Located in the foothills of Northern Hungary, the Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region has been famous for its delicious sweet wines for centuries. Wine has been produced here since the third century, but the region became internationally renowned when Louis XIV served it to his court at Versailles in 1703 and named it the “wine of kings, the king of wines.” France produces a similar and perhaps better-known wine—Sauternes—whose sugar is also concentrated by botrytis, or noble rot. In 2002, UNESCO declared Tokaj a World Heritage Site and recognized more than 1,000 continuous years of Tokaji Aszú production.
Where to taste:
Visit Disznók for its spectacular architecture that combines decorative elements of the 18th century, a Baroque watchtower and a modern circular building designed by the award-winning Hungarian architect, Dezsö Ekler. Don’t miss the wonderful wines of Dobogó, just steps from Tokaj’s main town square. Owned by Izabella Zwack of the Zwack Unicum family, Dobogó will delight you with its rustic Old World charm, quality dry white wines and delicious Tokaji Aszús. The labyrinth of tunnels criss-crossing under Oremus represents some of the finest wine cellars in the region. You could easily get lost amid the bottles and barrels, many of which are age-old.
Prominent grape varieties:
The indigenous varieties Hárslevel, Furmint, Sargá Muskotály, Zéta, Kabar and Kövérszl are the only ones permitted to be grown under the Tokaji denomination. Long, warm autumns and river mists create a perfect climate for the noble rot found in Tokaji Aszú.
Where to dine: Enjoy fresh game birds and wild boar at Gróf Degenfeld Castle, the former family hunting lodge of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburgs. Old World elegance, cascading crystal chandeliers and an excellent wine list will make you feel like royalty. Check out Os Kaján in Tolcsva, run by an affable French couple who masterfully blend local flavors and French technique with their beautiful décor. Or dine at Disznók’s excellent winery restaurant, Sargá Borház.
Where to stay:
Gróf Degenfeld Castle Hotel recalls the opulence of the Empire. Andrássy Kúria Hotel and Spa is a great place to unwind with a vinotherapy massage. Mádi Kúria Hotel feels like a French country inn.
Izabella Zwack, owner of Dobogó Winery, recommends exploring on foot: “Stand at the top of the St. Tamás Vineyard in Mád and look out over one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. If you visit during harvest, follow the women as they harvest Aszú to see the precision that is involved in picking these grapes, one by one.”
Cyclists will love the beautifully maintained EuroVelo bicycle trails around the region, while history buffs will enjoy the architecture and village walking tours. Make sure to save some time for a day hike in the Zemplén Hills or kayak down the Bodrog River. Families can enjoy a scenic motorboat trip up the Tisza.
Gather picnic provisions in local cheese stores, salami and sausage shops, wineries and artisanal bakeries, and head for the parks on the banks of the Bodrog and Tisza rivers.
When to go:
May ushers in the Tokaj Wine Festival, while October brings the Harvest Festival.
Andrássy Kúria Hotel and Spa: andrassyrezidencia.hu
Gróf Degenfeld Castle Hotel: hotelgrofdegenfeld.hu
Os Kaján: oskajan.hu
Mádi Kúria Hotel: madikuria.hu
Tokaj region: tokaji.hu
Here are some more places to visit in Tokaj-Hegyalja:
You will feel like royalty the moment you walk into the lobby of this Hapsburg hunting lodge. Enjoy fresh grilled wild boar and oven-roasted game birds in the opulent dining room, where tables are set with the finest Hungarian porcelain and heavy silverware.
Don’t miss the subterranean grottos filled with warm bubbling mineral water and the swim-through caves—or just choose to chill on the submerged chaise lounges. To further relax, get a deep tissue massage that will leave you invigorated after a day of sightseeing or detox in the Himalayan Salt Sauna.
Quaint rooms reminiscent of a French country manor are perfect for an afternoon nap or enjoy a sweet glass of local wine while relaxing in the hotel’s cozy cafe.
French interpretations of classic Austro-Hungarian cuisine are sure to excite your palate here, especially when paired with the variety of excellent wines from Tokaj.
Owner Izabella Zwack together with winemaker Attila Domokos make some of the best dry white wines in the region. Enjoy her delicious Mylitta and 6 Puttonyos Tokaji Aszú sweet wines, then stroll through the charming nearby town.
Owned by the Spanish Vega-Sicila group, Oremus has some of the most beautiful underground cellars in the region, most of which offer tastings.