Oct 4, 2009

The valley of beautiful women

Wine has been made in Eger for hundreds of years. So I had to go. I walked through the Baroque town, up to the castle, past the politically incorrect statues celebrating the town's brave resistance against the Ottoman invasion, a tall minaret the only remaining sign of their eventual occupation. There was a small harvest festival on the square, with wine, cheese and some crafts. Tasted something, moved on. By late afternoon, I found my feet inexorably leading me in the direction of Szépasszonyvölgy, the Valley of Beautiful Women. With a name like that, who can resist?

I didn't know what to expect. Wine-making valleys in my mind have always been posh kind of places, with farms kilometers apart. But the book said the view was pretty, so I went. Up a hill, and then over, where a surprisingly small valley stretched before me. No, stretched is to strong a word, huddled might be better. It was pretty too. Walking down (there must be a bench down there) I spotted a coach or too - nasty Boschendal images came to me, with throngs of tourists and disappointing wine. Sigh. But, having come this far, I might as well continue.

I had to get to the bottom before I realised it wasn't nearly as touristy as I was imagining. The coaches where national, or from a neighbouring country at the extreme, and everyone seemed to be buying wine. So, shift attention to wine. The hillsides were riddled with ancient cellars scraped from the rock. Some were locked, some looked deserted, some had little restaurants in front, some had settled on seats for tasting, one just had two old men sitting in the Sunday afternoon sunlight.

And then I noticed the signs, advertising wine prices by the litre. If you want to make me happy, give me wine by the litre. I walked around a corner and discreetly emptied recently acquired bottle of water, then looked for an approachable cellar. It wasn't easy, because I didn't really trust the one with the violinist luring people in, but I also didn't feel up to the communication effort required for dealing with the two old men. An old lady and teenage girl caught my eye, the lady beckoning me to enter. When I did, she disappeared, leaving me with the slightly shy and blushing younger one. The standard ritual followed: pointing, nodding, with one English, German of Hungarian word to increase the information content. More giggling on her side, especially when I took a picture. Eventually, I handed over my bottle, she disappeared into the depths of the cellar, returning minutes later with 2 litres of Bikavér, for which I paid about €3.50.

It wasn't a very serious or heavy wine, but extremely drinkable. Ideal for a picnic in fact. It wouldn't be bad for breakfast either.

I dug more kifli from my bag, cut a slice of the roasted, salted pork I'd bought earlier and added a sweet slice of dried fig (my energy food of choice for this expedition).

I sat on the grass, eating. And smiling at other happy people, making their way home.


Marie said...

Thank you. That was really a trip to a place I don't know. Excellent picnic. Perfection.

I dated someone of Hungarian extraction, whose ancient and irascible father was - amongst other less salubrious things - an ex Hussar, who could actually cook. The artefacts of the relationship are how to make good paprikash, and how to garlic and paprika a piece of salt pork belly, which looks quite a bit like your picnic pork.

jvdh said...

It was a day that started slow, with many unknowns, but it all came together in the way good days sometimes do. Finding wine still being sold in a this ancient manner just made it better.

And if you ever want to share that pork belly, I'll be paying full attention.

Everyone should go.