Hungary’s leaning tower and other beauties

Day trip in North-East Hungary

Admire a fairy-tale palace, cross a floating bridge and meet Hungary’s own leaning tower on a day trip from Miskolc to Tokaj

You can travel by: bicycle or car
Distance: about 90 km
Return trip: hourly trains from Tokaj or Bodrogkeresztúr

Andrássy Palace in Tiszadob

Tokaj is a pretty small town in North-East Hungary and home to one of the best known Hungarian export items, Tokaji wine. The town and the nearby villages offer wine-tasting programs for all budgets but there is more to this area than just alcohol. Tokaj has a nicely renovated centre with lovely houses, cafés and restaurants; there are several signposted walking paths on the volcanic hill and the more adventurous can rent a canoe or kayak and discover the two rivers (the Tisza and the Bodrog) and the nature reserve with canals and colorful wildlife between them. The wider neighborhood of Tokaj offers much more; this trip includes a pontoon bridge, a majestic palace, lakes rich in wildlife and our own leaning tower.

We have been returning to Tokaj for canoe trips for many years and we cannot have enough of it because the rivers, canals and oxbow lakes show us a different face every season and year and we always have new challenges looking for a camping place or because of the weather. Our favorite wooden pier is between Bodrogkeresztúr and Tokaj, where we always go at the end of summer to take a dip in the Bodrog river before the school starts. We couldn’t miss this program this year, either, and this time we decided to ride a bike there from Miskolc (and return home by train). 

Highway 37 may be the obvious choice for motorists but it shouldn’t and mustn’t be used by bicycle. Luckily, there are a number of alternative routes and though they are all much longer (you can expect 70-90 km), you wouldn’t think how many sights and programs they offer. Of course, you can also do this trip by car and then you’ll have more time left to look.

 

The first villages

We leave Miskolc via Szirma and we soon arrive in Kistokaj. Today we mostly think of this quiet place as the sleeping town of Miskolc and it’s perhaps surprising that it has been inhabited since the early Middle Age. In the 1700s a dozen settlements were named Tokaj in Borsod county, which were identified by different prefixes; for example, Kistokaj means “Little Tokaj” to differentiate it from its more famous namesake. On a hot summer day  it’s worth taking a detour to Kistokaj Lake, suitable for both fishing and swimming.

A pretty fishing lake near Miskolc
Kistokaj Lake

As you go on and cross the overpass of the motorway, you find yourself in Sajópetri and then in the pretty village of Sajólád on the other side of the river Sajó. 

The church tower of Sajópetri
You can see the church tower of Sajólád from the opposite bank of the Sajó river in Sajópetri. The two villages were actually united for some years back in the 50s.

The Baroque church of Sajólád and the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk deserve a stop and if you have the time, you can also explore the interior of the building (formerly a Paulite church and monastery) and the church garden.  Check out the separated old room in the building of the monastery (connected with the church through a window), which was used as a sort of prison for the misbehaving monks.

All Baroque: statue and church in laid-back Sajópetri
The Catholic church of Sajólád and the Baroque statue of Saint John of Nepomuk.

As you leave Sajólád on Highway 3609, you can have a glimpse at the once pompous Erdődy Hunting Castle, hiding behind farm buildings and trees in Gyömrőpuszta. The eclecticist building would deserve a better fate as it is now in a sad state. It is privately owned and not open to the public but you can see (rather depressing) photos here: http://www.muemlekem.hu/muemlek?id=3071

A neglected hunting residence waiting for a better day
The front facade of Sajólád’s Erdődy Hunting Castle

In just a few kilometers you arrive in Bőcs, known nationally as the home of Borsodi beer. It lies on the two banks of the Hernád river and for centuries it was two separate villages. In addition to the brewery, Bőcs also boasts with some well-preserved traditional rural houses.

Rural village in Bőcs, North Hungary
A traditional village house in Belső-Bőcs next to the church

Next stop: a pontoon bridge

You cross the Hernád bridge and the other half of Bőcs with the factory buildings and the railway station. Then you enter Hernádnémeti but only for a few meters because you can take the first street on the right towards Tiszalúc (along road 3608 from here). You arrive in the first village by the Tisza river after a long straight section. The streets of the village are lined by fruit trees and if you look carefully you can discover some old whitewashed houses. After a right turn at the end of the village (by the river) and another kilometer there is a sign showing if you can cross the Tisza by ferry or through the seasonal pontoon bridge. But first you have to cross an oxbow lake (through a bridge) and a few kilometers in the floodplain of the Tisza.

Green canal and the church of Tiszalúc
Oxbow lake by Tiszalúc with the village church in the background

One of the exciting moments of the route is crossing the pontoon bridge made up of 8 floats swimming on the river. In warm weather when the river is not frozen you can cross the Tisza fast for free. But this is not the main reason to make a detour here. Rolling over the moving wooden planks of the bridge is a rare experience and if there’s a boat coming on the Tisza, you can also watch how the middle of the bridge is opened and closed.

Seasonal pontoon bridge leading to the leaning tower of Hungary
“No climbing” It’s a pity, I could have made a great photo from the top…
Crossing the pontoon bridge
The wooden surface cracks as we ride across it

And what about that leaning tower? Keep calm, we’re getting close

Arriving in Tiszadob we felt hungry and, luckily, the grocery on the corner of the village park was open and they were selling freshly boiled corn! This alone made it worth coming into the center of the village and if we had taken the shorter route we would have missed the strange tower in the street across. My first idea was that it’s an old distribution tower but then it turned to be a 18th century granary, today a listed monument, and the information posted on its entrance says you can actually enter if you call the number and make an appointment. Its name is “Tube” and it is the only remnant of the manor attached to the Andrássy Palace. And you don’t need to travel to Pisa for a leaning tower any more!

The leaning tower is an old granary building
Our own leaning tower, the Tube of Tiszadob
Lovely thatched house in Tiszadob
This lovely thatched house stands opposite the leaning tower

However, the real attraction of Tiszadob is the Andrássy Palace, recalling the fairy tale world of Loire châteaux. It is located by an oxbow of the Tisza and it is open every day except Mondays. You can only visit the interior on a guided tour (in Hungarian) but the prices are affordable (3,50 Euros for adults, half price for children and pensioners and they also offer family packages). It’s good to know that admission is free for all on Hungarian national holidays (15th March, 20th August and 23rd October). We were short on time and we don’t like to leave our bikes out of sight for a long time but the lady at the gate kindly allowed us to enter the premises for free. 

The Andrássy Palace and its park in Tiszadob
The palace is a wonderful sight from all directions
Andrássy Palace in Tiszadob
The main entrance of the wonderfully renovated palace
The restored park of the palace
The labyrinthine hedges in the palace park can be the children’s favorite spot

We slowly rode around the main building of the palace and the park (I prefer not to include photos of the much less tasteful buildings left from the earlier utilization of the area; hopefully, they will be gone soon). If you’d like to see photos of the interior, check out this blog (text in Hungarian): http://anapfenyillata.cafeblog.hu/2016/05/14/loire-menti-alomkastely-a-tisza-partjan/

This is where the route for cyclists and motorists separates for a while because it’s more exciting to follow the dyke of the Tisza towards Tiszadada on two wheels. It is hardly any longer than the highway and, apart from a short section in the village, you can enjoy a good quality sealed road and if you are lucky you can see herons, wild ducks and egrets on the water of the oxbows. 

Cycling past the river Tisza
The road on the dykes often crosses the oxbow lakes
An oxbow lake near the Tisza River
This strange building was probably a lookout tower…

Memories of Communism

Tiszadada also has a listed building, the former Zathureczky Mansion, now used as a culture center, and there is a third one hiding between the two villages, Ókenéz Castle that was formerly the hunting castle of the Andrássy family but the former looked a little less interesting after its Tiszadob counterpart and the latter is not open to the public.

But you can view the memento of a very different era just before you enter the next village, Tiszalök (just don’t go within 200 meters from it as this is dangerous and forbidden!) It is none other than Tiszalök Hydraulic Power Station, which was built in 1953 after 90 years’ planning. It’s enough to take one glimpse and you can see it is product of the wildest Communist period of the 1950s. Of course it is a matter of taste but I personally think it looks great for an industrial building.

A memento of the Communist era of the 1950s

Statue in the style of the 50s in Tiszalök
Socialist-realist decoration outside the power station

If you got overexcited by the sight of the power station and the figure of the woman running about with lightning in her hand, you can relieve the tension in the neighboring arboretum. 

From Tiszalök, you can continue your journey on the left bank of the Tisza as far as Rakamaz, from where there is a bridge that takes you to Tokaj, but is shorter to take the ferry to Tiszatardos. Before the crossing it’s worth stopping by the small lake called Bikaúsztató (meaning a lake for bulls to swim). You can have a picnic (or fish) by the lake and there is a 200-metre-long  wooden walkway that takes you to a lookout tower.

An alternative way to meet the birds
Wooden walkway across the lake
Crossing the Tisza near Tiszalök
The ferry was extremely busy on this Sunday afternoon but you don’t have to wait for more than 30 minutes if you come by bike

Two pretty villages follow on the other side of the Tisza, Tiszatardos and Tiszaladány. We visited friends in the latter, who have created their own little hidden world in and around a converted village house by the water. If you would like to have a retreat like this of you own, you can easily do it as half of the houses are for sale in the two villages.

Ideal roads for cycling
The ferry was crowded but then we were almost alone on the road again

Water sports and wine

Tokaj is the ideal place if you would like to get familiar with the rivers because a number of places offer canoes and kayaks for sale. We are returning customers of Kékcápák and we can warmly recommend them to you because they offer reasonable prices and you can even camp there (information on prices in Hungarian: http://turak.hu/szolgaltatasok#szolgaltatasketto). 

The Bodrog River in late summer
Traditional wooden fishing boats by the Bodrog river
Having fun by the river
This is why we pedaled this far!

The bicycle has another advantage: you don’t have to refuse a glass of Tokaji wine. You can choose from dozens of wineries in the area but one of our favorites is Gönczy Cellar near Bodrogkeresztúr. It’s not only the wine and the simple food you can order that guarantee a memorable visit but also the endless stories and jokes of the two owners, father and son. And it is ideally located for road and water transport, too.

A friendly place to taste Tokaji wine
Gönczy Cellar by the Bodrog river

There are regular trains from both Tokaj and Bordogkeresztúr to Miskolc, Nyíregyháza and Sátoraljaújhely. This time we tried the slow train from Sátoraljaújhely and we were pleasantly surprised by the modern and clean carriage. And the windows opened!

A carriage of the slow train from Sátoraljaújhely to Miskolc

Bicycle storage area in each carriage
You can comfortably place up to 4 bikes at the end of each carriage

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