Louis XV of France called the Aszú wine of Tokaj “Wine of Kings, King of Wines” (“Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum”). If you enjoy good wine and creative cuisine, you simply must visit this region called Tokaj-Hegyalja in North-East Hungary! Apart from exploring the century-old wineries and wine cellars, you can also go hiking in the rugged wilderness of the nearby Zemplén Mountains. Nature trails, rock climbing spots and ancient castles provide excellent opportunities for active relaxation.
Wine Tasting in Tokaj-Hegyalja: a Palatal Adventure
Known as Tokay in many places, the Aszú wine of Tokaj is considered one of the most unique wines in the world. Its birthplace is the legendary wine region in North-East Hungary, boasting centuries of viniculture and traditions. In 2002, UNESCO honoured the region by declaring it a World Heritage Site.
Tokaj has also been the world’s first closed wine production district since 1737. Composed of 27 settlements, this historic wine region’s volcanic soil, its unique microclimate, its favourable sloping hills, the autumn mist above the Bodrog and Tisza rivers and the noble rot on the walls of the wine cellars carved into the rhyolitic tuff rock all play a role in ensuring that the Furmint and Hárslevelű grapes of this region make for excellent, exciting white wines.
Many of the wineries and wine cellars are open to visitors. You can explore them by yourself if you like, or with professional guidance – often you can even have the proprietor as your guide! You can get around on foot or by bicycle but some locations even offer Segway or SUV tours. The wineries, wine houses and restaurants of the region all invite you to participate in the premium wine tastings, wine dinners and cheerful picnics that are special in the region. Experts of new wave cuisine have also been coming to Tokaj-Hegyalja in ever greater numbers, to places like Mád, Tarcal, Tállya and Encs. The creative meals are all made using fresh home-grown ingredients. Every year, the Tokaj-Hegyalja Market is a concentrated treasure trove of unique products made by local artisans. Located in the town of Tokaj, the World Heritage Wine Museum allows visitors an insight into the history and winemaking processes of the region through an interactive exhibition.
While visiting the region, you can lodge in cosy little village houses. These charming, traditional homes still use tile stoves for heating and cook with beehive ovens. If you prefer more luxurious accommodation, however, you will find quality hotels – even some five-star ones – in the area.
Extreme adventures and beautiful sights in the Zemplén Mountains
This region of Hungary is not only about wine. You can make the 150 km (93 mile) long pilgrimage known as the “Footsteps of the Wonder Rabbis” through 10 settlements, exploring the Jewish memorial and heritage sites of Tokaj-Hegyalja.
In the nearby Zemplén Mountains, you can hike through one of the largest virgin forests in Hungary, finding several castle ruins, springs and rock climbing spots along the way. You can explore the castles and forts of Regéc, Füzér, Sárospatak and Füzérradvány, which remain awe-inspiring to this day or you can take a trip to the Zemplén Adventure Park and try the longest bobsled and chairlift tracks in the country. You can also take a ride on the one kilometre-long extreme zipline course, where you can reach speeds of over 80 km/h (50 mph). In the winter, the mountain Adventure Park offers opportunities for skiing and ice-skating.
Once you are in the region, it is definitely worth taking a trip to see one of the country’s most beautiful natural wonders, the mine lake of Megyer Mountain. The lake was formed among the rocks of a former millstone mine that had been closed down in the beginning of the 20th century. This spot is among Hungary’s most stunning and most special destinations, with an amazing sight from the rock cliffs as high as 70 meters.
Exciting boat trips and festivals in the region
Two rivers meet in the beautiful town of Tokaj, which makes it an ideal destination for those who enjoy boat trips. These cruises offer amazing sights over the stunning natural environment, and they can also take visitors to one of the most precious building of Hungary’s late Renaissance architecture, the Rákóczi Castle at Sárospatak.
Tokaj and the nearby area is also home to several festivals, visitors can listen to pop, symphonic and jazz concerts or view performances of theatre, opera and operetta. There is a unique festival in Erdőbénye, where guests can taste the local wines while enjoying jazz and folk music, and ‘Fesztiválkatlan’ in Tokaj offers a wide selection of events from April to September every year. Zempléni Festival is a perfect spot for the fans of jazz and classical music in August, while Kerekdomb Festival offers music a wide variety of genres in the beginning of September.
The Baths: Fun for the Whole Family
Hungary is famous for the abundance of thermal waters:no less than 80% of its territory has some form of thermal water underground. Nyiregyháza-Sóstó is one of Hungary’s most memorable and enjoyable tourist destinations for many reasons. The city boasts an oak forest with a unique micro-climate, healthy thermal springs and a lake suitable for both bathing and boating. All this a mere 5 kilometres (a little over 3 miles) away from the centre of Nyíregyháza. Visitors can choose from a number of thermal baths where they can find the cure for their health-related problems. The thermal water of Sóstó contains iodine, bromine and plenty of minerals and is known to be effective for musculoskeletal, rheumatic and joint disorders. The nearby Aquarius waterpark (Aquarius Élményfürdő) is open throughout the year welcoming visitors of all ages with its thermal pools, gigantic water slides, and a breath-taking themed children’s area.
Explore the Fauna of Five Continents in Nyíregyáza
Visitors of the Sóstó Zoo can take a sneak peek at the lives of more than 5,000 specimens of roughly 500 species in this beautiful park. Located in a 30-hectare (2.5-acre) oak forest, guests can see such rare and exciting species as the white tiger, the Indian rhinoceros, the snow leopard, the sand tiger shark, the Western gorilla or the Komodo dragon. Exciting buildings representing the different continents include the Green Pyramid, – unique in all of Europe – where visitors can gain insight into the world of oceans and rainforests. The establishment features Hungary’s only in-zoo hotel for adventurous tourists who enjoy waking up to the morning sounds of the wild. Close by, the Sóstó Open-Air Village Museum takes visitors back to the 19th century in form of an exciting cultural and architectural journey.
A Pilgrimage to the Miraculous Máriapócs
Located in the vicinity of Nyíregyháza, the village of Máriapócs is a major pilgrimage site for the followers of the Marian devotion of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. However, the village’s deep spiritual atmosphere tends to make a great impression even on non-religious visitors. Pilgrims have been coming to Máriapócs to pray to be cured of their physical and mental problems and to pay tribute to the Mother of God since the late 17th century when a painting of Mary in the local church was noted to miraculously shed tears. Neighbouring the village’s richly ornate Orthodox Catholic church, the Basilian monastery is the only one of its kind in Hungary. Being a key site of the Marian Pilgrimage Route going across Central Europe, this national shrine of Hungary was even visited by Pope John Paul II in 1991.
Cycling along the Route of Medieval Churches
Flowing gently through the north-eastern corner of Hungary, the upper section of river Tisza is perfect for slow tourism. Peaceful hamlets and the soothing tranquillity of nature welcome visitors of this area; along with calm, easygoing and friendly locals proudly offering a taste of their pálinka – a Hungarian spirit made of juicy plums, apples or other types of fruit.
This piece of land surrounded by natural waters is where the highest number of medieval churches can be found within the entire Carpathian Basin. This area is the home to the Route of Medieval Churches, a themed route connecting over 60 such churches. Beautiful little temples with coffered wooden ceilings decorated with ancient Hungarian symbols, painted galleries, lavishly carved pulpits, and wooden belfries – this is the unique spiritual heritage of the Szatmár region, best captured on a bike tour complemented by a summer canoe ride on the river Tisza. The region offers a cycle route network that is several hundred kilometres long. It runs along the river, by the riverside levees, and through lovely little villages nestled side-by-side. You should definitely pay a visit to the churches of Lónya, Csaroda, Tákos, Gyügye, Szamosújlak, and Nagyszekeres, which are perhaps the most enchanting of all.
Taste the local palinka specialties of the region
Visitors travelling to Nyírség area, definitely shouldn’t miss out on trying the local palinka, especially the one made from the sour cherries grown by the town of Újfehértó. This palinka with a distinctive flavour is a product with protected designation of origin, a special delicacy with an ABV of at least 37,5%. The sour cherry the palinka is made from is said to treat digestive disorders, heart conditions, or other diseases.