Author: Dániel Ercsey
Starting from near the Croatian and Slovenian borders, you will come across villages hidden at the foot of the hills by the River Mura as well as vineyards climbing up the steep hillsides. You could also cross the border into Slovenia to visit Lendava’s rich built heritage and its Hungarian winemakers. There are wonderful things to see between Lenti and Leteny if you deviate from the road, such as the Ancient Beech Forest of Vétyem on the edge of Tormaföld, where the 170-year-old trees make you feel both small and part of nature again. Although this range of hills is not particularly large, it is still worth taking the time to discover the small railway running between Csömödér and Kistolmács, the oils wells in Bázakeretty, which are unusual to European eyes and have gone down in history as the cradle of the Hungarian oil industry. You should not think of them as huge oil wells, but rather as industrial historical monuments, which are definitely worth visiting. If you’d prefer to bathe rather than go hiking in the forest, the Lenti Thermal Bath is an ideal choice, together with the neighbouring Szent György Energy Park. While if you are more interested in architecture, you can visit the Andrássy-Szapáry Castle in Szécsisziget or the Kerka Watermill Museum. And if you are planning a summer holiday here, then don’t leave your bikes at home either.
Now walk up through the forest past Szécsisziget to the 13th century Mároki Chapel, the church of the village of Petróc, destroyed under the Turks. The soothing silence of the ancient cemetery and the seats built into the wall around the chapel’s altar are both remnants of a past world.
From Lenti, route 75 leads directly to Keszthely near the Balaton, where this insular small section of the wine district is located. It only encompasses two villages, Bak and Söjtör and the vineyard hill found on their edges. Bak, which by the way has a crater on Mars named after it, boasts a village hall designed by Makovecz, while the Deák House in Söjtör is also worth a visit. It’s worth reading up on Ferenc Deák, his work and correspondence, as he bears some significance for the wine district.
If you take the southern road from Letenye to Nagykanizsa, you should definitely visit Homokkomárom’s vineyard hill, where you can also find ancient wooden-framed press houses near the church. The sights of Nagykanizsa are not far from here and include the very modern and contemporary Iron Man House, which, of course, has nothing to do with the comic book hero Tony Stark.
Just be careful when you are planning your programme. The slides and meerkats of the Zobor Adventure Park, its restaurant and café, the games and the winery belonging to the estate can easily fill the whole family’s day.
The hills on the western side of the Kis-Balaton do not only have vineyards. You can also find the Zobor Adventure Park, which is open all-year-round, hikers can explore the Kőszikla Gorge in Nagybakónak, but only in dry weather, and water lovers can soak themselves in the Zalakaros thermal bath. However, it is worth exploring the Kis-Balaton itself, the Matula hut on Diás Island and the István Fekete memorial site also make interesting stops. It’s worth visiting the Hét Vezér Adventure Park in Garabonc, the Historical Mermorial Park in Zalavár, the petting zoo in Fenyvespuszta and the Kápolnapuszta Buffalo Reserve at the edge of Zalakomár. And there’s also the Great Crested Grebe nature trail on Kányavár Island.
The third part of the wine district, the western side of the Keszthely Hills, begins somewhere above Héviz. This is also the border to the Balaton Highlands wine district, and as both are so mosaic like, it can be difficult to decide which region you are currently in. The hills above the villages whose names start with Vindornya (Vindornyaszőlős, Vindornyalak) conceal a fabulous Basalt Street, a must-see for all hikers. The Peace Stupa in Zalaszántó is one of the largest Buddhist shrines in Europe, while the St Grót Thermal Bath in Zalaszentgrót and the town’s chateaux can easily keep visitors occupied for an entire day. The area also boasts the Kehidakustány Bath and Ferenc Deák’s residence, which is now a museum. Also, the provostry church in Türje is an impressive sight, while the Jeli Arboretum in Kám and the Vásvar Bath with its wonderful architectural heritage are easily accessible from its northern border.
Zala is all about dödölle, a kind of fried dumpling that can be prepared and served in thousands of ways and pairs well with the full-bodied, spicy white wines that are produced along the Mura River. Light white wines, on the other hand, from the vineyard areas closer to Lake Balaton, work well with polenta and wild garlic roll with salad. Staying with white wines, the Zala forests are good places for wild mushrooms and if you happen to find enough warted puffball, you can make it into a local style cream soup seasoned with thyme, lemon balm and sprigs of fresh larch. Make sure you remove the larch sprigs before puréeing the soup! We’d also recommend nettle soup made with fresh mushrooms with the local Sauvignon Blancs, especially if you add some walnut flavoured goat’s cheese, while full-bodied red wines are the perfect match for the classic venison stew served with Zala dödölle. The wine district’s main gastronomic hubs are Nagykanizsa and the county town of Zalaegerszeg, while its proximity to Kis-Balaton also contributes some local fish dishes. As you head west, the number of types of pumpkins, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil, roasted pumpkin and pumpkin soups you find on the table increases, as does the role of well-chosen, medium-bodied, creamy-textured white wines. Sweets found on village tables include polenta with curds and whey and jam made from forest fruits, especially blackberries. They can turn everyday life into a holiday too, so let’s serve a medium-sweet white wine from the Muravidék with them.
The Zala wine district gives the impression that wine does not play a key role, or at least, if it does, it is somewhat difficult to discuss “Zala events” due to the fragmentation of the wine district. Although not actually belonging to the wine district, Keszthely is an important centre, where the Zala Wine Procession takes place with the cooperation of the Zala winemakers in conjunction with the Keszthely Wine Festival. You never have to worry about running out of wine in Zala, with the Wine Days being held in Zalakaros in August, one place where you can certainly meet the Zala winemakers and discover their wines. The Kanizsa Wine and Fried Dumpling Festival is also held in Nagykanizsa towards the end of the summer. As its name suggests, you need not be afraid of going home hungry in the evening. And if you’d like to go to Letenye for a wine event, then watch out for the Wine Days Along the Mura. The wine style around here differs significantly from the rest of the Zala region and is much more reminiscent of the Croatian and Slovenian wine styles found across the border. Finally, you should not miss the increasingly popular Wine.Music.Zala festival in Zalaszabar nor the Game Stew and Wine Festivalin county town Zalaegerszeg in September, which may even tempt you to stay for a long weekend.