A few years ago my friend Lexi , (one of my former grad students and a wine expert) was developing a wine tasting tour of Hungary (her home country) and asked whether I would be interested in going on the pilot and giving her feedback. Hmmm. What to do … what to do?🤔 Seriously, I didn’t think about it that long. It was more like: when? How much? Yes I’m in!😆 That’s how I ended up in Hungary for a week in May 2018, having a fabulous time on a bespoke tour of the country’s major wine regions. There were supposed to be six of us in the group, plus Lexi. Fortuitously, four couldn’t make it, so it was just two of us and Lexi. Excellent!
Like a glass of fine wine, this post is meant to be savored, not guzzled … Cheers! 🥂
The itinerary included the types of activities that make a trip meaningful for me – not attractions like amusement parks and big bus tours, but a winery focused on sustainability, making chocolates with an artisanal chocolatier, cooking a Hungarian meal with a local chef, world heritage, and nature. Of course these were all secondary to the wine. Here’s a taste of my week in Hungary.
Gingallo Chocolate Factory
Making chocolate plus a tasting of special chocolate and wine pairings. Heaven!
Cooking Class at EtyekM at The Old Winery
EtyekM at The Old Winery was where I got my first taste of Pálinka and cooked chicken paprikash. The Pálinka was a tough swallow but everything else was great – the adaptive reuse of the building, with restaurant on the middle floor, rentable rooms on the top floor and wine cellar; herb garden; and vineyard. The wine and chicken paprikash 😋.
Herend Porcelain Manufactory
Herend is almost 200 years old; that anniversary will be celebrated in 2026. This was a lovely tour, watching the artists at work and viewing the museum exhibits. My rose (which I finally painted two years later) really doesn’t compare, I don’t think Herend will be inviting me to join their team any time soon 😁.
I loved the accomodations at Kreinbacher. The wine was good too, so I bought a few bottles 😊. The cellar was ultra modern, very different to the historic ones we toured.
Tapolca Lake Cave
Tapolca Lake Cave is a part of the Bakony-Balaton Geopark (we also visited other areas and took the ferry across Lake Balaton). Open to the public since 1912, it feels like a different world, though it runs underneath the town. The visitor centre also hosts ongoing exhibits on cave systems and other natural phenomena.
Vintner for a day at Istvándy in the Tokaj Region
Making wine may be as good as drinking it 😁. This was wonderful experience. In addition to making the vintage Istvándy StinkaMissy 2016 (made with Muskotály, Szürkebarát, and Rizling varietals) I also got to test my skills in an aroma test. Of course there was wine tasting (not just my wine) before and during, with cheese 😋. This tasting room was another setting that I loved.
A Ferry Ride, a Mini-Castle …
Why take the long way around when you can go by ferry and see the views. We took the ferry across Lake Balaton from Tihany (North Shore) to Szantod (South Shore). A (mini) castle just for me? With luxury cars? You shouldn’t have, but I’ll take it any way. Alas, if only we had a day or two to use the facilities, but it was just a one night stay (because roadtrip to taste wine and explore cellars).
Fritz Wine Estate
Fritz Wine Estate is special. This facility has just about everything: beautiful grounds, history (original buildings over 150 years), ambiance, and good wine (especially the award winning Papilion merlot 2012). Plus meeting and event spaces, dining, and accommodations. I could also store my wine here for a fee. #fritzperience
The sole woman owned and operated cellar we visited was also the one focused on sustainability. That didn’t surprise me at all. The vintner is involved in all stages of growing the grapes and producing the wines so this was a very special tour. Local cheeses were a great complement the wine 😋. Sometimes simplicity is the best.
Paprika Museum in Kalocsa
While a major component of the museum is the paprika story, traditional Hungarian embroidery and clothing is also showcased.
Gróf Degenfeld Szőlőbirtok és Kastélyszálló (Castle Hotel & Winery)
I include this hotel because the sunset was brilliant and we watched it from the chapel in the vineyard. And we were guests at a wedding photography session. Plus it had a sauna that we enjoyed.
Gomboshegyi Cellars, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
I thought I’d finally arrived at the Shire and that Bilbo Baggins would come out to greet me. Perhaps Gandalf would drop in to say hello. I was disappointed that none of that happened but not with this World Heritage Site 😊. These cellars are owned/leased by different individuals/companies. We weren’t expecting to be able to enter one, but we were lucky that one of the owners was on site and we were able to get a peak.
These cellars, like Oremus to follow, are part of the wider Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2002. According to UNESCO, The cultural landscape of Tokaj graphically demonstrates the long tradition of wine production in this region of low hills and river valleys. The intricate pattern of vineyards, farms, villages and small towns, with their historic networks of deep wine cellars, illustrates every facet of the production of the famous Tokaj wines, the quality and management of which have been strictly regulated for nearly three centuries. The region’s inscription was approved under Criterion iii: The Tokaj wine region represents a distinct viticultural tradition that has existed for at least a thousand years and which has survived intact up to the present and Criterion v: The entire landscape of the Tokaj wine region, including both vineyards and long established settlements, vividly illustrates the specialized form of traditional land use that it represents.
Tokaj Oremus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
This was my favourite cellar. In my notes from the experience I wrote, “magnificent underground cellar system,” “unbelievable sweet and semi-sweet wines.” This is the cellar where I bought my birthday wine – Oremus Tokaji Aszú 1999. I finished the wine but I plan to keep the bottle for posterity. It’s the most expensive wine I’ve ever purchased. It was worth every cent. Oremus, through its parent company TEMPOS Vega Sicilia, is also committed to minimizing its negative environmental impact. Interestingly, a woman currently chairs the board of directors for TEMPOS Vega Sicilia.
Oremus’ current cellar was originally 10 individual cellars that were connected during the 19th and 20th centuries. The year round temperature in the cellar is about 10.5°C. The mold on the walls is a special type that helps to clean the air and maintain humidity (85-90%).
Kopcsik Marcipánia (Marzipan) Museum, Eger
This museum was an unexpected treat. The night before visiting the museum we stayed at the Imola Udvarház Dessert Hotel …
Old Village of Hollókő, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Old Village of Hollókő and its Surroundings was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1987 because it is an outstanding example of a deliberately preserved traditional settlement, representative of a culture that has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change. This village, which developed mainly during the 18th and 19th centuries, not only represents the Palócz subgroup within the Hungarian nation but also bears witness, for the whole of Central Europe, to the traditional forms of rural life which were generally abolished by the agricultural revolution in the 20th century (Criterion V). There are also conservation areas and trails around the village.
Some things require neither introduction nor explanation 😊.
One week in Hungary. Packed with great times, wine, and memories. Can you tell I absolutely loved it?! Please don’t ask me how many bottles of wine I brought back with me. I just recall that I had more bottles than days on the ground in Hungary 🤣. As I said at the beginning, this post offers a mere taste of that week – like a dégustation. I could easily do another post or two on the sites and experiences I’ve excluded to keep the length of this post manageable 😆(I really amuse myself). The many personal touches, beautiful sites, lovely accommodations, and great experiences Lexi facilitated can’t be overstated. I would tour with Travel Forever anytime! All I need to know is where and when … Cheers!