It’s not often that my illusions are shattered beyond repair. I can usually glue the remnants back together – enough at least to keep some of the magic and mystery but rarely enough to keep believing. And so was the case with the Valley of Beautiful Women in Eger. It’s been on my list of places to visit for quite some time and although KG had warned me that it was nothing to write home about, I still envisioned a sweeping valley full of wine cellars set into the side of the hills forming some sort of series of natural figures that people took to be women. Not so. Szépasszony-völgy translates into the Valley of the Beautiful Woman (only one). The large statue is of one woman, not a valley of them. And it’s not even a valley – it’s a horseshoe-shaped road.
I hadn’t come to drink wine in one of the new, modernised establishments. I wanted my pincé (cellar) to be grimy, dusty, grotty, complete with resident spiders and an old man on the door. I found it. And while I wasn’t too impressed with the wine (which cost about €0.15 or $0.20) at the time, it turned out to be the best of the bad dose of house wine I would taste in eateries in the town.
Eger is one of the more famous wine regions in Hungary. Just 85 km from Budapest, it was here in the sixteenth century that 2000 soldiers defended the town against an army of 80 000 Ottomans, apparently fortified by a mixture of red wine and bull’s blood. The region is now famous for its Egri Bikavér, also known as bull’s blood. [David Farley, in his blog, has a different story that’s worth checking out.] It’s about a 20-minute walk from the town centre and if you’re going there sans illusions just to drink and have a good time, I’m sure it will do the job. There are over 40 cellars to choose from and the prices are very reasonable.
The one I chose looked like it had seen better days. The certificates on the wall were very hard to read and the man on the door had seen many winters. But as he poured the 1 dl of wine into the glass, it felt real. Plastic containers had prices marked on them – cheap enough to make your eyes water – if they hadn’t already watered from the wine. I noticed some coins embedded into the wall above a rusty gate and wondered what that was all about. But as there wasn’t a plant in the vicinity to soak up my leavings and I really didn’t want to insult my host, I was concentrating more on downing my wine without grimacing. Angelina, eat your heart out! Up the road, padlocks and locked doors told another story. Perhaps these cellars belonged to wine enthusiasts in the game for their own enjoyment. On a sunny Saturday in early September though, they certainly weren’t part of the festivities.
It’s quite interesting to see the old and the new side by side – the ones that have adapted in the name of tourism/progress and those that continue with business as usual – a take-me-as-I-am approach, which I admit to finding uniquely refreshing. At least though I can cross it off my list. I’ve been there, seen it, and chose to leave the t-shirt behind me. [Note to DF: Thought Wanda would get a kick out of sharing her name with a wine cellar in Hungary.]