent six years in London and took what he learned back home to build a luxury property that hinges on service and detail. Restored Romanian and European antiques share space with flat-screen TVs, marble bathrooms, a glass elevator and Wi-Fi. The property, which is 10 minutes from the center of town, also includes a pool, pavilions for relaxing and a brand new, full-service spa and fitness center.
We loved the staff, especially General Manager Beatrice Schoper (firstname.lastname@example.org; 011-40-256-367), who speaks excellent English and German.
We stayed in Superior Suite No. 104, which shouted Old World luxury, with its stone fireplace in the living room, canopied king bed and large bathroom with tub. The slightly smaller Suite No. 101 boasts French doors that open to a terrace overlooking the pool and gardens. The third-floor attic rooms feature beamed ceilings and cozy spaces. Our two favorites on that floor were No. 30 and No. 30-m, both of which had very large bathrooms and living areas. A popular, more modern superior suite is No. 102, with its Burberry-style bathroom décor and huge Jacuzzi tub. This is a corner room with lots of windows, a terrace and a large zebra-patterned rug.
In the spa, services include a full beauty salon, massages, sauna, spray tanning, treatment rooms for facials and a gym with all the latest equipment. In summer, massages are available by the pool or in one of the private pavilions. The White House, which Onul designed, is a white-on-white space for private dinners or simple relaxation.
Our favorite experience was a traditional Romanian dinner served in the wine cellar. The Elysee has an elegant white tablecloth dining room overlooking the swimming pool, gardens and pavilions (there is a separate non-smoking area), which is perfect for weddings or group events. Note: The international menu is fluid and can change daily. Guests also have the choice of dining next to the pool amid the gardens. The wine cellar is rustic and cozy, ideal for enjoying six courses of grandma-style cooking. Everything is organic and locally grown and produced.
After tasting the wine, we wanted to visit the winery that produced it, Cramele Racas (011-40-256-330-296), about 20 miles from the hotel. The owners, Philip Cox, an Englishman, and Hartley Smithers, an Australian winemaker, were in the laboratory tasting the latest vintages and supervising shipments around Europe. They have almost 20,000 acres of grapes on land that’s been cultivated since the mid-1400s. There are great spaces for wine tastings, both inside and out.
Superior Suite 202 at Hotel Elysee has a refined Old World elegance, but still offers a mix of modern technology.
We also tracked down the antique man, Laurentiu Paslaru (email@example.com; 011-40-764-639-705), who showed us several warehouses full of Romanian and French pieces awaiting restoration. He sells to customers in Italy and other European countries, as well as the U.S. His shop in the center of Timisoara is open by appointment.
The Hotel Elysee provides transport into the center of Timisoara, where we explored the shops in the Piata Unirii (Union Square) and stopped for a pizza at Pane Vino before going to the Orthodox Cathedral, where Beatrice Schipor at the Elysee had made an appointment for us to see the spectacular collection of centuries-old icons. For dinner, we liked the traditional Casa cu Flori (011-40-256-435-080) near the Piata Victorjei (Victory Square), where the locals go for group get-togethers.
For those who want to rent a car, several agencies have offices at the airport, including Hertz and Auto Europe. The hotel will assist guests in planning itineraries, making reservations or hiring a car and driver.