Our group consisted of representatives from British Airways Holidays, the Flight Centre, Thomas Cook, Kuoni and me for Silver Travel Advisor and the over 50s. We had all visited Budapest at some time in the past, but none of us knew of the other destinations we would visit in the east of the country so this was an extraordinary opportunity to see what was on offer.
First stop was Eger, around 1.5 hours drive along motorway, or you could get there by bus rather than the slow rail service. It is very different as you leave the city for the countryside, passing small villages with little wine cellars tucked away in the side of a hill for each villager to store his own cache of wine. Lots of different styles of house, including new properties as many villages expand, and the inevitable SPAR shop or even Tesco!
Eger is an ancient town, originally a staging point and crossroads in a strategic position. It is a beautiful town, with well cared for painted houses and lots of flowers around. The Catholic Church has always been a big influence, with the second-biggest church in Hungary here and the Archbishop’s Palace currently being renovated. This will open later in 2014 including a museum. Lots of historical facts – it was the first pedestrian town centre in Hungary, the Artist’s Institute was founded here as was the modern-day form of the Olympics, and it has the oldest Camera Obscurer in Europe.
Apparently, the monks invented a cure-all elixir from Eger water and lots of minerals. Unfortunately, it was almost 100% proof, so this was modified locally to around 40% alcohol and called Egriviz. This proved to be extremely popular with the ladies of the town as they were not allowed to visit a public house to drink so this elixir was a life-enhancer! There is a traditional pharmacy you can visit and see where it was made, and various versions are available to buy in the tourist shops.
The Castle is worth a visit if you are mobile. It is a steep climb on uneven cobbles and earth, so definitely not suitable for a wheel chair, but it has great views and 1000 years ago this was the town. They are planning to install a lift but I still do not see that you can explore much even if you get up there. One of the best restaurants in town is the Macok Bistro at the base of the castle, comfortably decorated and food served beautifully. The starter of Mozarella with asparagus was delicious – please note that you will struggle with meals in Hungary if you have to avoid cheese or pasta as every meal we had contained these ingredients in some form. You must let them know beforehand, or at least when you enter the restaurant though I am not sure how much they can accommodate this.
There are many small vineyards around this region, and one of the prize-winning wineries is St Andrea. They provide wine tastings, tours of the cellars, dinner and tasting events and bicycle tours of the vineyard – not sure if that is before or after the wine tasting? We sampled several very superior wines, reluctantly tipping any remains into a jug before trying the next one. As you can see from the photograph, we took this task very seriously.
This is still a spa resort area renowned for mineral spa waters, so the Saliris Resort hotel is worth a visit. It is based around sulphur falls which they found when searching for oil in the 1960s. Its primary role is as a health spa, so the facilities are exceptional and visitors generally stay there, on site, for about 3 days rather than going out. As it is built against the hillside, all rooms have a balcony and are very comfortable – décor is a bit dull really, especially in corridors, but the spa area is very spacious. One of the attractions is the Finnish Sauna area outside where you can join in the elaborate ceremony to music which appears to involve beer, honey and water while naked. Indeed they have won several awards with their Sauna Master. Alas, we had no time to join in.
We now transferred to Lake Tisza and the fascinating new Visitor Centre which is about 30 miles / 49 km away. There is clearly much more to see here, lots of opportunities for walking and sightseeing, so it should be included on your tour itinerary if at all possible.
More about Jacqueline
Jacqueline is a keen observer of surroundings, looking with both an artistic and a questioning eye. Professionally, her work has been as a trainer, course writer and tutor, and management consultant in manufacturing companies with a PhD in health & safety in small firms which is generally a conversation stopper at parties! She is also a textile artist, printmaker and a history of art tutor. At 65 years old, married to husband Leslie for 32 years, Jacqueline is still excited and fascinated by travel. With 5 sons and Leslie’s 2 daughters and son, they were clearly never going to start travelling until later than most people. Jacqueline loves long-distance treks (having done 3 for charity) and she still has many new places to explore.