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Southern Hungary: Culture, Cuisine, and a Castle
Located at the heart of Central Europe, Hungary manages to fit a remarkable amount of geographical and cultural diversity into a relatively small country. While the northern part of the country borders the foothills of the Alps and historically many of the towns were closely linked to Vienna, in the south the atmosphere is more Mediterranean, and the influence of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled parts of Hungary for 150 years, is more palpable. 

Pécs is the cultural center of the region—and there’s good reason why it was named Europe’s cultural capital in 2010. Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque buildings line the city’s streets, but they are here also joined by sites that date from the period of Ottoman rule including the northernmost mosque they constructed which is still standing to this day. In nearby Villány, you can sample the full-bodied and spicy products of the southernmost of Hungary’s 22 wine regions.

Commissioned by the Government of Hungary with the support of the European Union.
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    Day 1
    With a Mediterranean climate and some 2,000 years of history, Pécs is an inviting place to dive into Hungary’s long history as a cultural crossroads. Start the day visiting, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an early Christian mausoleum discovered in 1975, and continue on to see some of the town’s Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque highlights. The period of Ottoman occupation, which lasted for 143 years, is reflected in the minaret and mosque that still stand here, though the mosque was converted to a Catholic church after the Muslims occupiers were expelled.

    Cultural life in Pécs isn’t limited to history books. Two of the city’s more recent artists of note, Victor Vasarely, the father of Op-Art, and the giant of Hungarian painting Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka, are celebrated in museums named after them and housing many of their most important works. One of the gems of Pécs, the beautiful Zsolnay Quarter is home to historic porcelain factory buildings that have been meticulously restored and many now house artisans’ shops, cafes, and restaurants.

    Climb the hill just to the north of the historic heart of Pécs, for dinner at Tettye Restaurant, a family-run favorite serving traditional Swabian favorites from casseroles to dumplings.
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    Day 2
    Located where the Hungarian Plain, the Baranya Hills, and the Villány Mountains meet, the town of Villány is ideally suited to the cultivation of grapes for wine—the history of winemaking here dates back to days of the Roman empire. Today, the region produces many of Hungary’s most acclaimed rosés and reds, and with a number of tasting rooms and wineries located near each other, it’s an ideal place for a day of wine tasting.

    At Sauska, a family run operation, the cellar and vineyard tours (by appointment only) include not only an opportunity to sample some of the winery’s products but also lessons in the terroir that makes Villány different from other wine regions. The winery’s Sauska 48 restaurant offers views of the vineyards from its outdoor deck open from spring to fall (the restaurant is open year-round). Other wineries like Bock and the Crocus Gere Winery have not only tasting rooms but also overnight accommodations.
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    Day 3
    Castle of Siklos
    The Castle of Siklós, which sits on Hungary’s southern border, embodies much of the long and complicated history of the country—it was controlled by a number of different noble families over the centuries and by the Ottomans from 1543 to 1686. During World War II it housed American, British, and Polish prisoners of war, who were unusually allowed to visit the nearby village (accompanied by a guard), as the Hungarian government sought positive relations with the Allies. Grants from Norway and the European Union have funded the recent restoration of parts of the building. Visitors can explore the dungeon while exhibits cover various aspects of the castle’s history as well as the Croat and Serbian cultures—this part of Hungary having significant populations of both peoples.

    You’ll have lunch at Palkonyha, even though it is adamant that it is not a restaurant. Instead this charming guesthouse in the village of the same name bills itself as a bakery, herb garden, a larder selling local products, and more. Still, they will serve you a meal of traditional Hungarian dishes either in the shade of fruit trees when the weather is warm or by the stove inside when temperatures drop.

    After you finish your dessert, make your way back to Budapest where the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, a stunning landmarked building from 1906 on the banks of the Danube, will be your home during your stay in the city. If you decide you can’t bear to leave quite yet, Palkonya has guestrooms if you decide you want to spend one more night in the Villány region.