Against the odds, Eger withstood the Ottoman Empire

March 25, 2010

EGER, HUNGARY, Mar. 25, 2010/ Bon Voyage / — Eger wasn’t originally on our list of places to visit during our tour of the Hungarian countryside: We were actually headed to the wine region of Tokay.

But while in Tokay chatting with other wine lovers we were told that we should visit Eger and taste the red wine of the region known as Bull’s Blood.

We couldn’t resist.

Eger is a small town which can be reached by a two-hour train ride from Budapest, although we actually drove during our Hungarian wine adventure. Our first stop on the way to Eger, however, was the delightful wine tasting area just outside of town known as the Valley of the Beautiful Women.

Also known as Sirens Valley (some signs actually read “Nice Ladies Valley”), the Valley of the Beautiful Women is the epicenter of Eger wine tasting.

As we didn’t have a detailed map of the area, we stopped to ask some locals for help in locating the valley. They went beyond the call of duty, telling us to just follow them as they led us right to it! It’s not a big broad valley: It’s more like a little notch in the mountains.

A festive atmosphere

It is dotted with dozens of caves and small wine cellars carved into the mountain which lines it. The caves are packed side by side, ready and willing to show off their wines. Tasting fees are very reasonable. There are restaurants and picnic benches available. Locals as well as tourists flock here, especially on weekends. The whole little valley has a happy, festival feeling.

Each winery has several varietals to try, and each, of course, has their own version of the local specialty called Bikaver or Bull’s Blood Wine. Some of those pouring your wine are actually the cellar owners, with whom it is fun to talk. And yes, many of them do speak some English.

We bought a bottle at Sandor Pince at one of the caves to take to our hotel and drink but the owner told us not to. Instead, he said, we should keep it and age it. He then poured each of us a large glass and told us to “Sit outside and enjoy.”

Two Hungarian men invited us to join them as all of the picnic benches were occupied. As we ended up sharing their picnic we bought a carafe of wine as our contribution. We were then joined by some tourists from Prague.

Conversations were held in Hungarian, English, Czech and Russian. You can’t buy that kind of fun. You have to be willing to talk to strangers and sharing food and wine certainly helps!

Our hotel was right at the entrance to the Sirens Valley. But there is a small tourist train that takes you to and from town if you’d rather stay there. As there is zero tolerance for drinking and driving in Hungary, it is best to take advantage of one of those two options.

If you’re visiting Hungary, Eger is a great little town to visit, but if you’re a wine lover, Eger and Sirens Valley…. that Valley of the Beautiful Women or Nice Ladies Valley shouldn’t be missed.

It wasn’t until the next day that we made our way into Eger itself, a town of winding medieval streets, a castle on the hill above it, and an intoxicating history. The region is known for its robust red wines, including Bull’s Blood, but the town itself is charming.

Other than its wine, Eger’s claim to fame is that, against all odds, it held off a Turkish siege and kept the Ottoman Empire from expanding across Western Europe. It was from the castle on the hill that the outnumbered Hungarians held out… and the wine they drank became the legendary Bikaver or Bull’s Blood.

One of Hungary’s oldest towns

You can tour the castle. There are museums inside, but the fun is to wander the grounds and enjoy the view out over town.

Eger is one of Hungary’s oldest and most colorful little towns. The old town center is of particular interest to tourists: There are several pretty cobblestone streets to wander and Dobo Ter, Dobo Square, is a nice place to stop at an outdoor cafe and enjoy a bite to eat. You’ll find churches to visit and many beautiful Baroque buildings to photograph.

Explore the market. Find the minaret left over from the Turkish occupation (which came years after the Bull’s Blood siege-breaking incident.) There is also an old university, the Lyceum, where you can visit the library and observatory.

If you’re traveling to Budapest, why not take a little diversion and explore Eger and taste a little Bull’s Blood, just for bragging rights.

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Books

Hungary (Eyewitness Travel Guides) by Craig Turp 

Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe 

Insight Guide Hungary 

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