We arrive at the gates of Szegzárd—the lodge estate on a narrow, winding road, offering a magnificent view of the Szekszárd wine region. Inside the gate, the slopes stretch on: as you raise your eyes, one building emerges after another.
The lodge has a unique atmosphere in the area, due to several factors. In addition to the architecture, which praises the work of the Budapest-based építész stúdió, the whole concept of the place is well thought out and coherent. The unique vibe, which we could already sense from the design a few weeks before the opening, can be experienced in the interiors and on the estate. The comfort of the guesthouses, reminiscent of boutique hotels, is crowned by complete silence: thanks to the limited capacity of the space, relaxation is truly undisturbed here. Péter Dudás, one of the owners, told us that this was exactly the aim: to create an island of tranquility in a yet undiscovered place. We asked Péter about the birth of the idea, the details of the concept, and the challenges of opening.
H&H: How did you choose the location for Szegzárd—the lodge? What is there to know about the area?
D. P.: I was born in Szekszárd, so the region was familiar to me. Ever since I was a child, I have been thinking about what could be created here that would make the town, the wine region itself, a little more familiar and attractive. This part of the country is less well known, but I dare say it’s not fair: there are simply too many good wines and great winemakers here not to create something lasting in this region. Even though half of our two hectares are an active part of the Szekszárd wine region—i.e., we cultivate vineyards—we are not currently engaged in processing and winemaking; however, we have dreamed up Szegzárd—the lodge boutique hotel, which can help to provide maximum comfort and tranquility for the passing tourist.
What were the main criteria you set for the architects, and how was the joint work carried out?
We discovered the architect studio thanks to an article and contacted them immediately afterward. We felt a mutual rapport and common ground right away; they understood what we were looking for and were very enthusiastic about the design process. We were greatly influenced by a team of Portuguese design brothers, Francisco and Manuel Aires, who have completed some impressive projects in Portugal and around the world. We knew that we wanted to use the materials in their natural state in the construction: the plan was to use unfinished raw concrete, larch frame construction, and larch shingle on the roof. We designed open, large glass surfaces to provide us with even greater access to nature.
After the permit and then the detailed design plans were completed, it took a lot of time to find the contractor who best understood our vision and felt how much depended on good quality workmanship to achieve what we had dreamed of.
At Szegzárd, the interiors are also very much in focus—what were you aiming at here?
We wanted to create an interior dominated by naturalness, a soft color palette, and calm lines, but we also wanted to create a sense of true luxury and comfort. The word luxury is so trite nowadays; in our interpretation, it really means that we have chosen the highest quality, most luxurious furnishings for all the rooms; furniture and accessories that you don’t find at home and are very difficult to come by. A year and a half before the opening in May, we started ordering most of the objects and furniture.
In recent years, we have been conscious of our choice of hotels when traveling abroad: we went there not only to relax but also to be inspired. Social media platforms have also helped us to gather ideas. We’ve followed countless great sites recently that post brilliant projects every day.
The ceiling height at the highest point of the apartments is 4.5 meters: we wanted to emphasize this, so we chose items such as a fireplace suspended from the ceiling or the monumental woven bamboo lamps. In the basement, we wanted to use exposed brick and envisaged a very clean space, with only tables and chairs and subdued lighting. In the bedrooms, we wanted to bring the highest level of tranquility, and we achieved this by not using any distracting fixtures or decorations. Only the raw larch wall paneling, the cream-colored wool carpet, and the comfortable bed dominate the twenty-five square meter space.
If you had to highlight just a few details, what do you think was the key to creating a warm and welcoming environment in your spaces? The carefully selected objects, the well-designed lighting, or the composition itself?
The interior design of the lodges is perhaps best described as modern-nomadic. We know the word modern better in the following context: it indicates a clean design, a minimalist look in our case. The word nomad clearly refers to the use of materials and rawness: ash wood dining tables, woven bamboo light fittings, mahogany outdoor furniture, copper cookware, raw concrete floors, larch wall paneling, linen curtains and cushions, damask bed linen, wool carpets, all combine to create a warm and homely environment. All-day light play, thanks to the exterior moldings of the lodges, also contributes to the feeling of home.
How does a perfect day in a lodge look like?
Based on our experience so far, it is mostly couples and small families who come here seeking peace and quiet. A perfect day starts with breakfast: we prepare a rich breakfast basket for our guests, using ingredients from local producers. On our two hectares of land, you will find a heated, twelve by five meter swimming pool, which can be used from April to October, a six-person, waveless Jacuzzi, a four-person sauna on a high structure in the middle of the forest, and a swing bed. If you feel like it, you can also visit our estate and the surrounding gorges and vineyards. You can also do all this on an e-bike, two of which are provided for those who wish to relax here.
From August, it is also possible to request the Private Dining Experience, where a private chef prepares lunch or dinner for our guests based on a pre-arranged menu, and if they are interested, we can also organize a private wine tasting in our wine cellar with the assistance of our own staff or a local guest winemaker. Snacks and the finest wines of the Szekszárd wine region are readily available from the mini-bar and wine coolers in the apartments. On chilly evenings or when celebrating with a large group, we recommend using the fireplaces or outdoor fire pits. Szegzárd—the lodge is only a fifteen-minute walk from the center of Szekszárd and is also close to the estates of several large wineries, where guests can book in advance for wine tastings. And if you are a hiking enthusiast, you will surely find the perfect way to relax while exploring the Gemenci forest and the Szekszárd hills.
Without any experience in hospitality, you started opening the lodge on a whim. What experiences have you gathered and what difficulties have you encountered since the opening?
Indeed, hospitality was an unknown field for us as a profession. We have developed the philosophy behind Szegzárd—the lodge based on our positive and negative experiences during our holidays. With the help of two colleagues, also non-professionals, we deal with all the requests and questions of our guests and try to satisfy their needs to the maximum.
We get a lot of positive feedback from them, they describe our little hotel as exactly what we dreamed it to be, and it feels very good: unique, “as if it wasn’t in Hungary”, “we’ve been to many places, but this is…”
Unfortunately, however, we sometimes find ourselves in situations that make us feel bad—perhaps because we have thrown ourselves into the project with a non-hospitable mind, investing a lot of work, time, effort, financial sacrifice and sleepless nights. It’s important to note that we are not a hotel chain where one hotel is just one of the hundreds: this is our own little boutique hotel, which is like our own home. That’s how we treat it, we owners and our colleagues do too. Indeed there are sometimes guests, although fortunately only a very small percentage of them, who cannot truly enjoy the place. Causing some minor damages, they may inconvenience not only us but also the guests who follow them, because we may not be able to repair the damage as quickly as we would like. And to maintain the high quality of service we have built up, we need ongoing maintenance and replacement of worn-out items. It is this attitude that makes Szegzárd—the lodge unique, and we are very confident that once guests get the sense of it, they will use the place with a little more thoughtfulness.
In addition to working with the architectural studio, tell us about another collaboration: before the opening, you communicated about the lodge with drawings rather than 3D visuals, creating a distinctive image.
That’s right, before starting the construction, we had already planned how we would like to communicate our start-up project to the public, and the realistic, cheerful drawings and illustrations of the newly built guest houses were part of this. For this, I feel we found the most suitable professional, Adel Kovács (@the_noon_crafts). For a year and a half, week after week, we have been leaking Adél’s drawings on our social media platforms, and the project has become more and more clear to our followers and ourselves. We had no architect-designed visual plans. The interiors were created in our heads, the descriptions of which we passed on to Adél, and she drew the vision of reality using the technique that best suited our image.
Our original idea was to create a small book as a collection of these drawings, which our guests would receive as a gift. The book is currently in the process of being printed and will soon be available to all our guests. The booklet is divided into three main topics: the story of the creation of Szegzárd—the lodge, the introduction of Szekszárd as a city and region, and the presentation of Szegzárd—the lodge as a venue.
Photos: Kata Balogh