From dual track to single track carriageway, main road to country lane, the roads get steadily narrower as one approaches Csákberény, a small village about 70 kilometres west of Budapest. A little way out, amid orchards and lavender, lies Catherine’s Vineyard, a cluster of cottages nestled at the foot of the southern slopes of the Vértes hills.
Originally a private family retreat, Catherine’s Vineyard now consists of half a dozen cottages, each lodging between two and five people and available all year round. Some started out as locals’ holiday homes, one was built from scratch, but most are former winemakers’ cellars, bought, renovated and carefully decorated by Catherine Dickens, a part-Hungarian, Budapest-based real estate agent and interior decorator.
Among them is Józsi Ház (Józsi House), Dickens’ latest acquisition. From an abandoned, dank cellar, it has been transformed into a spruce, comfortable and self-contained two-people cottage.
Long and narrow from the outside, one finds inside a neatly organised space, small enough to make it a cosy retreat yet skimping neither on space nor on amenities. A wooden veranda opens onto the living room: upholstered chairs and a small dining table keep company with the white-washed fireplace, unused in these warmer months yet presumably a cheerful addition on colder evenings.
A few steps lead down to the kitchen, small and somewhat dark but well-appointed. A cupboard of colourful tableware is a reminder that a ceramics maker operates just a few hundred metres down the road.
The spacious, well-lit master bedroom stretches through the whole of the first floor and is accessed by an outside terrace or, for the more adventurous, a steep wooden ladder closed by a trapdoor.
King-size bed, cupboards and a large, straight-backed wooden bench fill out the first half of the bedroom. In the second, separated only by a step, a bath tub, complete with home-grown lavender products, shares the space with a wine barrel shower and folksy purpose-made ceramics bowls in lieu of sinks. Carved wood appliances on the walls wouldn’t look out of place on a Transylvanian farm.
With its fresh white walls, light-blue wooden shutters and ubiquitous red and white fabrics, this traditional Hungarian cellar is the epitome of rural chic, a pleasant holiday or weekend getaway.
Balcony, poolside attractions
Location, too, helps. To the south, the windows open to a large expanse of fields. To the north, gentle slopes of vines, lavender and fruit trees lead to one or two more cottages at the foot of the steep inclines of the hill range. On a lazy sunny day, these are best observed from the cottage’s outside extensions, a large balcony and a deck equipped with table, chairs, parasol and barbecue.
Transport yourself a few hundred metres towards the hill and the same can be done lying at the shared poolside (below), where the deckchairs offer a comfortable vantage point from which to gaze at the view, read, do nothing or fall asleep.
It would be easy to abandon all cares and just give oneself up to pure indolence and, indeed, Catherine’s Vineyard invites you to do just that. But that would be missing out on an opportunity to explore all that the region has to offer.
Just a step away from nature
The Vértes hills stand almost at the doorstep, 300 square kilometres of easily accessible nature reserve replete with varied flora and fauna, caves and cliffs. A few trails leave from near the cottages (an up-to-date hiking map is provided) and from here it is easy to reach one of the area’s historical highlights, Csókakõi Vár (Csókakõ Castle), a ruined medieval stronghold worth the effort of climbing up to and admiring the view.
From there the rows upon rows of vineyards make it apparent that wine, too, is worth exploring in the area. Mór, a small town 15 minutes by car from Csákberény, is a good place to start seeing this lesser-known wine region.
… and from local wineries
Settled in Lamberg Cellar, one of the oldest in the region and a protected monument, Ákos Kamocsay is one of a generation of young winemakers with international experience whose wines, under the label Maurus, have garnered a number of prizes both in Hungary and internationally. A tour of his cellar, combined with a wine-tasting session, is probably the best way to discover and enjoy lesser-known Hungarian grape varieties including Ezerjó and Királyleányka.
Leafing through the information booklet provided at the cottage, one also finds out that horse-riding, carriage rides, golf, tennis and spas are all within a few kilometres’ reach from Csákberény, and so is a range of pubs and restaurants.
But perhaps it is just that little bit too demanding to have to drive out for dinner after having idled on the poolside or cycled along the narrow roads and agricultural tracks (bicycles can be rented) all day long.
Opt-in to homemade food
Fortunately, the solution is easily available because both dinner and breakfast can be obtained for an extra fee and given a day’s notice. Freshly prepared and brought to the cottage by the friendly resident caretaker couple, the meals are plentiful and delicious thanks to a lucky combination of the locally produced and of the hand-made (almost everything, right down to the bread and jam).
It comes with a smile, too, which seems to be never missing from the face of the two caretakers whose constant helpfulness, whether it be showing round the property or arranging to drive visitors to one of the nearby attractions, is as valuable as the cottage’s relaxed atmosphere in making for a pleasant stay.
An after-dinner drink with a bottle of local wine, to the sound of wildlife or of the quiet tick-tock of the kitchen clock, is the best time to enjoy the cottage’s combination of charm, style and rural quiet, and to regret that hours have passed so fast before it is time to get back on the road to the city.
Catherine’s Vineyard Cottages
Csákberény, Fejér County
From HUF 30,000 per night
Tel. (+36) 30 342-4208
Car: One hour drive: M7 and M1 southwest out of Budapest, turn onto E-75, past Bicske, follow route 1 then route 811 and signposts to Csákberény.
Remaining details are supplied at the time of booking.
Coach: Direct coaches leave from Népliget Coach Station throughout the day. The journey lasts 90 minutes and costs HUF 1,490.
Pick-up from Csákberény bus stop can be arranged.
8060 Mór, Hársfa utca 10
Tel. (+36) 30 203-6944
Wine-tasting in Hungarian, English or German: HUF 3,000 per person (six wines) or HUF 5,000 per person (12 wines)