1 To be frank, the best reason to hit this northern Hungarian town is to wallow in its laidback, social vibe. The streets are crammed with stunning traditional Baroque architecture, from the town square to the lush avenues that criss-cross the town. Stroll down these green avenues with a locally made ice-cream in hand (the Hungarians are obsessive about good ice-cream and – we kid you not – tanning salons) and breathe in the country air, nod to the strolling locals and kick back at one of the buzzing sidewalk cafés.
2 Hungary has had a hell of a time fighting off hordes of enemies or accepting new conquerors – from Mongols to Turks to communists to fascists. Eger locals are damn proud of their past, the pentagonal castle on the hill above the town being the last stronghold to stop the Turkish invasion of 1552, when captain István Dobó withstood the siege of Ali pasha and his army that outnumbered the defenders 20 times. The awesome statues in the town square commemorate local bravery and are worth some gentle contemplation.
3 About 20 minutes out of Eger, there’s a striking spectacle as the houses clear away to reveal the sweeping expanses of golden flowers that make up the Zsidórét, or Jewish Meadow, which offers spectacular hiking up to the Bukk mountains, untouched virgin forests, and the sombre spectres of abandoned and overgrown Gulags, where many died at the hands of Russia’s communist occupiers.
4 Eger’s surroundings also boast some of the most rated vineyards in Europe, producing the much-respected leányka wine and the much-feared ‘bull’s blood’ – the latter being an essential drop to conquer while on your travels through Hungary.
5 Another Hungarian obsession is the utter joy locals get from the country’s huge selection of natural thermal baths. Being at the foot of the Bukk Mountains, which was alternately a sea, then a volcanic hotspot, means Eger is one of the best places to seek out a place to soak in all of hydrophilic Hungary.
Time from London 3.5 hours.
Getting there Flights leaving daily from Gatwick on Malev airlines offer specious seating and decent grub.
What to say That McDonald’s is so unnecessary.
Price of a beer: About £1.40, but the less touristy cafés might get you a bargain beer.
– SEAN MAHER