The local bookstore with a Global Conscience

Fiction, non-fiction, environment, poetry, history, mystery, biography, travel guides, children, young adult... and much, much more!

Wide selection of quality second-hand English paperbacks at reasonable prices. The most "dangerous" street in Budapest: good books and gourmet food

A Trip to Villány

agancsos vineyardIn order to celebrate the sale of my flat in Budapest, we took a short holiday to Villány. We found a very good deal at the Hotel Vitis in Virágos, just a 1km walk to the wine cellars in the centre of Villány. I know a number of the local vineyards personally, such as Sauska, Agancsos and Jackfall, so I was really looking forward to some wine tasting. Kata was more interested in visiting the Zsolnay Porcelain Cultural Quarter in nearby Pécs. Not only do Zsolnay make beautiful ceramics, but since Kata worked as a painter at the competing Herend factory, it was close to her heart. The last time I was in Pécs was in the early 1990s coming back from helping build and eco-village in Gyűrűfű, near Ibafa (site of the wooden pipe museum of Hungarian tongue-twister fame). I did not see any of the city then because Pope John Paul II was in town and no through traffic was being allowed. After a couple hours we could continue back to Budapest, but I was again stopped from getting home because the Pope was speaking nearby and I did not have a residence card for my flat and security would not let me through! I did not see Pécs this time either, but this time by choice.


The way to the Zsolnay Porcelain Cultural Quarter was well signposted. We had a few hours and could have looked at even more sights, but I drew the line at 3 museums/exhibitions out of the 16 possible. The grounds are well landscaped, clearly marked and colour-coded; and include park-like areas, a playground, and sports fields. Among the places in the Quarter we did not visit were the 1861 Glove Factory, Planetarium and Puppet Museum. Other buildings are rented out to other concerns, such as a university. We first visited the Gyugyi Collection and were impressed by the artwork. The technique, skills and ideas put into these objects are astounding. While I did not like a lot of the overall creations, I very much enjoyed certain details on many of the objects. I liked a small rectangular plate zsolnayin particular which was blue on white like Delft pottery, and depicted a hunting scene where two of the figures were almost ghostly among the rest of the party. I was also very much impressed how the company continued to evolve and somehow survive over the decades, always adapting and finding new market niches whether it be a new design school, glaze, or completely new use such as toilets, stove tiles or insulators. Over time, the company became self-sufficient - using free patches around the factory to grow fruit and vegetables. The centre of the Quarter is dominated by what appears to be an old chimney zsolnaystack, but in fact is a tower attached to the old ice room. Both the tower and the real chimneys are of course decorated with Zsolnay tiles. Many of the designs incorporate Asian components, not the least of which is the lion-lined bridge leading to Vilmos Zsolnay's Mausoleum which reminded me of China's Summer Palace or the entrance to the Forbidden City. Lastly, we visited the Zsolnay Family History Exhibit and the Street of Local Producers where we purchased some handmade chocolates from the nice folks csokoladaat Csoko-láda. All the information in the museums and elsewhere was bi-lingual in Hungarian and English. Our only disappointment was the fact that the porcelain demonstration rooms had been closed for 2 years and this does not show up on any of the literature. Of all the ways EU funds are misspent, wasted, and siphoned off in this country (and certainly others), the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter stands out as an example of how such funds could and should be used.

At the hotel, we had a welcome drink of a yummy Gere-Schubert Czerszegi Fuszeres before a pre-dinner sauna. We were very disappointed when we were informed that the two outdoor wooden Jacuzzis were not available because we were the only ones in the hotel and it was not economical. While we certainly understood their reasoning, those Jacuzzis were the main attraction when we booked the hotel. And quite frankly, given that we were the only guests, (besides one other couple the first night) they should have been overwhelmingly thankful to have us. The steam room was also turned off. The sauna was very nice, and the infra-sauna was also available.

We had informed the staff ahead of time that were basically vegetarians, but would eat chicken if it was too much trouble. Kata had a spicy pasta dish dribbled with sweet balsamic vinegar that while strange, was indeed tasty. I had a chicken dish with tomatoes and cheese. We chose to have our included wine tasting the first evening. Our waitress Eszter was very informative, and chose for us to taste a rosé and Portugieser, all from the Gere-Schubert Vineyard. With all the great vineyards in and around Villány, I would have mixed the selection a bit, but I guess they have a deal with the vineyard. The rosé was not tasty, and we both found the Portugieser undrinkable. The second evening's meal of fried cheese was so greasy as to be almost inedible. Kata described the chestnut puré "like eating sand."

In the morning we were greeted by a buffet breakfast, including scrambled eggs and homemade bread alongside the usual suspects. Then we walked into town to take in the sights in the rain. Villány does not seem to have much to offer in terms of cultural/historical sites besides the wine cellars, so we walked to the end of the main street taking in the interesting architectural features of the different cellars and ended up at the Tiffán Cellar. Tiffán's "cellar" is more like a large complex. Everything seemed to be open but not a soul around. We found our way to an upstairs tasting room or bar and after 15 minutes finally decided to call someone. One of the Tiffáns answered and said that someone should be there but they were probably all on lunch break and he would get someone to come over. I had tried a bottle of their Immortal cuvee many years ago and was very impressed. We purchased a couple bottles. Like many things, it did not quite live up to my memories when we uncorked a bottle, but it was still good.

By this time, Éva and Zoltán were free to meet us at their Agancsos Wine Cellar.agancsos vineyard Agancsos was one of the first vineyards to do a wine tasting at Treehugger Dan's many, many years ago. Éva was able to spend a couple hours chatting with us and tell us about the wines and their guest house. We liked all the wines, including the Italian Riesling, rosé, Falka, Kanón, their flagship wine Capitalis, Merlot barrique, and even the Portugieser. We bought a couple litres each of their Reisling, Kékfrankos and rosé. We would have been happy to have taken bottles of their others as well.

At the edge of the village is a bizarre house painted with a drunken Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet, as well as Eeyore shooting up drugs. There is text identifying it as a poetry writer's house and a phone number painted under it. Although we asked a couple people, no one could tell us anything about this perverse place. Internet research only turned up that it is a guest house. About a week later we were listening to an old KFT album in the car and the song "Medve" came up describing an alternative Winnie-the-Pooh where the characters are drunk and living on the street. Maybe one of the members of KFT owns the house?

Another strange thing about Villány was the lack of local producers and products except for wine and wine jelly. No cheese makers, jams, cordials, sausages...In fact, we passed several yards with medlar and apple trees bending under the weight of their unpicked fruit. It seems only wine matters here.

On the way back to Budapest we stopped at the renovated Siklos Castle, paid for in part by the Norwegian Fund. Parking was ridiculously expensive at 350 huf/hour, 100 huf more than in the city of Miskolc. We paid for an hour and then raced through the many small exhibition halls. While the renovations were very well done, and seem to be ongoing, what they did with the buildings is a shame. The exhibitions are all childishly organised and presented, and concentrate on war. The view from the ramparts is very nice, but it is not worth the entry fee.