A while back, travelling Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, we had ourselves a Budapest city break of sorts. We’d heard the Castle District (Várnegyed) was nice (and free) so we went up there…only to discover that for some reason you had to pay to get into the compound…and then that this included a wine glass, a handy “A Borfesztivál Budai Vár” shoulder-strap wine-glass-holder and a bunch of tickets for wine tastings. Yes, that’s right, we’d accidentally stumbled upon the sixteenth annual Budapest International Wine and Champagne Festival.
In the same vein as the Berlin bears, the pigs of Bath and the strange, banana-shaped lambs of Liverpool, we found Budapest full of cows, in various states of decoration, just begging to be ridden.
Buda Castle (Budai Vár or Budavári Palota) looks out over the Danube from the top of an incredibly steep hill – called Castle Hill for some reason I can’t fathom – and is part of a UNESCO world heritage site. There’s also a funicular to take you up and down if you’re lazy or drunk.
Budapest used to be three different cities – Buda and Óbuda on the west bank of the River Danube, and Pest on the other, but that’s all ancient history.
Me and Ruth each exchanged a few Hungarian Forint for a ticket that lasts all day and a stack of wine tasting coupons – the currency of the festival – which can also be topped up once inside. The wines on offer are supposedly Hungary’s best – with other wine-making countries, such as Italy and South Africa, also represented – and they vary in price. Knowing me, we went after the best alcohol-money ratio.
When it comes to wine, I didn’t know then what I know now, so I can’t give you much information as to who was there and how the wines rated, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a glass or six and I can tell you that we enjoyed every sip.
We tried plenty of Tokay (Tokaji) – wine exclusively from the Tokaj regions of Hungary and Slovakia, favourited by my man Kerouac who drank it by the “quart” while hopping freight trains. Among these were wines by the Pauleczki winery in the village of Tolcsva.
We filled up on free samples of grapes, berries and the cheese of just about every animal that’s up to the task. There’s also a grill, töki pompos lángos (Hungarian scones) and other local delicacies, plus music from Budapest-based bands, folk dancing performances, and even the chance to help judge the winning wine of the festival.
The ticket also includes access to the Hungarian National Gallery, where there’s a loosely wine-related photography exhibition to coincide with the festival.
Afterwards we splashed ourselves sober again at the Széchenyi Baths and spa, near City Park, where we got in two-for-one because it was late.
The wine exhibition and fair at Buda Castle is only part of the International Wine Festival. It takes place from the Wednesday to the Sunday, inclusive, and goes on after dark, until 11 at night. The 2015 festival is on right now and the 2016 dates look likely to be Wednesday 7th to Sunday 11th September. For future dates, that’s what Google’s for.
I for one will definitely be heading back to Budapest for this wine festival.