Getting ThereTokaj was located just 34km from our base in Nyireghaza and we made our way there for the early afternoon. We had rented the below SUV in Budapest through Rentalcars.com and so was easy for us to navigate. Tokaj is located in North Eastern Hungary about two and a half hours drive from Budapest. The town is served by trains direct from Budapest-Keleti station, but it takes a wide route and three hours and twenty minutes. The town is located at the meeting of the waters of the Tisa and Bodrog rivers. The Tisa is Hungary’s second river and flows through much of Eastern Hungary. The waters seemed rather murky to me, but there are opportunities to take a pleasure cruise.
Where we stayedOur first stop was at our accommodation and we had chosen the Hotel Tokajvar on Bajacy-Zsilinszky Endre Ut. There aren’t a great number of hotels in the town and most are priced at €50 or under on booking.com and the Tokajvar was the highest rated. The room was clean and perfectly functional without any attributes to set it apart. There was a pleasant sheltered courtyard area and the breakfast the next morning would prove the be tasty. The nearby town of Tarcal has a manor-hotel called the Andrassy Rezedencia Wine and Spa for those seeking more comfort within the Tokaj area.
The highlights of the townThe town was a short stroll away and passes plenty of cafes, restaurants and ice cream stores. What astounded me was how sleepy the town was. For a town famed for its wine, both nationally and internationally there really weren’t many tourists to be seen. It was truly refreshing to explore a town not overran. Tokaj as a town has existed since the 14th century. A castle that once existed was torn down in the 18th century and what stands now is mostly of 19th century origin. The buildings of the town are well presented and naturally as one would expect many Pince (cellars) vie for the small trade there is. The most attractive of these in a ramshackle kind of war was surely the Boroza Pince. The towns most famed Pince is the Rákóczi Pince which dates from the 15th century having been founded by royalty at the time. The town has some pleasant architecture as we approached Kossuth Ter, most of it occupied by local government. The towns main square is overshadowed by the quaint Heart of Jesus Catholic Church. The Bacchus Fountain, with a statue of the Roman god of wine and joy riding a wine barrel, encapsulates what the whole town is about. The City Hall and Tokaj Museum also border the square. We continued our walking tour down Bethlen Gábor Ut stopping for a coffee in the comfortable Tokaji Kaveporkolo, reputedly the best Coffee around. We certainly didn’t have any better.
WineWe returned to Tokaj’s main square to satisfy the reasoning why we had come to the town. Why? To drink wine of course. Rakoczi Pince is the most famed of all the cellars so we choose instead to go for wine tasting in Himesudvar, which was a few minutes walk away on Dozsa Gyorgy Ut. Quality and price are often better off the main streets. The Himesudvar cellar itself is actually located in a building of history. It was built in the 16th century as a hunting lodge by the then king of Hungary. We were treated to an excellent tour of the cellar in English without having to book. Ordinarily advanced booking is required, but I guess this was a slow day. The tour gave a good history of the area and the production of the famous wines. We were humbled by how small an operation some of the cellars have. None of them have capacity to bottle their wines, and their production levels are surprisingly low. Also the processes are very intensive especially compared to that which I have previously witnessed in Tuscany or Greece. Most of the cellars are built under houses and cut into the hill to preserve a constant temperature. The cellars are only used for ageing and fermenting in oak barrels. The tour and tasting of six wines cost 2900huf each and wine is always better with cheese and olives which is an additional 900huf. The correct order for tasting wines in Tokaj is Furmint, Szamorodni, Sweet Szamorodni, and then to try the Aszu Wines. The program here took us through Furmint, Sargamuskotaly (muscat), to Szamorodni, and then to the Aszu. The Aszu wines are measures in puttonyos which is the concentration of sugar in the wine, usually between three and six. Needless to say the six was extremely sweet and was nigh on impossible to drink. We really enjoyed the Furmint and Sargamuskotaly and after the tasting, some extra glasses were had.
Where to eat in TokajTokaj has a broad selection of restaurants from pizza and langos stands to a lot serving traditional Hungarian cuisine. Bacchus restaurant on Rákóczi square seems the best central option. We choose Bonchidai Etterem which sits on the banks of the river, where we had the famous Hungarian fish soup Halaszle and Rantott Hus, the Hungarian version of Schnitzel. We had lunch on our second day across the river in Halra Bor Etterem. This restaurant is again traditional. So traditional in fact that we found Kakas Porkolt. This is an unusual local delicacy and I ordered. For those who don’t speak Hungarian (me) this translates into rooster testicle stew. I wasn’t sure so when the waiter informed us he didn’t have I was left somewhere between disappointed and relieved. I settled for my go to option in Hungary Cigany Pecsenye, pork cooked the gypsy way as the name implies.
Walks from TokajBesides the walks in and around the town and down its passive streets there is also an excellent walk up through the vineyards that line the slopes up towards Bald Mountain, for an elevated view over the town and the rivers. This walk can be found at the rear of the cemetery. Maybe it was the wine (definitely) but we didn’t make it. We took a morning walk out of town and along the train line. A number of Pince are to be found alongside the train station. I guess for those who can’t wait to get to the town after the long train ride here. It was too early in the day and none of them were open, which was probably a good thing.
See the town without walkingBack in the town we decided to take the fun train that runs from the towns car park. It’s an enjoyable way to see the town as it snakes up through the streets to the town square before taking to the side streets and heading out of town, past the towns smaller churches and charming buildings, to the towns new theatre. It then hugs the river for the return route and brings you to the train station and its many pince.
StorksOne of the most fascinating features of Tokaj and the surrounding villages are the storks. These distinctive birds whose main claim to fame is to be bringer of babies, build their nests in elevated positions. Often they are found on electric poles where they build a huge nest of twigs and branches. The construction alone is an impressive sight before you see the mother feeding her fledglings. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing storks in their natural habitat before and its one of the areas most impressive things to see.
Suggested drives from TokajThe hills that surround Tokaj are a wine lovers paradise. The cultivation of grapes is the main farming around, and a drive will take you into fields full of vines. If you don’t fancy the aforementioned walk up to Bald Mountain head to Torcal where a minor road will lead you up to the summit. We were enticed by the town of Mad, possibly more by the name than anything else, but the village didn’t live up to expectations. Alternatively the town of Erdonenye lies 20 kilometres from Tokaj, in a valley between the vineyards of the south and the Zemplen Hills to the north.
A recommended detour to Boldogko CastleForty kilometres north of Tokaj near the Zemplen hills a castle hugs a ridge high above the town of Boldogkovaralja. This castle begs to be visited. Originally constructed during medieval times, though no approximate date is known, it was certainly constructed in response to the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century. Hungarian castles have had a torrid past, nearly all were blown up by the Germans after a failed rebellion of 1702. The castle has been rebuilt this century with an addition of a secure walkway to the lookout tower at the end of the ridge. It all looks rather innocuous from the distance. The castle is foreboding when you park your car and make the uphill hike to its entrance. The rock face seems to form part of the castle wall and its hard to know where one ends and the other begins. Admission is quite cheap costing 1100huf or around €4 per person. Bear in mind the walk to the castle and the interior is very rough and not suitable for those with limited mobility. The inside buildings have largely been rebuilt however a good amount of it reflects its original design. it’s so rough around the edges its near perfect. Clamber up and down stairs to other levels and enjoy a number of exhibits inside from dioramas of significant battles, the torture instruments of the dungeons and the usual displays on armour, and the lives of those who inhabited the castle. It’s all enjoyable if not a little similar to what we have seen before. What separates Boldogko from other castles of its ilk is the watchtower on the ridge. This watchtower is accessed from a stone opening on the castle wall. The walkway opens out to simply spectacular views. It curves out what was surely a precarious ridge before for about thirty metres before ending in the wooden watchtower.It’s a breathtaking experience as you walk out and see the village of the town far below. The view stretches south across the fields to the Zemplen Hills. The fields were awash with the colours of different crops and simply added to a perfect little moment. Is there a more spectacular photo opportunity in Hungary? If you haven’t had your fill of all things medieval after a visit to the castle then why not venture down to the medieval themed restaurant beneath, Castrum Boldua. Big long banqueting tables, wall-mounted shields, and wooden plates full of meat await, with only a knife and your hands as utensils. Wash it all down with goblets of beer and wine to complete your tip back in time. Certainly it’s not one for those who are refined. Tokaj is an interesting part of Hungary, that has yet to be overrun by tourists and is worthy of a few days exploration. If you enjoyed my post feel free to comment or share.