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Zalamerenye, Zala, Hungary

I love a good road trip. I like the freedom to be able to stop whenever and wherever takes my fancy. I’m fascinated by the ordinary and prefer it to the glitz and glamour of more well-established touristy places. I know Budapest is a beautiful city but those who see Hungary as a weekend break in the capital are missing out on so much. It’s the perfect country for road-tripping, if you want to venture off the well-worn auto paths and take those left turns that dead-end in villages in the middle of somewhere. Zalamerenye is a case in point.

I’d driven by the signpost to Zalamerenye many times but never had a reason to turn left. This time, in search of a Saturday mass in lieu of the one I knew I’d miss on Sunday, my internet search offered up the 4:30 in the village of Zalamerenye. I did my homework and compiled a list of notable places (according to my desk research and what village PR I could find) we could visit while we were there.

Pálos Malom

First up was the watermill. Dating back to the fifteenth century and once owned by the Pauline Monastery of Örményes* (disbanded in 1786), it has been privately owned since the late nineteenth century. Gyula Zsohár was the last to operate the flour mill commercially; he stopped in 1960. Katalin and Attila Szabadics saw its potential and restored it to its 1903 glory. They’ve done a beautiful job. The renovation was completed in the summer of 2015. The mill is now working and the interior is kitted out as a museum.

A collage of photo showing the interior of a renovated flourmill. R to L clockwise - old embroided grain sacks hang over a bannister look down over the mill. (2) old flour mill. (3) copper palínka still (4) photo of the renovated mill frhour outside - two windows on three floors and one at the top in the apex of the roof. Building is white with wooden trim (5) oldfashioned typerwriter on a desk with a wood chair facing a window. (6) a brick wall with a bottle of palinka - Hungarain fruit brandy - in each cavity

Attila Szabadics is a master pálinka maker. The walls are festooned with medals and certificates and the still is impressive. I was taken by the wall of pálinka bottles, each repository tagged with the name of a village or town. I never did get the story. If you book ahead and make an appointment, they’ll give you a tour and let you see the mill in action. We didn’t know. But we do now. LikeBalaton did a piece on them a while ago with some great videos and more photos.

A collage of 6 photos clockwise from R to L (1) a wooden hungarian game where the object is to get the ball to the top of the wooden table standing on its end. The table has holes all over. The ball is manipulated using two rpes. (2) a wooden bench with carved steer heads on either end with horns (3) a paid of old iron wheels (4) two wooden mill wheels (5) a carved wooden statue of St Paul standing under a copper umbrella (6) a metal sundial

As we walked the grounds, I found myself wondering who’d made this and where did they get that done. I really liked St Paul’s copper umbrella. And the sundial. And the wooden game. They’re open odd hours so check their Facebook page or call ahead to make an appointment. Katalin Szabadicsné Madaras: +3630/277-5257   /  Attila Szabadics: +3630/348-5068

Boom well

Next up was the boom well (gémeskút), standing as if on sentry duty on the outskirts of the village. It’s an impressive piece of kit. A first for me. I had to look it up.

The water, which works on the principle of a two-arm lift, is lifted out of the well pit dug into the ground. Its parts: a branch deep in the ground (often made of living wood), to the end of which an iron shaft is attached, for which the boom, which acts as a hoist, rotates. The bucket support rod is attached to the end of the well above the pit, on which the wooden bucket reinforced with the tire hangs. To balance the weight of the bucket filled with water, place a stone or block weight on the other end of the boom. In most areas, the boom well was built in the courtyard, but there were also common boom wells in or near several villages. In places with higher water consumption (eg pastures), twin boom wells were also built, where water was dug from a larger-than-usual well using two boom wells. The boom well is widespread throughout the Hungarian-speaking area, and in many places it has been the only drainage structure for decades. It was the dominant type of well throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

An old wooden boomwell. A large wooden pole with a forked end sticks up from the ground about 2 meters high. An iron bar connects both forks and acts as a fulcum from the 3 m wooden pole that sits across it. To one end a metal wheel is attached. To the other a metal pole that goes down into the well. well pit dug into the ground. Its parts: a branch deep in the ground (often made of living wood), to the end of which an iron shaft is attached, for which the boom, which acts as a hoist, rotates.

St Michael’s church – Szent Mihály-templom

By far the most impressive though is the church. It is stunning. So stunning that it deserves its own post. It was here that Zalaújlak-born painter Egry József was baptised. The stained glass, the painted ceilings, the intriguing altar. It’s a gem. I added yet another entry to my list of things to do when I win those millions. It’s in dire need of some TLC.

Church altar viewed through an archway

One of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the county, Zalamerenye is now soldiering through its third millennium. It’s not as rich as it was, although it does appear to be going through a revival of sorts. The lake has been drained. A new damn is in the making. There’s a yurt Airbnb there, too.

I found two houses for sale, one with an interesting description of the village.

Zalamerenye, the palm of God… This saying carries the characteristics that characterize Zalamerenye today. As we approach it with love, understanding and openness, the palm protects, protects, nourishes and lifts. However, if you experience negative emotions with malicious intent, the palm will crust, the edge will harden… Such is the small village, and this may have ensured its survival in the third millennium of its existence.

Give that some thought and see where it takes you.

If you’re staying in the nearby spa town of Zalakaros, nab one of the hotel bikes and cycle over.

PS I couldn’t find anything on the wooden man with the beer mug (the featured image) but I did find a photo of it in the making.

* Örményes is a village of about a thousand people in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county and is now also the Diana pilgrimage site of the region. If you want to remember the late Princess of Wales, all you have to do is visit the Diana Memorial Bench, which was inaugurated in 2017 by English Ambassador Iain Lindsay and his wife. I’m telling. Road-tripping in Hungary is quite the adventure.

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