A railway line runs through Szerencs, Mád, Rátka, Tállya, Golop, and Abaújszántó, following the trail of the Szerencs Stream. Several towns and villages are located in the area between the Abaúj and Zemplén regions. At the foot of the Zemplén Mountains, Bekecs and Legyesbénye are in the area of Szerencs. Monok is located near Golop, and Mezőzombor is also part of the Taktaköz region.
Tokaj-Hegyalja contains the cultural landscape of the historical Tokaj wine region, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Szerencs is known as the gate to Hegyalja and the Zemplén Mountains. The three corners of the wine area are the Abaújszántó Sátor Mountain, the Sátoraljaújhely Sátor Mountain, and the Tokaj Mountain, the ‘Nagykopasz’. These mountains have different geographical characteristics. The hilly Abaújszántó area and the plain Taktaköz region surround the higher, volcanic mountains of the Zemplén range. Volcanic soil also provides a unique taste to local wines. According to local traditions, the fiery Hegyalja wines contain the fire of the earth.
From Synagogue to Kosher Wine – on the Trail of the Wonder-Working Rabbis
The flourishing wine culture of the area attracted many, mostly Galician Jewish settlers in the 17th and 18th century. The first Jewish settlers were vine-growers and wine-makers. With the growth of the population, their role became increasingly important in local trade and industry. They built synagogues, baths and yeshivas. After World War II, the community disappeared and these buildings were abandoned. The impressive, Zopf-style Mád synagogue was barely saved from destruction at the turn of the Millennium. The synagogue was reconstructed as a monument and received a Europa Nostra Award. The building features in a U.S. published book of the 100 most beautiful synagogues in the world.
The ties between Mád and Jewish culture are also represented in Hungarian language (the well-known saying “I am where the Jew of Mád is” is used in a situation when despite earnest effort, a work is left unfinished without any progress). Recently, the successful renovation of the Mád synagogue and the local Jewish cemetery, the largest in Hegyalja, symbolized the revival of Jewish culture in the region. The one-time rabbi’s house and the Talmud school have also remained. The buildings received an important role, as they are the beginning and the end of the ‘Trail of the Wonder -Working Rabbis’ pilgrimage route. The 150 km (93 miles) long route passes through 10 towns and villages (among them Abaújszántó and Tállya) as it winds its way through the Jewish memorial sites and the architectural heritage of Tokaj-Hegyalja. The route visits the graves of the late wonder-working rabbis, where their lives and legends are introduced to visitors.
In a 17th-century letter, Joel Sirkis, the Rabbi of Krakow wrote about the kosher wine-makers of Zombor, the neighboring village of Mád. In 2015, the Disznókő Winery continued the Mezőzombor traditions, as the village was one the first to restart kosher wine production in the region. The Galambos family in Abaújszántó are making award-winning Kosher Furmint and Hárslevelű wines since 2012.
“This land is not a vale of tears...”
There are several historical and cultural sights and touristic attractions in the Hegyalja area. Visitors can explore the exhibitions of the Zemplén Museum in the Renaissance-style Rákóczi Castle in Szerencs. The excellent cellars and mansions of Tállya – the village is the geographical center of Europe –, the birth house of Lajos Kossuth in Monok, the churches of Abaújszántó and the Golop coats of arms collection are also famous sights of the region. The scenic Aranyosi Valley, the healing effect of Bor Lake’s water in Mezőzombor, the Szerencs Chocolate Festival and several vine-harvest and wine programs offer a great experience as well. As Hungarian poet Sándor Petőfi wrote once: “These cities, these mountains are the homes of the gods of joy, from here they send us golden flames in bottles, their apostles, to preach to all the world that this land is not a vale of tears.”
A popular bicycle trail is the 18 km-long (11 miles) Szerencs – Ond – Rátka – Tállya – Mád – Abaújszántó route. Mád, Rátka and Monok are also sites of the Mary’s pilgrimage route.
Local tastes and comfort
Various services can make wine tasting an even better experience. In the Aszú House opened in 2015, visitors can get to know the long tradition of viticulture and wine making of the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in an interactive, playful exhibition featuring contemporary art pieces. The Furmint House creative center accommodates permanent exhibitions, an indoor playground for children and a cultural workshop. Those who take pleasure in creative leisure can learn the basic skills of various arts and crafts from recognized local artists. The soil, rock and minerals of the valuable vineyards of Mád region are shown in an interactive exhibition. Before a mountain hiking tour or a wine tasting event, parents can consider the services of Furmint House, which has many activities for children.
The Percze Experience Center offers a wide range of sports and wellness activities. Mountain bikes, e-bikes, segways, Polaris Ranger EV cars, John Deere Gator diesel cars, e-quads, Flame Rider dune buggies, catamaran rubber boats, tour kayaks and canoes are all available for tourists. Head mounted cameras are also provided.
In the middle of a large, romantic garden, the Mád Napudvar Guesthouse offers flowers, aromatic herbs and delicious fruits. The hosts also provide the chance to learn about the 50 or 60 herbal species in their garden. The house is famous for its herbal tea made of 13 different plants.
The Mád family cheese manufacture produces aged cow and goat cheese, blue cheese, charcoal-grilled camembert, ewe-cheese and other dairy specialties. The cows of Mád farmers are pastured in mountain meadows of a protected area with several herb species.
Along the road 37, the Tokaj-Hegyalja market can be found in the parking lot of the Disznókő Sárga Borház Vineyard and Winery. The market opens between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m every second Sunday. The market offers a wide selection of products and unique specialties made by local farmers and craftsmen.
Must see attractions:
– the Zopf-style Mád synagogue
– the starting point of the ‘Trail of the Wonder-Working Rabbis’ pilgrimage route in Mád
– the Zemplén Museum in the Rákóczi Castle in Szerencs
– the birth house of Lajos Kossuth in Monok
Not-to-be missed sites:
– exhibitions hosted by the Kapitány House and the Roman Catholic church in Abaújszántó
– the Rákóczi and Mailloth castles in Tállya
– the Reformed church in Szerencs
– the largest Jewish cemetery of Hegyalja in Mád
And If time permits:
– tour from Abaújszántó to the scenic Aranyosi Valley, or to the cross at the top of the Sátor Mountain
– the Hungarian collection of coats of arms in Golop
– the Rátka country house introducing Swabian culture
– exhibitions and programs of the Aszú House and Furmint House in Mád
– the characteristic town architecture of Tállya
– leisure and recreation at Bor Lake in Mezőzombor