Healthy waters

Hévíz has long been on my list of places to go in Hungary. The lake there is supposedly the world’s largest (or second-largest – depending on what you read) biologically active natural medicinal lake. Water spews forth at a rate of 410 litres per second and at a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104 F), keeps the lake rather temperate. In effect, this means that the lake water changes every three days (or daily; again, depending on what you read!).

IMG_4521 (800x600)The city itself was a hotbed of blue-haired honeys so it was no surprise that most of those in the water that day were slightly older than yours truly. Known for its restorative powers, Hévíz lake is where the masses come to be cured. Mind you, there is a rather extensive list on the outer walls of ailments not covered by the cure. And should you have one of those, you’re advised to stay well away without your doctor’s approval.

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It is thought that the Romans knew of the curative effect of the lake, given the ancient coins found there in the early 1980s. Its development as a spa began in the mid-eighteenth century when Earl György (I.) Festetics built a wooden bathing house on a float but it wasn’t until March 1868, when his son György (II.) Festetics started the building project in earnest.

At the turn of the twentieth century,  brewery magnate Vencel Reischl wrought his commercial magic and turned the place into a success. Replacing the old buildings with more modern hotels and restaurants  and landscaping the grounds paid off.  Figuring there was money to be made were he to partner with the right doctors, Reischl brought the first one in, in 1906. One of its later doctors, Dr Moll Károly, was the first to use subaquean traction treatment. This involves hanging from your neck or arms in water…. depending on what part of you needs sorting out: cervical, dorsal or lumbar spine, hip, knee, or ankle.  The mind boggles.

IMG_4523 (800x595)Like most other places in Hungary, the war saw a change of fate. Between 1944 and 1946 the buildings were used by the Germans as a hospital and then by the Russians.  In 1948, the state took charge and the State Medicinal Bath was established by the Ministry of Health in 1952.Today, it’s a happening place, year round.

When trying to find out more about the lake, I came across the term ‘health tourist’ and it made me laugh … and then stop and think. While I like the odd dip, I’m not a dedicated spa fan. And the thoughts of travelling the world in search of the ideal spa or bath or healing water seems rather ludicrous. That might change though, were I desperate to find a cure for whatever ailed me. I’ve been dubbed a ‘cemetery tourist’ but even then, I’ve never specifically gone anywhere to see a cemetery, preferring to stumble on them wherever I happened be. But each to their own. Hévíz is definitely a popular spot with Russians and Bavarians alike – with the odd Hungarian thrown in for good measure. Worth stopping by, if you’re in the neighbourhood.



Aging…like a good wine

‘Do you mind me asking how old you are? he said. ‘How old do you think?’ I replied. ‘I can’t see how you could be older than 35 or 36’ he said.

Who needs cosmetic surgery if those looking at you have felt the effects of a few good wines. Down in Köveskál this weekend, we stopped IMG_4457 (800x600)by the Pálffy vineyard and partook in a wine tasting. At the table next to us sat four youngish Hungarian lads who were, as they put it, nearly at the top of the mountain while we, on our first sip of an olaszrizling, had just started our climb. They helpfully translated what our host, Pálffy Gyula (who bears more than a little resemblance to Irish actor Gabriel Byrne), was telling us about each wine we tasted and contributed to what was a very enjoyable way to pass a few hours. Apparently he moved back to the area in 1998 to continue the family wine-making and take over his paternal grandfather’s vineyard and has been making steady progress ever since in his efforts to help restore the reputation of the Káli Basin wines, a region which once supplied the House of Árpád kings.

Such was the love of wine present that we learned not just about those from his cellar. We learned that 2006 and 2009 were excellent years for Hungarian reds. That the Patricius 1999 Azsú was one of the best sweet wines ever to be bottled and that a Szekszárd merlot was worth trying. And if ever in Eger again, that the Gróf Buttler Pince is the place to go.

IMG_4452 (800x597)Sitting in this modern cellar late on a Saturday afternoon, sampling ten of the wines on offer, I was surprised to see the walls reflect in the glass tables and wondered briefly if the wine was having an effect. Was I drugged?

But Pálffy doesn’t use any pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals. He is guided by nature and uses traditional craft methods. Currently, the 4.5 hectares are given over to Riesling, Pinot Gris, Traminer, Furmint, Juhfark, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, and more recently a variety of Syrah has been added.

IMG_4454 (800x600)My first place vote went to the Köveskáli Törökugrató Rosé 2010 with the Késői Szüretelésű Tramini 2008, a félédes (semi-sweet) white coming in a strong second. This surprised me as I’m not generally a fan of sweet wine. The Furmint and the Siller tied for third (siller is quite popular in Hungary – being a little more than a rosé and a little less than a red. I’ve heard it called a Missouri wine in deference to the Missouri Compromise Line 🙂 ) I can’t say that I’ll ever be an expert. I don’t have the bandwidth to take on a whole new vocabulary. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed tasting these wines, and taking notes about what I liked and what I didn’t like. And, even better, we didn’t have to agree. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

In a fascinating travel article on Balaton wine, Bruce Schoenfeld quotes veteran winemaker, István Kiss:

Before I leave, Kiss opens a bottle of Kiralyfurmint from 1978 that has been in his cellar for at least two decades. It has the seal of the Communist government on it—a faded paper collar, all tones of gray now except for a stripe of sky blue, picturing a shield and a star—and it looks to be in nearly pristine condition. Poured into a glass, the wine is such a bright gold that it practically glows. “Wine is the only product in human life that can bring back the years,” Kiss says, holding his glass to the light. “The 1978 sunlight is in this wine, and the great rains, and the cellar’s coolness. The wine can bring back all these tastes. Smell this wine and go back twenty-eight years.”

Alongside bringing back the years sits wine’s contribution to making memories. I’d never heard of the Tramini grape before last weekend but now each time I see it, I’ll revisit in my mind’s eye that late afternoon/early evening spent at the Pálffy pince. Laden down with bottles, we made our exit, happy to have had the experience and happier still with the wine-filled chocolate that caught my eye on the way out. Now, there’s a man who can think outside of the box. Wine AND chocolate AND good company? What more could a girl ask for?

If you’re in the vicinity, drop by and say hi.

Pálffy Pince, 8274 Köveskál, Fõ u. 40.
Tel: 06-30-9275-713
E-mail:[email protected]

2013 Grateful 31

This weekend, driving around the Balaton, I was mesmerised, not by the lake or the vineyards but by the grass verges on the roadside. Column after column of red poppies sparkled with raindrops mixed in with purple fireweed, white daisies, and blue cornflowers. I was struck by the fact that none would sell in a flower shop – no one would pay for these weeds – and then immediately got to thinking about how silly we humans are.

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When a ten-year-old child knows their Tommy Hilfiger from their Calvin Kline, one has to wonder where we have gone wrong. I know I can’t speak for everyone but I bet I’m not the only one who has chosen an expensive wine thinking it must be good if it cost so much – only to be disappointed. I’ve bought designer label stuff not because it fit or flattered but because it was a whatever.  I’ve read prize-winning books that I hated and watched art movies that went over my head and saw plays that I just didn’t get … all because I felt I should.

I doubt I’m the only one that has been caught up in a series of societal expectations – someone else’s expectations. I doubt that I’m the only one to have felt an obligation to do something I’d rather not just because I thought I should. And I doubt that I’m the only one to have forgotten that all too often, it’s the simple pleasures in life that are the ones that memories are made of.


Doug Larson said once that a weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.  How much more interesting our world would be if more of us mere mortals were to follow their lead.

The poppy blooms for just a few days and yet in that short space of time adds a rare beauty to the world, offers the milk from which opiates are made, and the seeds that used in baking and pressed for oil. Synonymous with loss of life in war, the poppy has become a sign of remembrance. And for me, a sharp reminder that life doesn’t need to be any more complicated than I make it.

This week, as I dot the final i and cross the final t in my dissertation and get ready to pack for my road-trip, I’m truly grateful that we took the time to stop  and smell the poppies. And if my stream of consciousness takes me from the Balaton to Flanders and back again, from designer labels to opiates and cooking oil,  all the better. Isn’t that what life is? One long road-trip that brings us places we never thought we see, introduces us to people we never imagined we’d meet, and  makes us constantly wonder what’s around the next corner.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52