Small Carpathian Wine Country Day Trip

July 28, 2015 by

Day Trips, Europe, Wine Tasting

Daytripping to Carpathian wine country from Bratislava

Daytripping to Carpathian wine country from Bratislava

The Carpathian Mountains run from Western Slovakia, near Bratislava, all the way to Transylvania in Romania. Slovakia was formerly behind the Iron Curtain, and part of the sprawling Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to World War I. Then it separated from Czechoslovakia to become its own country. Does Slovakia have an identity of its own? The locals certainly think so. I booked the Small Carpathian Wine Country Day Trip From Bratislava, the capital, in order to find out.

Our tour begins heading east through the Carpathian Foothills. As we drive, our guide, Marcella, tells us about the region and its vineyards. Historically, and today, thin, long houses line the old transport routes; these are the wine houses. The roads may have been updated, with new paint added to the exteriors, but some of these wine houses have been around for hundreds of years. Painted in varying colors, with thick stone walls, each house belongs to a small winery, and you can see the vines stretching out beyond them.

The Red Stone Castle

The Red Stone Castle

We are on our way to one of the most famous castles in the Western Carpathians. The drawbridge has long been replaced with a stone walkway, leading up to the castle entrance. Since its construction, around 1230, the Red Stone Castle (Hrad Cerveny Kamen) has gone through many refurbishments, reconstructions and owners. The most influential owners, the Palffy family, took over in 1583 and inhabited the castle until they made a rapid escape in 1945 to avoid capture at the end of the Second World War.

Hunting relics and an illustrious 19th-century carriage that seemed out of a Disney movie were displayed in one of the first rooms in the castle. Trophy deer heads on the wall, as well as the deer coat of arms on the side of the carriage, signify more than just a love of hunting. As the legend of the Palffy family goes, on a dark night, a deer ran in front of their carriage. The driver swerved and stopped abruptly, damaging the carriage’s wheel. Unable to go further until morning, they took refuge for the night. As daylight returned, they realized they’d stopped just meters from a steep cliff. If not for the deer, they would have plummeted to their deaths.

History feels alive as I pass through the rooms, from the Knights Hall, arranged with 16th- and 17th-century items to the pharmacy, originally founded in 1676 but furnished later, during the 18th century.

The Red Stone Castle's cellar

The Red Stone Castle’s cellar

A visit to the castle is not complete without a visit to the cellar. As I enter the main door, I feel the temperature noticeably drop. Marcella explains how this is one of the largest castle cellars in Europe. Although now an empty chasm, it would have had multiple wooden floors; I can still see the holes in the wall where the supporting beams would have held these floors. Each level would have been fully stocked, prepared to feed a castle full of people in the event of a siege.

After the castle, we visit the historic town of Pezinok. We take a short walk and stop for lunch where we try one of the area’s most famous wine styles, Maria Theresa. She was the only female ruler of the Habsburg family, who ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire for over 400 years. It’s said that she was a massive fan of Carpathian wine, even crediting her exceptional fertility — she bore 16 children in her lifetime — to the wine. Legend also has it that, during her coronation anniversary, she held a celebration in Bratislava where the fountains of the city sprayed wine. This wine recipe, her favorite, is still the basis of this style of wine today.

A delicious wine tasting

A delicious wine tasting

After lunch, we head to a refurbished cellar door, Vinocentrum. Inside, wooden wine casks and old farming equipment mix with modern furniture and artwork. The owner has three types of local wine waiting for us: a crisp and semi-dry white, a rose and a red. Surprisingly for my taste, I found the rose to be the most inspiring. Smoother than many Californian roses I have tried before, uniquely mellow but rich.

A peaceful day of history, wine and mountain scenery came alive due to the expert information provided by Marcella. The stories and legends of the Carpathians added that extra dimension of understanding to leave a lasting impression on me. The wine left a lasting impression too!

Contributed by Meagan Collins

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