The first evening of our Hungarian adventure began with a restful night’s sleep in the beautiful Art Hotel located on the Buda side of the River Danube. We woke to incredible views of the towering 13th century Matthias Church on one side, and the truly impressive Parliament Building on another. We spent the next three days discovering Budapest, packing in as many restaurants, castles, cathedrals, museum tours and thermal baths as possible before heading off on our cycling tour.
The cycling tour began with a two-hour drive out of the exquisite city of Budapest, into the Mátra Mountains. We were in the good care of our excellent tour guides (who quickly became our new best friends), Peter and Marietta, also Hungarian historians, and eager to answer any questions we had and provide local knowledge along the way.
For each of the next 9 days we cycled between 18 and 30 miles through varied terrain. One day we found ourselves deep in the beautiful wooded mountain forests, the next on quaint country roads in Bükk National Forest.
Equally varied were the sites and stops along the way. Our first was a crystal workshop where we each purchased a beautiful crystal goblet to enjoy our upcoming Hungarian wine tastings. We toured the Baradla Stalactite Caves, the largest stalactite cave system in Europe. The entire system extends approximately 118 miles between Hungary and Slovakia. Our segment of the tour began in Vöröstó and concluded in Jósvafó, where we were treated to a music light show in an amphitheatre located in the center of dripstone formations dating back hundreds of thousands of years.
We hiked to a medieval fortress where the Holy Crown of the Hungarian Kings was once hidden from the Turks in the 16th century. Currently, the dilapidated and crumbling remains of this fortress are in the process of being restored. We were here last year when construction was just beginning and it was impressive to see how far along the project has come. We look forward to visiting this site again to experience the fortress in its renewed condition.
When we reached the famous Tokaj Wine Region we toured several vineyards, where we observed the processing operations of each winery, and descended into their cave-like cellars with walls lined with barrels of aging wine. A group favorite was the historic town of Eger, known for the infamous Bulls Blood Wine. Each private tour was very informative and flavorful as well, as each one ended with a specialty wine tasting—a lovely finish to an exhilarating day of tours and cycling.
As we traveled to our various hotel accommodations, we were treated like royalty at each stop. Whether it be a mansion, palace or castle, each location had a unique history and style and each one exuded true luxury. All of our rooms were spacious and richly appointed—a true five-star experience. Every accommodation offered its own local menu as well, with elegant three-course dinner offerings—which, of course, included local wine tastings.
Speaking of wine, our favorite tasting experience was most definitely at the Thummerer Winery, where we enjoyed a Michelin-starred chef meal prepared in traditional brick ovens and served on the property with lots of samples from the winery reserves.
We also enjoyed the experience of taking a small antique ferry across the River Tisza, where we cycled to the Rakoczi Castle in Sárospatak. The castle dates to the late 15th century and is shrouded in mystery and stories of past conspiracies, some of which were revealed to us during our guided tour. It was difficult to decide if we preferred the rich history and intriguing drama of the Rakoczi to the luscious vineyards and vast processing cellars of The Degenfeld Castle Hotel, where we stayed as well.
Another accommodation of note was the amazing Lillafüred Castle Hotel that truly emulated the castle experience. The hotel is situated in a picturesque valley in the eastern part of the Bükk mountains, and is surrounded by the mountains on three sides, with reflections in Hámori Lake on the other. Lillafüred is by far one of the nicest resorts in Hungary.
While in Szilvásvárad we toured the Lipizzaner Stud Farm where we saw several young foals already exhibiting traits from their magnificent lineage—future champions for sure.
This trip was structured a bit differently than most of our tours, as this one was all-inclusive—allowing our guests to relax and let us take care of everything. From the moment our driver met us at the airport and whisked us off to begin your adventure until he delivered us back for our travels home, every detail was thoughtfully attended to—this was truly an experience we will never forget.
P.S. We all agreed one of the best things about this trip was how the entire group got along so well. Several of our guests had traveled with us before, so they were able to share their past experiences with our new friends. With all storytelling, we admit we found ourselves staying up a little later than usual and sharing a whole lot of laughs together. We hope you’ll share this experience with us next year.