We’re not saying that the north shore is perfect, but the fact of the matter is that you can come across much more exciting adventures here than standing in line in front of a food stand at the beach. Almost everyone knows the fantastic Káli Basin, so we wanted to introduce a less popular, but equally wonderful part of the Balaton Uplands: the Pécselyi Basin. All you need to do is leave the familiar path to find the secret lavender garden, the cheese-making manufactory supplying gourmet restaurants all over the country, and a new eatery that could soon become the center of attention.
The name Pécselyi Basin roughly denotes the undulating landscape north of Aszófő and Balatonakali, but despite the name the region is actually made up of four smaller basins wedged between a couple of hills, directly to the east of the Káli Basin. It’s not easy to tell which villages are regarded as belonging to this prosperous corner of the North Balaton area; one thing is sure: our tourism sensors went nuts around Dörgicse and Vászoly. News of the region’s revival is already spreading, so it's only a matter of time before other villages in the area start jumping on the bandwagon as well (that's exactly what happened in the Káli Basin).
What does the Pécselyi Basin have to offer this summer? The short answer is: undisturbed tranquility. Dörgicse and Vászoly are lightyears from the busyness of Köveskál. Traffic on the roads is minimal, so you can safely and comfortably get around either village on foot or by bike, and you don’t have to worry about having to do without a warm dish on a random weekend if you don’t have a reservation.
Walking down the main street in a northerly direction, toward Vászoly, you’ll come up to a grandiose building complex on your left. By expanding its facilities with a brand new show cellar and a processing plant in 2011, Pántlika Cellar markedly distanced itself from the “small village, small winery” category, setting its eyes on a more prestigious prize, the premier league of Balaton Uplands-based winemakers. After talking to estate manager Zalán Mucsi, going on a tour of the wine cellar, and tasting a variety of vintages made here, we can see why the confidence of the owners is justified.
Pántlika switched to organic production in 2011, and in the past few years the winery has participated successfully in several Hungarian and international competitions thanks mainly to its resident winemakers, who are always eager to make sure that the products comply fully with strict quality requirements. The cellar’s Welschriesling has recently received the BalatonBor trademark from Vinea Balaton (you can read more about the association here). Pántlika’s wine terrace, which debuted a couple of years ago, awaits peckish patrons with seasonal dishes from Thursday through Saturday.
There’s no set menu, but you can’t go wrong with anything listed in the daily selection; the ingredients used in the kitchen come from local farmers and markets. If you’ve never tried BalatonBor wines, we suggest you start with the Welschriesling of Pántlika, but if you’re into more complex flavors, go with Gálickő Sauvignon Blanc from 2013, which is an oak barrel matured, vineyard designated vintage.
Anett Nagy – alias Nanett – creates delectable treats for those with a sweet tooth. She usually flavors her bonbons and chocolate bars with her own jams and syrups, and she’s also known for making pralines to complement the wines of noted wineries. Nanett is fond of experimenting with shapes: we almost mistook her latest assortment of bonbons for shiny marbles, and we were blown away by the design of her red-white-green, plum, poppy seed, and pálinka flavored pralines created to mark the Hungarian national holiday of March 15.
When you’ve had your fill of excellent food and wines, you might want to nourish your mind and soul, too, and there’s no better place for that than Levendarium in Dörgicse, says physician-naturopathic practitioner dr. Ildikó Demján, who is responsible for running the lavender garden. We thoroughly enjoyed her enthusiastic stories about the venue and the benefits of the lavender plant, but Levendarium can also be a magical place for those who are not particularly interested in esotericism. Next to the infinite lavender fields, you can find a forest, the lovely family home of Ildikó, and a cozy little teahouse selling the products of Levendarium.
Dörgicse is probably at the top of the list of villages with the highest number of Árpád-era churches per capita; it has a population of 250, and three of its chapels date back to the beginning of the last millennium. Featuring a 22-meter tower, the ruins of Alsódörgicse are an ideal spot for a pleasant picnic with an outdoor cooking area and a one-of-a-kind view. If you feel like a longer hike, check out Zádorvár: there’s a hiking trail running from the village of Pécsely to the castle, which is set amid the green landscape of 360-meter high Zádor Hill. The lookout point of the castle offers an astonishing panorama of the Pécselyi Basin.
The epitome of countryside luxury, Sárffy House is a great choice for an overnight stay after a busy day in the region. The elegant suites have been featured in a number of architecture magazines, which makes all the sense in the world: the owners were mindful of restoring the original atmosphere of the manor while also taking into account 21st-century needs by installing such amenities as the sauna, the wooden tub, and the salt water pool.
Vászoly’s Zománc Bisztrócska Restaurant opened its gates a few weeks ago, and we were pretty much first in line to test the new eatery. Exuding a romantic, countryside vibe, the intimate, familiar setting of the bistro puts you right at ease, and convinces you that you don’t have to hide in the pantry to enjoy no-frills, homestyle food; you can sit at an attractively set table, and wash it all down with local wines.
If you’re one of those people who like to have lunch at 12pm sharp, you can take a short stroll after your meal and still make it to the cheese-making facility of Kálmán Reményik. On Saturday Vászolyi Cheese Manufactory is open from 10am through 2pm.
Villa Szent Jakab opened a year ago by the Catholic church of Vászoly. If you decide to book one of the stylish-romantic rooms for the night, don’t skip breakfast; it includes champagne, toothsome locally made treats, and freshly baked croissants.
Lining the bank of the village stream, the two guesthouses of Tamás Bátyó Gunyhója once functioned as a watermill and the miller’s house. The layout and design of the interior are mostly inspired by functionality, and the overall effect is not about recreating an antique-rustic feel. Even if the houses were furnished with stylish pieces, the bubbling brook, the twittering birds, and the chirping crickets would still steal the show here.