When somebody mentions Hungary the first thing that comes to my mind is Budapest. It dwarfs everything else that Hungary has to offer. But just two hours by train lies a cool medieval city known for its colorful houses, Baroque architecture, verdant wineries, and a castle on top of a hill famed for its defense against the invading Ottoman Turks. Hungary’s famous and but not-so-famous small town, Eger.
I was winding down on my last days on a two-month stint in Budapest when I realized I haven’t really explored much of the country. I had decided on the high Tatras in Slovakia as my next destination and Eger happened to be on the passing route so why not? There weren’t many hostels in the city but one I settled on, Imola Hostel, had reasonable prices and clean rooms. Imola Hostel is really more of a hotel. You pay $25 a night for a dual bed private room with shared bathroom so if you’re with a company it’s relatively cheap but not if you’re traveling solo.
The staff at the hotel weren’t particularly friendly but I scoffed it off as nothing more than off-season fatigue. Or maybe they ate something really sour that justified their really sour faces. Who knows. I didn’t care cause’ the place was nearby a castle! Eger castle (Egri var) to be exact and if you’ve been following this blog you’d know I love castles. Just over the underpass full of graffiti is the entrance to the wonderful fortress overlooking the city of Eger.
The castle was the first place I explored and it didn’t disappoint. Like the rest of Hungary, Eger is ripe with an East meets West cultural and architectural explosion. Historically it’s been ruined by Mongol invasions in the middle ages but successfully survived a siege by 40 thousand Turkish soldiers in 1552. The Turks tried again in 1596 and succeeded. They even built a cool 150 step Minaret, Torok Kori, with a full 360-degree panoramic view of the city. The entrance fee to the castle is five Euros and the entrance to the minaret about half that. Both offer impressive views so don’t want to miss it.
Exploring the castle compound and climbing up its many towers induced hunger so off I went to town to find some grub for lunch and, of course, wine. Eger is also known for its wine. During the Turkish invasions, the city’s inhabitants would run out for the hills and hide out in caves. Throughout the years these caves are turned into wine cellars after it wasn’t used for shelter anymore.
There are over 300 of these caves to the Southwest of Eger, called Siren’s Valley or Valley of Women, and some are available for visitation. I found a restaurant in Dobo Square, Arany Oroszlan Etterem, offering local food and select local wines. I got the crispy pork knuckle and a glass of white wine but eventually graduated to a few glasses of red.
The wine was alright. It can’t hold a candle to wines from France, Italy, and Spain but it was passable. The region is probably more suited for growing white wine varietals. The white was good, the red so-so. After lunch, I meandered my way through medieval cobblestoned streets going past the Lyceum and the fancy cathedral in front of it eventually making my way to the Turkish Minaret.
Here you till 5pm to climb it’s chillingly narrow and steep stairs for an amazing view of the castle and the city. Be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart. If have any claustrophobia or fear of heights, this spot isn’t for you. There’s a thermal bath in the nearby Egerszalók you can do instead if that’s your thing. I personally would rather sample more wines in the surrounding countryside, especially in the Valley of Beautiful Women, than marinating in a thermal bath.
Here you have until 5pm to climb it’s chillingly narrow and steep stairs for an amazing view of the castle and the city. Be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart. If have any claustrophobia or fear of heights, this spot isn’t for you. There’s a thermal bath in the nearby Egerszalók you can do instead if that’s your thing. I personally would rather sample more wines in the surrounding countryside than marinate in a thermal bath.
Ideally, if you had a full day in Eger the following is what you should do. Start your day early in the Castle and explore its illustrious compounds. Head down to town and explore the Basilica and the Lyceum. The Lyceum has a cool low-tech camera and an old library worth seeing. There’s a small market with fresh local produce you can check out in one corner of the town but it shouldn’t take you very long to explore it. After getting your fill at the produce market go and grab some lunch around Dobo Square and make your way by foot to the Valley of Beautiful Women for wine tasting thereafter.
It’s a brisk 20-25-minute walk to the spot and work off that greasy pork knuckle you just ate (seriously give it a go it’s good). After sampling some wines and hopefully not getting drunk in the process, you can walk your way back to climb the Turkish minaret before it closes at 5pm. You can then end your day back in town in Dobo Square for an amazing fountain light show.
Of course, you can do more or maybe stay another day but Eger is a very small town. I spent two days there and I thought it was too much. In my humble opinion, the Castle, Minaret, and Valley of The Valley of Beautiful Women are the must do and things to see. Sneak a little wine tasting here and there and you’re good to go. But that’s not to say you won’t find any new or interesting things I haven’t yet discovered. After all, isn’t that what travel is about? Random discovery?
A DAY IN BREAKDOWN:
- Train from Budapest to Eger– $12
- Hotel – $25 (a night)
- Breakfast at Hotel – Free (included)
- A la carte lunch with wine – $8
- Dinner restaurant – $14 ($7 each)
- Drinks and Wine Tasting– $12
- Coffee– $3
- TOTAL: $64