The gorgeous town of Eger, set among the rolling Bukk hills in the forested Northern Uplands region, is an a must on any trip to Hungary long enough to allow you to foray beyond Budapest. Whilst oenophiles won’t want to miss it's celebrated “Valley of the Beautiful Woman”.
Atmospheric Eger boasts a fabled fortress which famously repulsed Ottoman attack in 1552, expansive cobbled streets, and a feeling of bonhomie which may well have something to do with its famous Bull’s Blood wine - cuvée wine (Egri Bikavér). A white version (Egri Csillagok) was launched in 2012 and is equally delicious. Eger’s university, opposite the cathedral, ensures that, during term time, the town enjoys a nightlife out of proportion to its size.
On pleasant, pedestrianized Széchenyi Istvan utca 3, the newly restored Archbishop’s Palace (April–Sept Tues–Sun 10am–6pm; Oct–March Tues–Sat 10am–4pm; 1800Ft) is a u-shaped Baroque building, housing a treasury, a history of the bishopric of Eger as well as the art collection of the town’s prince-bishops. Although the
bulk of the collection was moved to Budapest’s Fine Arts Museum, some fine paintings are still on show here – among the oils on the second floor, Boy Lighting a Pipe by Hendrick ter Brugghen (1623) is said to be the earliest Western painting depicting smoking.
Uphill from Dobó István tér is Hungary’s most famous castle (May–Sept daily 10am–6pm; Oct–April Tues–Sun 10am–4pm; 1600Ft including museums and casements; T36 312 744). Inside, you get a powerful sense of the sheer scale of the fortress, and can easily imagine the scene in 1552 when soldiers and local women (who volunteered to help) saw off a Turkish force six times their number – a cannon is fired every day at 15.52 to commemorate the event. There are three museums inside the fortress, but it’s the hundreds of metres of underground casements – reopened in May 2016 – that are an absolute must, and give you an insight into the techniques employed by the besiegers and the besieged.
The splendid Neoclassical cathedral or basilica on Pyrker tér (daily 9am–6pm; donation 300Ft; T36 470 970) is the country’s second largest church after Estergom. Painted the favourite Hungarian yellow, it is five minutes’ walk southwest from the main square, approached by a grand set of steps. Inside, it is grandiosely decorated with toffee-coloured columns and pastel frescoes.
Walk down Sandor utca, cross the bridge and head to the left to climb Europe’s most northerly minaret, an iconic memento of Eger’s Ottoman occupation (daily: April & Oct 10am–5pm; May–Sept 10am–6pm; 300Ft). Legend has it that when the Habsburgs tried to pull down the minaret, even a hundred oxen couldn’t topple it: in the end they just put a cross at the top. Returning to the castle via Dobó utca, you can pop into the authentically lavish Nine-Sided Turkish Tent, at no. 40, to admire its dazzling interior and sip a coffee brewed in hot sand (March–May & Sept–Dec Tues–Sun 10am–10pm; June–Aug daily 9am–11pm; free).
A twenty-minute walk southwest of the town centre in an area known as Valley of the Beautiful Woman is a big square crammed with wine cellars, where you can enjoy back-to-back wine tastings – an integral part of a trip to Eger. A tourist train runs down here every thirty minutes from Egészségház utca (10am–10pm; 800Ft).
Top image: The city walls with lookout tower, sham cannon and views of the historic center of Eger. Hungary © Stavrida/Shutterstock