Author’s Note: This happened last year, so I’m a little behind in writing about it. Oops.
I stepped over a puddle, dodged the mold on the wall, and decided it was time to accept my fate: the only way to get out of this underground labyrinth was to drink more delicious wine. I held out my glass, and the Mád winemaker smiled as she poured more…
That isn’t where the story ends, nor is it where it began, so let’s step back.
As far as I knew, I agreed to a simple winetasting. Northwestern Hungary is loaded with great wineries, and the styles change considerably depending on exactly where you are. We were to spend the long Easter weekend in the little town of Mád, and the owner of the guesthouse was a kind lady who promised to arrange for food and activities while we were there.
To start, I was told we would go to a winetasting in a cellar. Or, something like a cellar. The translation had something to do with being underground, so I assumed we would be in a cozy little basement with barrels, a wooden table, and comfortable chairs.
That may be wine tasting some places, but not here.
We got started by joining a group of around 15 people (including 4 kids who seemed to be about as confused as I was), and we all went into the back door of an industrial winemaking facility. All the speaking was done in Hungarian, but I figured that would just let me draw my own conclusions without being distressed about tasting the “floral undertones with a hint of strawberry” and other things you’re usually peer pressured into sensing at wineries.
We were poured a generous glass of wine, and I prepared for everyone to start spinning, sniffing, and pretending they had any idea what they were tasting. Instead, the kids helped hand out paper maps, and we were ushered around a corner. There wasn’t much of a chance to sip the wine before my feet were moving.
After a few staircases through rooms of metal equipment, we suddenly went through a door into the darkness. There was a stone doorway at the bottom of the stairs, and I could see wooden barrels behind it.
As we entered this room, we were given a hefty serving of a second wine. It was as flavorful as the first, but I started to wonder how many more of these glasses we would have.
It turned out that it wasn’t a simple wine tasting, but actually the Holdvölgy Cellar Experience. In other words, a series of underground caves had been turned into an elaborate maze of wine cellars, and there were hidden stockpiles of bottles that would constantly refill our glasses.
Overall, it was amazing.
If I did it again (which I would like to), I would eat dinner first, and visit later on in the day.
We eventually drank our way out of the tunnels, spent some money buying bottles from the shop, and then wandered around the town taking blurry photos until it was time for our dinner reservation.
It was a great welcome to a town that I’ve never visited before, and it filled me with wonder about all the other doorways I saw carved into hills around the region. I don’t know how many more caves there are like this one, but I think it’s time to start exploring.
Want to visit the Holdvölgy Cellar Experience?
The tours are given in Hungarian, but I still think the experience is worth it even if you don’t understand the words. The cellars are beautiful, and the elaborate wines have plenty of flavors to explore.
Getting There: Being a peaceful village, the best way to get to Mád is by car. You’ll need a designated driver, but there are plenty of other villages and wineries in the region that are also worth exploring.
Where to Stay: During our trip, we stayed at the r40 vendégház (who suggested and arranged the tour for us), and I can’t recommend it highly enough. They have multiple rooms for groups of all sizes, a relaxing garden, a kitchen that feels like home (with great breakfast), and a nice sitting room to relax at the end of a long day.
Hungarian Word of the Day:
This is pronounced “Peen-seh,” and it means “cellar.”