“Experience the history, culture, fabulous food and superb wines, of Hungary” the Secret Vineyards promised. Gourmet food and fine wine were not my immediate association with Hungary, but how wrong was I proven to be?
The adventure began when I arrived at Vienna airport and met the other three couples on the tour as well as Tamas Sandor and Lee Melville from Secret Vineyards who were to be our guides. Tamas’s passion for his country and this area in particular made the next three days a truly memorable experience. A drive of a little over an hour took us to the city of Gyὅr (pronounced Juer) which was to be our base for the next three nights.
The next morning dawned bright and after a short stroll around Gyὅr, we drove to the World Heritage listed Pannonhalma monastery, standing majestically on the top of a hill with far reaching views over the Transdanubia region. The visit started with a brief orientation film and then our guide Lἁszlὁ showed us the finer points of the one thousand year old Benedictine monastery including the early Gothic church, the 15th century cloisters and the neo-classical library which, together with a number of basements, houses a staggering 400,000 volumes. The complex history of this region and its impact on the monastery was brought to life by Lἁszlὁ, whose extensive knowledge was matched by his passion. The buildings of the monastery have undergone a great deal of change over time, but the underlying grandeur has not been lost. The highlight of the tour was the opportunity to join the 35 Monks for their midday prayers, and their harmonious chanting will linger in my memory for many years to come.
Lunch in the Viator restaurant reflected the spirit of the monastery, being both modern and traditional, and providing what is reputed to be some of the best food in Hungary. The 4 course meal was a gastronomic delight that would have done any Michelin starred restaurant proud. The presentation and depth of flavours of every course was remarkable, a real culinary delight. Lunch was served on the patio providing breath taking views and it was accompanied by two excellent wines from the monastery winery.
The tour of the Archabbey winery was led by Tamἁs Korsὁs, the monastery wine guide. He was enthusiastic and engaging in his presentation and all of the 7 wines tasted were of a high standard and much better than any Hungarian wine I have found at home. Of particular note were the Hemina white and Infusio red, both of which exhibited great complexity and depth of character.
Back in Gyὅr, we enjoyed another gastronomic delight at the restaurant Szalai Vendego. The value for money of this area of Hungary is incredible with a very large and well-cooked main course (Steak, Turkey Cordon Bleu or Prawn Risotto) and 2 drinks each costing less than £11 for two! Afterwards we took a gentle stroll through the old town where the streets were alive with local people.
Back in the bus the next day for a 90 minute drive south through the countryside of Hungary to Lake Balaton, the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe. There are many restaurants but the group opted for Vitoriἁs Restaurant with yet more excellent food enhanced by stunning views over the lake. Hungary is an ice cream lover’s paradise so naturally I was obliged to indulge in a “Spaghetti Ice” at one of the many gellataria.
A short ferry crossing took us across Lake Balaton to the much less developed southern shores and the Konyari family vineyard. A cold glass of Lolipop (the vibrant Konyari sparkling rose) was a welcome refreshment on the sun drenched terrace. The visit to the winery brought pleasant relief as I descended into the naturally chilled galleries which are used for production and storage.
Next stop was the Majthėnyi Prėshἁz (Press House Restaurant) that is run by the same family with spectacular views across the vineyards and Lake Balaton to the distant volcanic hills. The food is rustic Hungarian at its best and dinner was a food and wine pairing extravaganza of 5 courses and 7 wines. The meal concluded with the most spectacular sunset over the lake, a truly memorable end to a wonderful stay.
Secret Vineyards are a young company, but are now an appointed British Airways tour operator and can be proud of what they have achieved in such a short time. With their excellent insight and knowledge about Hungarian history and culture, accompanied by the exquisite fine wines and excellent food, it made for a thoroughly enjoyable tour.
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