Take a pleasant and not too difficult walk with me in the Tokaj wine region of Hungary. It’s the best time now that the leaves are turning yellow and red but the days are still mild. And if you are lucky you can find some leftover on the vines although vintage is over.
Distance: 22 km
Difficulty: easy to medium, suitable for children
Time needed: 5-6 hours for the walk and the rest of the day to enjoy the landscape and the wine
Starting point: Bodrogkeresztúr
End point: Tarcal
Transportation: there are several trains a day from Budapest (3.5 h), Miskolc (1 h), Debrecen (1.5-2 h) or Nyíregyháza (1-2 h)
If you wake up early enough, you can start walking around 10 am and catch the train from Tarcal before 7 pm.
Tokaj wine region
Tokaj and the surrounding Tokaj wine region could easily be one of Hungary’s top destinations if it had a little better marketing. If more tourists looked beyond the borders of the capital. Or if trains weren’t painfully slow. But let’s see the good points. This magical place is still largely unexplored and visitors are highly valued.
Why do I think the place has huge potential? It has so much to offer. The view of the two rivers uniting at the foot of Tokaj Hill is great from the bridge or, better still, from the hill itself. In the warm months you can spend days canoeing or kayaking in the wilderness. There are quaint villages with character by the Bodrog and Tisza rivers. Tokaj, the namesake town has a pretty high street and main square with all facilities. And, let’s not forget about the wine.
We, Hungarians, like to think Tokaji wine is world famous. Well, I’m not surprised if you’ve never heard this name before. It’s not your fault. 40 years of Communism took its toll on the once renowned ‘nectar’, also mentioned in the Hungarian national anthem. Quantity was preferred to quality at the time and it will take a lot of hard work to get rid of the bad connotations. You can find a great description of Tokaj wine region and its wines here.
But for many years Tokaj wine-makers have been striving to provide high quality wines. So go and sample them before they become wildly popular and expensive again.
Up the hill
The walk begins from the train station of Bodrogkeresztúr. It’s quiet village at the foot of Tokaj Hill and today it is practically built together with its neighbour, Bodrogkisfalud. Both places sit on the bank of the Bodrog River and are part of Tokaj wine region. Local wine is sold at a number of small private cellars and more professional wineries. To tell the truth, we always choose the former. The wine may not be up to the highest standards at these family businesses but the friendliness of the owners make up for it.
You can walk through the village along the main road or follow the grassy path on top of the dyke, depending on your mood. Then after a few hundred metres by the side of the road a dirt road forks off to the right, marked with a red cross. You’ll follow this path almost all the way to the top.
This road must be one of the oldest around the hill, used for centuries to connect the vineyards with the villages. You will see the evidence as you walk on. At some places the road cuts so deep into the sandstone that its walls are 3-4 metres high.
Then you enter into the light again as the road continues between the vineyards. There are breathtaking views from here to the villages and the protected wilderness between the two rivers. Keep following the red cross sign and soon you find the asphalt road that leads to the TV tower. You could stay on this road but its longer and less comfortable so it’s better to keep to the tourist path (now a red stripe). About ten minutes later there’s another junction in the forest: turn right and follow the red triangle that leads you to the summit.
A stop in Tokaj
Sadly, the only thing you can do on top of Tokaj Hill is admire the panorama. Unless you are a paraglider because it’s an ideal launching spot. There are no services at all and the TV tower doesn’t accept visitors. But the views are worth the effort.
You have to follow the same path on your way down (the red triangle becomes a red stripe again). As you walk downhill there are several viewpoints offering great photo opportunities. If you keep to the signposted path, you arrive in Tokaj in less than one hour.
It’s a compact town so you can stroll along the main street and see the old buildings in a short time. Produce of Tokaj wine region is on offer at a number of cellars and bars and you shouldn’t leave without sampling Furmint, Hárslevelű, Sárgamuskotály or Aszú. The first three are the names of the locally produced grape types and the corresponding wines have both dry and sweet varieties. But the best-known wine of Tokaj is the Aszú, a dessert wine of unique flavour. This one-day walk isn’t really suitable to do a proper wine-tasting tour with 5-6 types of wine. Walking the last 10 kilometres half drunk would be a challenge so you’d better spend the night in one of the many hotels and guesthouses.
This is also the place to time your lunch as Tokaj has lots of restaurants to suit all budgets. Lángos Mester at the end of Rákóczi Street offers great lángos (what else?) and there’s a small candy shop nearby with wine-filled bonbons. You can have fresh fish (and Tokaji wine) at Taverna right above the roundabout by the bridge or a proper lunch at Bonchida Restaurant. If you try only one cellar it should be Rákóczi Pince in the main square.
Walking through vineyards
Filled with gastronomic experiences and full of energy, you can now set off to walk the last bit to Tarcal. The marking of our path is a green stripe from the town centre, which leaves the main road just before the railway overpass. You can see the building of the railway station on the left but there is more to look for on the right.
This street is lined with wine houses and it’s called the Cellar Row of Love. Two or three will always be open during the day so if you somehow missed wine in town or if you just long for one more glass, this could be your last chance. Our personal favourite is Benkő Winery.
You will spend the last two hours walking beside or in the middle of the vineyards with the Hill on your right. There are whitewashed houses and mansions scattered on the hillside. They used to be the homes of the owners of these areas and some are still inhabited.
Soon you notice the two church towers of Tarcal and the pretty chapel of Saint Theresa on a hill in the distance. There’s a short section just before the village where you can’t avoid the highway so take care.
Tarcal itself is a pretty place with elegant churches, traditional houses, old cellars and even a castle. So if you arrive early enough, get a bit lost in its streets before you get on the train.
Needless to say, you could easily spend days in Tokaj wine region as there are so many other villages and towns to see. And lots more to do. But that’s another story…