Eger is the land of Hungarian wine. Or more accurately, one of the many lands of Hungarian wine. The town is home to the famous wine blend, Egrí Bikavér, or Bulls Blood. The name originates from a siege on Eger by the Turkish army in the 16th century. The Hungarian army defeated the Turks after being fed local food and wine, including red wine from the local vineyards. The dark red blend was rumored to be mixed with bulls blood which gave the small Hungarian army the strength to defeat the much larger group of invaders. Of all of our visits to Europe, Eger has been among the most enjoyable areas. This post is the second in a series on Hungary. Make sure you don’t miss Hungary Adventure Stop #1: Budapest, which details many of the high level information related to the country and our second post. Also check out the third and final Hungary Adventure Stop #3: Pécs.
If you know someone who would like to go to Hungary, we would appreciate if you would share this post or our website! We have lots of information which we have learned and researched for our year of travels around the world and we would love it to be shared.Eger is a 2 hour trip east from Budapest, but feels a world away. The quaint town is quiet and houses only 55,000 residents. The main points of interest in the city include a small old town square overlooked by a medieval castle, and the nearby Valley of the Beautiful Women.We arrived by Volan bus (timetable), which was recommended as the preferred option by locals compared to train. The bus leaves from the main Budapest terminal, which is Puskás Ferenc Stadion. Stadion is located a short subway ride away (on the M2 line) from the main Budapest-Keleti Railway Terminal. The Volan bus cost only 2,700 HUF per person ($10) and we paid 700 HUF subway ride to the main bus station from our Airbnb. Our stay in Eger lasted 3 nights. We love trying new wines, and Eger offered many local grape varietals which are not often found outside of Hungary such as Kékfrankos, Kadarka, Portugieser and Furmint. This area offered a welcome calm after the fast pace of Budapest, and should not be missed by anyone visiting the country.
The Valley of the Beautiful Women is located to the west of town, about a 20 minute walk or short ride by wine cart (small wagons transport people to and from the Valley for 900 HUF). This is the area where the local wine producers store and sell their wine. There are a handful of restaurants offering sit down style meals, and a circular drive surrounded by 47 wine caves built into the hills on either side. Most of the wines are produced by different local wineries in the area, but a few are duplicates so keep this in mind when trying visit all 47:
Kiss Pincészet Winery – Operates cellars 14 A/B and 37
Hagymási Pincészet Winery – Operates cellars 17, 19, and 45
Molnár Pincészet Winery – Operates cellars 16 and 22
Some cellars are very upscale with high class wines and the Napa Valley experience. Others are extremely modest mom and pop shops where there is essentially no decor and tasting is done directly with the sole owner and producer.We spent the first two days in Eger tasting wines at various caves. Due to the overwhelming number of options, we did not come anywhere close to trying them all, but relied purely on recommendations for which cellars to visit.There was something to enjoy with all of the caves we visited and there was an appeal to tasting in the cold damp environment of the cellars. Tastes were free and glasses were sold by the deciliter (100 ml, about 1/2 glass). Prices mostly ranged from as little at 100 HUF ($0.40) per deciliter to 550 HUF ($2), although there are top shelf vintages available for more. Bottles could also be purchased with dirt cheap prices, or wine could be tapped straight from the barrel into plastic to-go jugs for around 600-1,000 HUF per liter ($2-4).
Our timing was impeccable as we were in town for the Egrí Bikavér Wine Festival. The wine festival attracted most of the visitors leaving the valley almost empty. We drank wine alone in almost every cave we visited, which is likely not a typical experience. Of all of the caves we visited, we most enjoyed numbers 2, 12, and 33. While each had their own type of appeal, these three stood out amongst the crowd.
Cave #2: Biró Borozó: The highlights were the unbelievable welcome, overall enjoyment, and delicious reds. This was the first cave we visited on day one, and was almost our last. The owner is an older woman who spoke almost no English, but swept us in like a grandmother and started pouring us wine without any request being made. She immediately pulled out her guestbook and started showing the entries of visitors from almost every country in the world, and asked us to sign with our location. All communication was done via an impressive game of charades. We experienced wine through vintners choice style complete with use of a lopó. The lopó is a sort of a glass pipette container which can be used to siphon wine directly out of a barrel and into a glass or our mouths! By the time we finally managed to break free, we had each been given at least 5 full pour glasses plus several additional partial tastes, ranging from table whites to gold medal award winning vintage reds. We never saw a menu, nor actually ordered anything. When the bill came, we owed 5,800 HUF total for our group of four, or a mere 1,450 HUF per person ($5.35).
Cave #12: Gyenge Miklósne: You’ll miss this one if you aren’t looking for it. This was the most authentic wine experience we have had to date. The winery and cave are run by one older gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English. His wine selection is limited to a handful and none are bottled. The options are tastes, glasses, or liters to-go straight from the barrel. The cellar had no frills or decor, and was a bit haphazard in appearance. It’s not everyday that you get to taste wines alone directly with the producer in his homely cave.Cave #33: Ostorosbor: This winery was the most elegant in appearance and delicious overall. It had a marketable appearance and wide selection of varietals, including an amazing semi-sparkling white and rosé. The bartender spoke excellent English and was able to explain the wines in great detail. This one provided the most professional atmosphere, but prices were still extremely reasonable.The Egrí Bikavér Wine Festival is held each year in the early part of July. We visited on both Saturday and Sunday evenings of our visit. It included tents with food and wine from most of the local restaurants and vineyards, along with live music. The tents served wines which would pair nicely with the food offered. The price of entry to the festival was simply the purchase of a wine glass for use at the tents, which cost 700 HUF (just over $2.50).Wine and food was sold separately with most dinners running around 1,400 HUF. The food and smells are enough to water anyones appetite, but beware, everything is not always what it seems. After a day of wine tasting, we got a delicious looking dinner which we thought was beef and onions. After grabbing a big mouthful, we discovered that it was beef liver. Personal opinion: liver doesn’t pair well with anything.On our last day in town, we visited the Thermalbathe water park. This is connected to the Turkish baths in town, but has extended hours. The price for entry is 2,100 HUF ($8) per person at the time of our visit, with an additional 1,300 HUF ($5) for entry to the Turkish baths. The park has 8 different pools including some natural thermal baths, radon pools (thought to be therapeutic) and pools for kids with jets and waterfalls. The pools range in temperature between 20*C – 38*C.While is Eger, we stayed in the Hauser-Bodnár Ház guesthouse. This is a building from the 1700’s which was restored as a hotel by a young couple. There was originally a metalwork shop where products were sold to the castle and church, which can still be seen in the dining area. We had a private room and bath, with a total nightly price of 990 HUF ($37). This price also included the mandatory city accommodation tax which must be paid in cash upon arrival to all hotels. The owners were extremely nice and offered to drive us the 2 hours to Budapest to catch our train to Pécs at the end of our stay to ensure that we made our connection.
While in town, we had the pleasure of finding an amazing pizza restaurant, Il Padrino. It is located just a block from the main square but is hidden from tourists. The food was cheap and incredible. Our total bill was less than 2,700 HUF ($10). We went twice.
What we learned in Eger:
- Do not miss Eger if you are visiting Budapest. We recommend staying 3 nights.
- Visit during the Bulls Blood (Egrí Bikavér) Wine Festival in July. The festival is fun and the valley is empty.
- Visit the Valley of the Beautiful Women and cave hop between the 47 wine cellars.
- Visit the “city under the city”. The passageways are large enough for a horse and cart to turn around inside.
- Drink cappuccino, get gelato, eat out! Food and wine are very cheap in this area.
- Visit the Thermalbathe water park and Turkish Baths. They are much cheaper than the ones in Budapest.
- Hike the nearby trails at Mátra or Bükk mountain ranges.
Make sure you also check out our other posts from Europe, including Austria and Iceland. We also have more helpful information which we have shared from our experiences on Understanding Travel Insurance, Essential Mobile Technology for Travel, Packing for an Extended Trip, and How to Plan for a Year Abroad!