The best thing about Hungary is that you can easily base yourself in Budapest (aka – cheap accommodation) because no where in the country is more than 5-hours away by train. I had 4 nights in Budapest recently, so technically 3 full-days; the first dedicated to Budapest city, the second a day trip to Eger and the third a day trip to Tokaj.
Having a continuous Eurail Global Pass meant I could simply hop aboard the 2-hour train to Eger. Trains go every hour, those on the odd hours are direct and those on the even hours have 1 change.
The train ride was beautiful, the sun was out and the pancake flat land was covered in autumn coloured trees. If you’re training from Budapest, you will be dropped at the station just on the outskirts of the city. It is an easy 10-15minute walk to the center of town (turn right onto Deák Ferenc út and walk north until you reach the Basilica) or you can just head straight to Szépasszony-völgy, where all the wine action takes place. Again this would be about a 15 minute walk. I picked up a map from the Eger Tourism Info in the town center, but you really don’t need one anyway, it’s not hard to get lost unless you drink yourself into oblivion.
Szépasszony-völgy translates to Valley of Beautiful Woman. However you will see that most signs in Eger either say ‘Valley of Nice Woman’ or ‘Valley of Lovely Woman’. I have read many versions of the story behind the Valley’s name and where the infamous Bulls Blood wine (Egri Bikavér) comes from – I think it is safe to say that the story is lost in legend. However it is quite fun to read the different versions; a beautiful Hungarian girl getting out of marriage to a Turk general because she gave him some Bulls Blood and being a Muslim he wasn’t use to this strange thing people call alcohol, 20 Eger men defending the castle while 200 Turks surround them, a goddess of prehistoric religion who took sacrifices at the location of the valley. See what I mean, they differ dramatically and are all rather entertaining!
I feel like I visited Eger at the perfect time as I’m not one for jam-packed tourist places and I cam pretty much put my money on the fact that we were the only tourists there… It was very quiet which was perfect for me as it meant we didn’t have to wait for service at any of the little cellars. It was also a good time to be there in early October because there were still some cellars bringing in grapes so we got to see the trucks coming in and unloading the grapes into the de-stemming and sorting machines.
You will know you have reached the valley when you come across a big parking lot and you will see a half-naked statue of a lady with a jug of wine in her arms. Below this you will find a map with all the cellar details and locations on.
The road leading up to the ring of cellars has many little food places and restaurants on. It was here at one of the Csardas (Kodmon) I had to stop for an ‘Eger Pancake Ball’ – it was 750 HUF (2.60 Euro) and worth every penny! Basically it was a thick mocha filled crepe ball with white custard and chocolate sauce drizzled on the outside, and whipped cream on the side – heaven!
The ring of cellars seems a bit intimidating to start with however the trick with the Hungarians is to attempt to speak some Hungarian otherwise if you don’t you will get back a monotone response that reeks of annoyance at the sight of more tourists. My secret weapons were; jo napot (good afternoon) and koszonom (thank-you). It wasn’t a lot but I got a lot more smiles for sure.
The cellars are cute and cosy. Most are adorned with wine relics and awards of the cellars. The benches are covered with blankets as the temperature sits at around 10-15 degrees inside as they are built into several hundred-meter thick rolite tufa . You order by the glass, 1 deciliter starts at around 90 HUF (30 Euro cents). Once you have decided to call it quits for the day, head back to your favourite cellar to buy a liter or 2 (or 3 like myself!) to take back home with you. A liter will put you back 500-700HUF in a plastic bottle – it makes for a fun train ride back to Budapest!
It’s best to work your way anti-clockwise around the cellar ring as the better quality and a touch more expensive ones start on the far right of the ring road. I always think it’s better to start with the nicer/more expensive ones as by the time you get to the ones that guarantee a headache the next day you won’t really care! Watch out for these cellars, I can guarantee you will either try some fabulous wine or otherwise you will definitely have a great time there;
- St. Vince Borkostolo
- Tuhasz Pinceszet Borozoja (can’t miss it as the entrance is like a castle)
- Sike Pince 43 (Some delicious Cabernet’s!)
- Wanda Borhaz (Great atmosphere, they actually had music on instead of dead silence like all the others)
- Hagymasi (Awesome long cave)
A day out in Eger is not to be missed, it is an easily do-able day trip from Budapest and one that you won’t forget in a hurry. Or maybe you will depending on how much Egri Bikavér you get stuck into.