Traditionally, local inhabitants lived in Bodrog-side village houses and worked in the mountains – mostly in the vineyards on the mountain slopes along Road 37. In Hungarian, ‘olasz’ means Italian. Olaszliszka received its name after 12th-century settlers, who were thought to be Italians but were actually Walloon vine-growers. In the outskirts of Erdőbénye, a leaf print of Vitis tokaiensis was found, which is the ancestor of all grape species. This proved that grapes are indigenous to the region and their cultivation have always been an important part of local life - the wild Vitis sylvestris can still be found in the region today.
The area forests provide fine oak wood for Tokaj wine barrels. The water of Tolcsva and Erdőbénye baths has a natural healing effect due to the minerals of the mountains. The vines are also cultivated with this water. This delicate balance of nature is preserved in a cultural landscape, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. Many famous people have ties with this region, for instance, preacher and historical writer Máté Szepsi Laczkó, who described the process of Aszú-making, Vilmos Fried, known as William Fox, the founder of the American Fox Studios, and Rabbi Hersh Friedmann.
'The Middle’ Wonder-Working Rabbi
The Olaszliszka Jewish community was formed in the beginning of the 19th century. The first synagogue was also built in the middle of that century. Due to the community, the village became an important trade center. Hersh Friedmann (1808–1874) was the apprentice of wonder-working Rabbi Teitelbaum, the reformer of Hungarian Hasidism. Later, he was the scholar of Reb Sayele, the Bodrogkeresztúr ‘tzadik’. Under the guidance of Friedmann, Olaszliszka became the center of Hungarian Hasidism. On the day of his death (14th of month Ab), many pilgrims visit his grave in a well-maintained Jewish cemetery. (A small maintained cemetery can also be found in Erdőbénye.)
After the death of the wonder-working rabbi, the community went into decline yet remained until World War II. Thereafter, the community vanished and the synagogue was destroyed. From 2015, pilgrims of the ‘Trail of the Wonder-Working Rabbis’ can visit an interactive memorial site built on the ruins of the synagogue to commemorate the Jewish community of Tokaj-Hegyalja.
Clear Mountain Air and Historical Atmosphere
Walking around in Olaszliszka, it is easy to spot the castle-like, Romantic-style tower of the Roman Catholic church, which also contains Gothic elements. The famous stone bridge is an architectural rarity with its lanceted arches and robust structure.
The Rákóczis and Lajos Kossuth are also connected to Olaszliszka. According to a local legend, Lajos Kossuth was born here. The story says the parents were traveling from Sátoraljaújhely to Monok, but the baby arrived on the way in the postmaster’s house that belonged to his grandfather. However, the actual Olaszliszka postmaster was András Wéber at that time, who also worked in Erdőbénye earlier. Erdőbénye also hosts the first statue in the county depicting Lajos Kossuth.
Beside the small bust, the sculpture park contains statues of Máté Szepsi Laczkó and Ferenc Rákóczi II. After studying abroad and teaching in Olaszliszka for a short period, Máté Szepsi Laczkó lived in Erdőbénye, serving the Church, the locals and the princely landowners. For a long time, the preacher was considered as the father of Aszú wine: according to old documents, he made wine from Sátoraljaújhely Oremus grape for Princess Lorántffy Zsuzsanna in the end of the 1620s. However, later it became clear that the production of Aszú wine started way earlier, so Máté Szepsi Laczkó is remembered for describing the process of Aszú-making.
The preacher, known in the village as 'Reverend Máthé’, lived near the Princely Wine House of the Rákóczi Estate. Today, the Rákóczi–Szirmay Mansion hosts a Reformed charity home. In Tolcsva, the 17th-century Renaissance-style Rákóczi Castle hosts a guest house and a Wine Museum . The Wine Museum can be found in the cellar row. Shrouded by noble mold, the wine collection – even just single bottles – is regarded as a national treasure. The doyen of the collection is an Aszú wine made in 1680. The museum is part of the UNESCO World Heritage core area, together with the Oremus Cellar in Tolcsva.
Visitors can also enjoy the historical atmosphere of the Erdőbénye bath lodge castle, the beautiful mountain lake at the mine, or the view from the tower of the 14th-century, Gothic- style Tolcsva church. This historical air is also a part of the wine tasting experience.
Wine and Family? Yes!
According to an old saying, “in Erdőbénye, if you throw a piece of wood, you’ll hit a cooper or a stone-cutter”. Unfortunately, this isn’t true anymore. However, coopers can not only be found in museums or at celebrations performing the special cooper’s dance but also in a workshop. The Hotyek workshop has been making barrels from the noble oak of Zemplén for four generations. Visitors looking for traditional tastes can try the Erdőhorváti round pretzel, which is a perfect wine-biscuit as well. Wine-makers can be found pretty easily even nowadays, from Budapest hobby groups to professionals – for instance, a local winery won the Most Beautiful Hungarian Vineyard Award. Some manufacturers use handcrafted-type methods to create high-quality wines with minimal use of technology. And of course, there are several medium-sized or family wineries.
Renovated mansions, wine houses, the unique ‘ruin winery’ and the maze-like cellar system all await visitors during the Bor, mámor, …Bénye festival, which takes place in the last weekend before the 20th of August. The 3-days-long event offers wines, melodies (modern chamber music is played in each cellar garden), conversations and altogether a wonderful social experience. The variety of programs make this festival a great family event. The family programs traditionally take place on Saturday afternoon. Visitors have the chance to go on a tour by foot or by bicycle to the beautiful Aranyosi Valley, the mountain lake or to the forest pastures. Horse-drawn carts are also available.
The Tolcsva Wine Festival in early August or the Erdőbénye Cycling Festival in May are also popular events. The mountains provide excellent touring, skiing and sledging opportunities all year round, and the Bodrog river is ideal for a rowing tour. Several accommodations offer high-quality wellness services.
Must see attractions:
– the interactive memorial site and the grave of the wonder-working rabbi in Olaszliszka
– the Tokaj Merchant House’s (Tokaj Kereskedőház Rt.) Wine Museum in Tolcsva
– the 14th-century Gothic-style Roman Catholic church in Tolcsva
– a walk in the park of the Erdőbénye Castle Inn
– the Gothic-style church and the stone bridge in Olaszliszka
– the Wine Museum and the House of Wine Culture in Tolcsva
– the cooper’s workshop in Erdőbénye
And if time permits:
– a tour to the mountain lake in the outskirts of Erdőbénye
– a mountain tour to collect rare minerals and stones
– the blacksmith’s workshop
– culture houses of the region