Dramatic clouds hung above. Ominously dark clouds ready to unleash, breaking the mid-day heat. They stretched over Noszvaj like a ceiling of ashy cotton balls. “It won’t rain,” the husky man said in Hungarian between puffs off his pipe. I didn’t believe him.
My parents were visiting from California. My wife Anita and I thought Noszvaj would be perfect for a day trip from Miskolc, and for giving mom and dad a taste of Hungarian village life. We were also in town to meet a friend, Anita Balogh, whom we met last year when she worked for Barta Winery in Mád . She had recently moved to the Noszvaj area and had a series of projects she wanted to share with us. She too was drawn to this picturesque countryside near Eger.
Noszvaj has a seemingly universal appeal: gentle green hills, narrow lanes lined with wine cellars, classic Hungarian homes (single story and square with tile roofs and iron gates), vegetable gardens and a commitment to local traditions. Plum jam is the town’s claim to fame. Surrounding slopes host row after row of grapevines, and horses can be seen trotting across fields of striking green. Hiking in the Bükk National Forest is mere minutes away.
Our first stop was at the cave houses or ‘barlanglakások’. I steered us down a dusty lane, old homes were being renovated and flowering potato bushes filled front gardens. The weight of four people burdening my one liter Opel hatchback as we arced down the road. Round a narrow bend the cave houses appeared. Three little mutts scurried past, out from a still inhabited cave home. Colorful laundry hung on a clothesline.
The husky man with his pipe and well groomed beard stood in the gravelly parking area. Two minutes later we were touring the caves with him. He was soft spoken and offered a warm smile. These cave dwellings are both modern and old. A couple of them have existed for around 300 years. Others, made in the last decade. It’s a curious place that exercises the mind. I wrote a blogpost about them last year which you can read here.
All Good Things
It didn’t rain. He was right. And the heat was intense now as we parked in front of our next stop—Csendülő (a play on words meaning gentle bell-ringing and also sitting in peace or silence). White walls and royal blue trim were unmissable as we approached. Inside, at a flagstone patio, Anita Balogh greeted us with open arms and led us into an adjacent house. “This will be a guest cottage for visitors,” she told us. Newly remodeled, the space had two rooms, a bathroom and a sizable terrace. The blue and white motif continued inside creating a calming, airy effect. “Noszvaj has a wine growing tradition,” Anita said. “And this blue represents the color of what was used to sterilize the grapes .” My dad later told me that it’s called bluestone in Ireland and made of copper phosphate.
Across the sun drenched courtyard, Anita showed us into a parallel structure. A long hallway with picture windows stretched out to my right. In front of me, a display of wine bottles and a stylish coffee bar outfitted with a La Marzocco espresso machine took center stage. Everything, down to minute details it seemed, had been designed and installed with vision in mind. Vintage appliances intermingled with fresh picked flowers, flagstone and recycled wood furniture. “This is a spiritual center,” Anita told me while we walked around. “But it’s also a cafe, a wine shop, a place for yoga, concerts, events. A community center.”
Anita’s partner, Dr. Imre Csernus, is a famous psychiatrist in Hungary. This place is a manifestation of their shared vision: a center for mental and spiritual health; a hub for arts and culture; and a place to enjoy great wine and top notch coffee. It was hard to argue with them, as we sat down on their stone patio behind the cafe. While sipping a deliciously creamy Hosszú kávé, I took in the scene of lush grass, a flagstone amphitheater and stage, white puffy clouds floating past between an impossibly blue sky and rich green hills. Across the courtyard, in a wood and stone longhouse type structure, Imre was leading a course with a group of students.”We call it the Soul House,” Anita told me. Behind us a middle aged man tied small bundles of lavender.
It was all so idyllic. I felt relaxed, welcomed and content. My mom and dad were also low in their chairs, simply enjoying the atmosphere. After his session, Imre emerged and greeted us. He smiled widely yet appeared exhausted from his work, and rightfully so. Anita (my wife), was delighted to meet Imre having seen him on television. We finished our coffee and gave some space to Imre and the course participants who were now outside. The four of us–Anita, myself and my mom and dad–said our goodbyes and walked under a beautiful old walnut tree towards our car. Next stop—the Kenyérzsák Bakery.
We followed Anita’s car down a swooping road and into Noszvaj’s center. Inside a classic Hungarian house with a long veranda on it’s side, we met Krisztián , Imre’s partner and head baker. In this old house turned bakery he creates bread and pastries using only the finest ingredients. Some organic, some local, all additive free and pure. Kenyérzsák also stocks local jam, honey and wine. We bought some cherry pastries, croissants and ‘tündér kenyér’—a type of rye bread. All of them were out of this world good. My dad bought a bottle of “Puskas” Egri Bikavér , named after the legendary Hungarian footballer Ferenc Puskás. Outside, Krisztián showed us his massive kemence (a kind of outdoor brick oven) and wooden tubs he used to knead dough in over the years. You can’t visit Noszvaj without going here. This place could turn a gluten-free fanatic into a lover of bread in minutes.
Sip, Swim, Stay
We continued following Anita up a snaking road, into a sea of green hills towards Eger. She was leading us to their vineyard, AÉS or Almagyar Érseki Szôlôbirtok (Almagyar Cardinal’s Vineyard). The vineyard was once part of the Cardinal of Eger’s estate. Abandoned and in need of serious care, the vineyard was scheduled to be cut down. Imre Csernus, and his partners Ferenc Csutorás and Péter Mészáros, rushed in and saved the vines. The rest is history, and you can read a full write up on AÉS here.
This place is beautiful. Plain and simple. There’s something about vineyards that makes me smile. And AÉS has stunning views of the prominent Nagy-Eged Hill. Not to mention you can stay overnight in minimalist bungalows tucked away in the vineyard. There’s also a swimming pool and a wine terrace/cafe. Did I mention the views? It’s hard to describe the atmosphere here. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Imagine spending your weekend poolside in the middle of a vineyard. Well you can here.
Anita Balogh, Imre Csernus and their partners are up to some amazing things. Meeting them and exploring their labors of love was incredibly inspiring. Spirituality, community, arts & culture, gourmet coffee, sinful yet soulful pastries, excellent wine and vineyard glamping.
They’re on to something here…and it’s hard to resist.