Author: Dániel Ercsey
The easiest way to describe this is with the Szigetvár-Pécs-Mohács axis. Pécs was the European Capital of Culture in 2010, and almost the entire city centre was completely renovated. The Mediterranean style of the main Széchenyi Square is breath-taking, while the sights of the Pécs Cathedral and bishopric, including the Episcopal Palace and the “Secret Passage” are amazing. Pécs’s vibrant cultural life, worthy of a real city and regional centre, is enticing. This includes the renovated Zsolnay Cultural Quarter and Havihegy, somewhat less frequented by visitors, where an ancient almond tree flourishes and was chosen as Tree of the Year in 2019. One of the city’s landmarks, the archaeological site of 1,600-year-old early Christian tombs, is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The largest number of Roman cemetery buildings decorated with murals in Europe have survived here. If you’d like to see an exhibition, there are the Vasarely and Csontváry museums, if you would like to see monuments from the Turkish era, Pécs has the best-preserved Turkish church in the country, the Gázi Kászim pasha mosque, and if you’d like some wine, then ask for a glass of Pécs Cirfandli. Although the iconic variety of the wine district has been undeservedly pushed into the background, if enough people ask for it, then it may once again appear on the drinks’ menu of every restaurant in Pécs. Don’t be afraid to try it, but as it comes in both dry and sweet versions, make sure you ask which style is on the wine list.
Visit the building and vineyards of the university’s research institute for viticulture and oenology on the side of Jakab Hill. It’s one of the most beautiful places of its kind in the country.
As far as the Ottoman age is concerned, it is not only Pécs that may be of interest. Nearby Szigetvár Castle still preserves the memory of the legendary heroic deeds of Miklós Zrinyi, as well as the heart of Sultan Suleiman I, who died here. The sultan’s tomb has recently been excavated by archaeologists, and there are plans to make it accessible in the future. It’s also worth visiting nearby Mozsgó and combining some wine tasting with the local festivals. Two small villages to the west of Pécs, on the southern side of the Mecsek, Kővágótöttös and Kővágószőlős, also make interesting visits. The former’s church retains some 13th-century elements, while a Roman villa and mausoleum have been preserved for posterity by the land in the latter. The church in Kővágószőlős is also an important sight, it was built on foundations from the 13th century, while the remains of its medieval facade are still stunning, as are the medieval fresco fragments in the nearby Cserkút church. Jakab Hill, which rises above the villages, is not only famous for the strangely shaped Babás Szerkövek red sandstone rocks, its lookout tower and the ruins of the Pauline monastery, but also for the largest Iron Age castle in the Carpathian Basin.
Most of the villages in the wine district are located in the part of the Mecsek Hills east of Pécs, so besides tasting wine, there are also opportunities for excursions and hiking. The Hosszúhetény-Püspökszentlászló-Kisújbánya-Óbánya-Mecseknádasd tour takes you through beautiful countryside with Swabian villages and episcopal chateaux, a Turkish spring house and medieval frescoes, watermills and glassworks, cellar villages and good wines.
It’s worth taking a break in Pécsvárad to see the fortified Benedictine monastery and in neighbouring Zengővárkony for its chestnuts. The legendary Pál Rockenbauer, the creator and presenter of the Másfélmillió lépés (One and half million steps) film and TV series is buried in the latter. Of course, you can also roam further into the Mecsek, leaving the villages of the wine district behind you. In cold weather, you can soak yourself in the Magyarhertelend thermal baths, while you can cool off in the heat in Lake Orfű or on the paths of the Abaliget Stalactite Cave and Bat Museum.
The wine district also continues along the slopes of the Baranya Hills, abutting the Villány wine district to the south and the Danube to the east. In addition to all things wine, sights worth visiting include the cellar row and church of Máriakéménd, the Bóly Chateau, cemeteries and German Emmausz traditions on Easter Monday, the indigo dyers of Nagynyárád, the Roman limes in Dunaszekcső or its vineyard hill (in Serbian, planina) and the bus tour in Mohács.
The city of Pécs welcomes hungry visitors with its numerous restaurants, bistros and eateries, including those offering the Swabian and South Slavic cuisine typical of the region. Considering the entire wine district, the villages of the Mecsek are characterised by game meat, forest mushrooms and, when in season, wild garlic. Leaving the wine district’s hills and heading towards the Danube, depending on the ethnic composition of the settlement in question, you can find Hungarian style paprika dishes, Swabian pork knuckle with sauerkraut or South Slavic fried meat dishes, while arriving at the Danube and Mohács, the most characteristic foods are various fish dishes and Sokác style beans. There are also plenty of possibilities for wine and food pairing. Pécs previously had a tradition of making sparkling wine, which matched well with the consolidated Swabian-Hungarian dishes on the tables of the bourgeoisie, while the Serbs and Croats mostly drank Kadarka with their meats thanks to the red wine culture they brought with them from the south, and the Swabians drank a light red wine, or Siller, as well as Portugieser, which also went well with paprika dishes. The towns and villages around Pécs boast inns and often quality restaurants too, while near Mohács and the Danube, there are typical inns and other places serving fish dishes. If you visit Pécs, you should definitely keep an eye out for the opportunity to taste Cirfandli, considered the flagship variety of the wine district, which was traditionally made by producers as a sweet or semi-sweet wine, thus making a good accompaniment to more restrained desserts.
One might think, on the one hand, that Pécs has plenty of wine festivals, while, on the other, that it is overwhelmed by its sibling to the south, the nearby Villány wine district. Neither is completely true! The Portugieser du Monde in April, the only international competition for Kékoportó (its old name), is a good opportunity not only for winemakers, but also for fans of the variety to taste as many Portugiesers as possible during the tasting which follows it. The event has been held in Pécs on several occasions, but also in Villány. After this, there are almost no wine events in Pécs in the summer, but life starts in the autumn, beginning with the European Drinking Song Festival in September! In Mohács, the Sokács look forward to September and the Harvest and Wine Festival, while the Germans in Bóly accompany their drinking of local wines with the Harvest Chicken Paprika Cooking Festival. Hosszútetény welcomes hikers and wine lovers for a long weekend with its National Flavour Cavalcade and the local wines, while the Mecseknádasd Wine Barangoló, or Wine Roaming, which takes place in autumn, also promises to be interesting. You can bid the year farewell in December at the Advent Wine Salon in Pécs, which attracts winemakers and culinary stars from all over the country, dazzling the public.
Pécs Wine District
Explore the city centre, visiting the Pasha Gázi Kászim mosque and the Vasarely and Csontváry museums!
Taste herbal tea and wine in Pécsvárad, visit the Ferde waterfall in Óbánya and the Ráka Castle ruins!
Stroll around Szigetvár, visit the Abaliget Cave and Bat Museum and have a good splash in Lake Orfű!
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