Eger and the Valley of the Beautiful Women

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Just two hours north of Budapest lies a small city that feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the Hungarian capital.

A short train ride, and you can trade in the clash of nighttime traffic for a serenade of nighttime insects; the sprawling city for just a few major streets. And instead of Budapest's ruin bars, here you can explore dozens of wine cellars.

This is Eger.

Eger, Hungary

A city of about 60,000, Eger still manages to possess that Hungarian charm that I fell in love with in Budapest, despite its miniature size. Cobbled streets empty into broad squares with towering cathedrals. Colorful cafes spill out onto sidewalks littered with umbrella-shaded tables. And an ancient castle provides sweeping views out over the whole city.

Eger, Hungary
Eger from above

In fact, Eger Castle is one of the region's main attractions, with the structure dating back centuries. Even on a rainy Sunday when all the museums and exhibitions were closed, the fortress was well worth a visit.

Eger Castle, Hungary

But nobody comes to Eger just to see the castle.

The real draw of this city lies an easy 20 minutes' walk outside of the main square, in an area known romantically as the Valley of the Beautiful Women. You could, of course, also hire a car, but the walk is gentle and very pretty.

The Valley of the Beautiful Women, Eger, Hungary

Valley of the Beautiful Women, Eger, Hungary

Here, tucked deep into a verdant valley, lies Hungary's most well-known wine region. But it's not your average wine region — Eger is unique in that it boasts dozens of wineries, each of which operates a small cellar in the Valley of the Beautiful Women where you can pop in and try some local specialties for dirt cheap. (There are actually upwards of 200 cellars here, with roughly 4 dozen open to the public.)

The Valley of the Beautiful Women, Eger, Hungary
Eger wine cellars

It's kind of like a pub crawl. Except you substitute wine cellars for pubs, and instead of beer you can expect wine. Lots and lots of wine.

The Valley of the Beautiful Women, Eger, Hungary

Wine tasting in Eger

You can find wine of all colors and tastes here — from white to blush to deep red. But the most famous wine in Eger is definitely Egri Bikavér — or “Bull's Blood.” This dark red wine is rich and dry, made from a mixture of 3 different types of grapes.

Wine tasting in Eger

And the name is just as unique as the wine.

Back in the 1550s, as the Turks were expanding their Ottoman Empire to include Hungary, they thought they'd make quick work of taking over Eger, an important stronghold in the northern part of the country at the time. What they weren't expecting in 1552 with their army of tens of thousands (stories list anywhere from 40,000 to 150,000 Turks), however, was such a fierce force in Eger to oppose them.

The ruler of Eger at the time, Dobo Istvan, rallied his roughly 2,000 troops (legends list the number anywhere between 800 and 3,000 men), and decided to boost their morale by giving them barrels of wine to drink — all the wine in Eger was mixed together randomly to sustain Dobo's troops.

The small Eger force was able to defend Eger Castle and drive the Turks away, and fought so passionately that a rumor spread around the Turkish ranks that the Hungarians were drinking the blood from bulls to gain their improbable strength (and red-stained beards). And so “Bull's Blood” wine got its name.

Bull's Blood wine

Just about any cellar in the Valley will be able to serve you its own version of Egri Bikavér, along with a variety of other wines. Cellar 19, for example, had nearly 30 different varieties of wine in one of the oldest cellars in the valley.

Cellar 19, Eger

But if you are only going to visit one cellar in Eger, make it cellar number 2. This cellar, tucked into an unsuspecting corner removed from the outdoor seating and blaring loudspeaker music, was by far my favorite. The owner, an older Hungarian lady who spoke very little English, poured wine through a slender glass contraption with gusto and served up very curious “sandwiches” and cheese plates.

There was no rush to leave, and no wine glass left unfilled.

Cellar 2, Eger
Inside Cellar 2

Cellar 2, Eger

Cellar 2, Eger

The dark and musty cellar — covered in moss and mold that helps regulate the temperature year-round — was full of warm character, the walls covered with coins from all over the world that had been pressed into the fungus. The owner told us that if you pressed a coin into the wall and it stuck, it meant you would be sure to return to Eger.

Coin or no coin, Eger is definitely a part of Hungary I would return to someday.

IF YOU GO

The best option is to take a train to Eger and stay overnight. But if that's not an option, you can also book a day trip from Budapest; Eger is about 2 hours one-way from the Hungarian capital.

If you decide to stay overnight in Eger, the Senator House Hotel is the top-rated hotel in the city.

Have you been cellar hopping in Eger? If not, is this is place you'd like to go wine tasting someday?

 

 

*Note: I am on a complimentary “Explore Eastern Europe” tour with Intrepid Travel, but all opinions are completely my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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47 Comments on “Eger and the Valley of the Beautiful Women

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  1. I find it interesting that the “Colorful cafes spill out onto sidewalks littered with umbrella-shaded tables” in the picture is a McDonald’s 😀

      Haha, is it?? I didn’t even notice. I took so many photos like that one in Eger; I just like all the pastel colors in that shot. 🙂 I promise there were more cafes all over the city!

    Very interesting! We enjoy Hungarian wine and have been to tastings in caves and other unique locations around Budapest. But we have not tried Bull’s Blood. We’ll have to make this little side trip next time we go to Budapest!

      It’s worth a try if you like wine, I think (or even if you don’t, it’s worth trying since it’s so famous in this region!).

      And as for a side trip to Eger from Budapest, YES! DO IT!

    Looks amazing!!! Being a massive wine lover I am just dying to get there!!!

      If you love wine, yes, you really should add Eger to your must-visit list!

    Now that looks like a lovely part of the world!

      It certainly is. Eastern Europe is so underrated, yet so amazing!

    I love all the bright coloured buildings! It’s rare to see that many shades of mango and terracotta outside Latin America. 😀

      I loved the color, too! It seemed to be quite prevalent all across northern Hungary, from what I could tell.

    I’m really excited to try some Hungarian wines when I’m in Budapest next month. Not sure if I’ll be able to make it up to Eger but it sounds like a lovely place!

      If you can make it out to Eger, I highly recommend it! If not, though, be sure to enjoy what local wines you can find in Budapest!

    I visited Budapest last August and was less then enamored with it. I have come to the conclusion that I need to give it another chance and when I do I will venture out to see more of Hungary including Eger! Wine tasting will be on the list of things to do.

      I’ve heard quite a few people say they weren’t wowed by Budapest. Did you perhaps see Prague first? I’ve heard Prague can kind of make Budapest seem a lot less grand.

      Regardless, I think you should definitely give it another chance, and explore some more of Hungary in the process!

    Wow this looks amazing. I love the little cellars next to each other. I hope they provide someone to carry you home after though! lol

      Hahaha, no, I don’t think they provide that service. 😉

    In 2004 I went on a twin-centre holiday to Budapest and Eger! I loved both… So pleased you enjoyed them too. If you would like any local advice when you get to London I live right in the centre 🙂

      That sounds like a fun holiday! Great part of the world.

      And thanks for the London offer! I’m always up for advice, though my time will be far too short there!

    Beautiful photos! The city of Eger looks fantastic. When I visit Hungary I will make sure I check it out. And the wines! They sound awesome.

    What a cute little city! We never made it past Budapest, but one of these days I’d love to explore more of Hungary and drink a TON of wine. 🙂

      Well if you want to drink a ton of wine in Hungary, Eger is definitely the place to do it!

    […] siege in 1552.Yet, despite all of that, I’d never heard of it until fellow blogger Amanda wrote about it a few days before we arrived in Budapest.  Looking for a break from the capital cities, this […]

    […] like walking tours or visits to famous sites/monuments (included things on this tour included wine tasting in Hungary, visiting Rila Monastery in Bulgaria, and walking tours in multiple cities). Some extras that I […]

    I’m looking to take a side trip to Eger, but wondering how much to budget for the wine and everything.

      To be honest, I’m not sure how much the trip would cost you… I unfortunately didn’t keep track of my budget very well on this trip. However, I know that the tastings weren’t all that expensive. Maybe the equivalent of a couple of Euro per glass. And Hungary in general is pretty inexpensive, especially more rural areas like this one. So sorry I can’t be of more help!

    Visited number 2 yesterday. Beatrix is still there pouring the wine and offering generous hospitality. The wine is “shockingly delicious” as one customer puts it.

    It’s an amazing story – the few Hungarians lead by Isván Dobó resisted an immense Ottoman army and they even managed to overcome.
    Beautiful city and I’d love to visit it!

      Yes, the story is quite incredible!

    I lived in Budapest between 1992-1994 and remember visiting the wine cellars. I loved it at the time and your article took me back in time to happier days and wonderful memories. I loved seeing your photos. Thanks.

      So glad I could bring back some fond memories for you, Carol. 🙂

    Thanks for the information. I am currently in Eger, Hungary nearing the end of a one month cycle tour through this interesting and diverse country. Now I know that I can leave my bicycle parked here at the camping ground and walk down the street to the Valley of the Beautiful Women. I don’t usually drink wine but discovered the joys of Hungarian wine at Lake Balaton so might just have to continue my education today.

      You’ll find some great wines in the cellars there! Plus, the cellars are just full of character!

    Hi Amanda!
    Were the wine cellars open on Sunday? We’re planning a trip, and that might be the best day for us to go, assuming things are open!
    Thanks!

      Hi Janos! To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know! I don’t remember what day of the week I went, I’m afraid – it was quite a few years ago! If you are going to be in the area beforehand, I would probably just ask someone local as they would know much better than I would.

      I am happy to check with my family members about questions you have about visiting Eger.

    It’s quite interesting how I came to find you Amanda. I am Agi Anderson and I was born in Budapest, Hungary. Almost all of my family lives in Eger where I plan t go for a year in 2016 to set up a vacation rental. Your photos are stunning and you truly captured the beauty of this wonderful city in your post. Let’s connect, I would love to chat about your visit to Eger. I was there in July 2013, a year after your trip.

      Welcome to my blog, Agi! Eger was so beautiful – I’m so glad I got to visit!

    We will be going to Budapest this November, and plan on going to Eger! Could you tell us how to get to the cellars from Eger city center or Eger castle? We will have a driver drop us off in the am, and pick us up at the end of the day. I think we will just walk to the cellars, since you said it’s pretty easy. Thank you!

      Unfortunately it’s been quite a few years since I was there, so I don’t remember the exact directions. However you definitely can walk to the cellars. I would just ask around in town! If I remember correctly, there were a few signs pointing the way.

    I am indebted to you for the recommendation to go to Cellar #2! I had read your post earlier this morning before visiting the Valley of the Beautiful Women. Cellar #2 was closed when I got there but as I was leaving I noticed it was open… After a minute of should I stay or should I go I decided to check it out based on your recommendation.

    What a wonderful woman and what delicious wine she poured! And wow did she teach me how to drink it (she drank right along with me). Amazing experience. Thank you, I wouldn’t have ventured there if I hadn’t read your post.

      That is so awesome to hear! (Both that you went based on this blog post, and that she’s still there serving up her delicious wine!)

    Hello Amanda,

    Apologies, if this seems like spam but I think my site http://www.ieger.com would be a useful resource for your visitors, so if they want to know more about opening times of cellars and the like they can hop over to the site,

    You write well, by the way. Great blog.

    Best wishes,
    Charles

    […] doing it! I’ve never been to Hungary but I know that I will love it when I go. There are many caves that exist in Hungary where wine is aged and this type of aging gives it a very distinct flavour, […]

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