Varbó: Northeast Hungary’s Best Kept Secret

Varbó: Northeast Hungary’s Best Kept Secret


Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was the rolling green hills, or perhaps my wonderful company.  It’s hard to pinpoint, but my recent day spent in Varbó was just about perfect. Anita, my dad and I made the short drive north from Miskolc into the neighboring valley. We were treated to rich green foliage, which seemed to glow under a brilliant morning sun.

Varbó  is a village with, I would guess, about a thousand inhabitants. First mentioned in 1303, the village coat of arms displays a dove with an olive branch in its beak. Varbó ‘s most recognizable structure is no doubt the Baroque styled Reformed Protestant church. It’s a fishing lake encircled by the Tardona Hills, however, that defines this picturesque settlement.


Meeting old friends and discovering new trails

We weren’t in Varbó by accident (although this place isn’t really on the way to anywhere, so you don’t simply discover it by accident). Our good friend Erzsébet Káposztáné and her yoga group had organized a weekend retreat here. Anita and I decided to join for their Saturday hike, a loop trail from the lake into the Bükk Mountains and back.

Outside a rustic set of bungalows overlooking the lake, we greeted friends and listened to the hiking itinerary. Our guide, István Sárvári, pointed out rest points along the 14km trail. Eventually we set off, passing fishermen and couples already staking their spots along the lake’s shoreline. We had brought along a mountain bike for my dad to ride around while we hiked. He recently had his 2nd hip replacement and cycling keeps him fit and loose.


After a steady and exposed climb from lake to hills, I was wishing I’d brought my hat; the sun beat down with unexpected intensity. Lush shades of green covered every contour and lazy clouds dotted a brilliant blue sky. Soon enough our group of about 20 entered the dense beech and oak forest. The cool, shaded air a welcome respite. We then crossed paths with a narrow gauge railway line, one that originates from Lillafüred back near Miskolc.

Passing an old rail stop, we marched uphill until an unexpected clearing—Andó-kút. Encircled by towering beech trees, Andó-kút is a natural spring with a man-made pond. All around there are rustic tables, benches and even a gazebo on an island  in the middle of the water.  It’s one of the most pleasant places I’ve yet to experience in the Bükk Forest.

andokut hungary

Anita and I ate our sandwiches, filled our water bottles and asked István for directions to our next destination. With map in hand, we headed up a steep hill back into the forest towards a cave named Dante’s Hell. The following half hour was incredibly beautiful: bright meadows, elegant little wild flowers and a sun dappled forest full of bird chorus. At one point, three deer appeared about 30 yards off trail in the forest. The largest one, stopped in the middle of a side trail and stared. It was a picture perfect moment, but it was over in an instant … no chance for a photo.

We rambled along until we began to wonder if we’d gone too far. Following our map we headed towards the ominously named cave. As we rounded a corner, the yoga group came into view. Anita and I looked at each other and smiled; we had missed a shortcut right to the cave and walked nearly double the distance.

István told us the cave was unique in Europe. “A cave without a ceiling,” he said. So basically a hole, I thought. But it was more than a hole. Down a muddy slope, one by one we entered into a limestone amphitheater. Walls of stone curved up and overhead like waves, a huge circle of sky and forest above. I cursed myself for only bringing my 50mm fixed lens—my wide lens could’ve captured the true sense of this place. Thankfully István gave me his camera and I snapped a few shots with his mid-range lens.

dante pokol

hell dante

Anita and I reluctantly had to leave. We decided 3 and a half hours was enough time for my dad back at the lake. We said our goodbyes, took some photos with Erzsébet and headed back …. along the shortcut of course.

That day in Varbó was perfect for many reasons, some of which I can’t explain. I suppose only one thing could’ve made it better: a visit to Varbó’s famous confectionery, Bella Cukrászda. Next time.

If you go:

Have a look at Varbó’s official website for more info (Hungarian only)

You can also take the narrow gauge forest train from Diósgyőr in Miskolc to the village of Mahoca, near Varbó.

1 Comment

  1. Looks like you had a wonderful day! Just out of my hometwon, Barcika, which is also a great starting point for such beautiful trips in the area.