The Mátra Mountains of Northern Hungary have an unlikely claim to fame: wine. There are nature trails winding through the mountains, to be sure, and good skiing in the winter time; but on the warmer southern slopes of the Mátra, in the volcanic soil near the foot of the mountains, are rich beds of wine grapes that produce some of the finest "white sapphire" wines in Hungary, principally Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot, Otthonel and Leányka. And where does one taste these? In a little village called Farkasmalyi, situated just outside the small town of Gyöngyös, which is well equipped with ancient wine-press houses and cellars.
The Mátra Mountains lie largely between the valleys of River Tarna and River Zagyva, between the towns of Gyöngyös and Eger, offering up a landscape that is supremely varied, from steep, rugged slopes to closed beech forests to vineyard-covered foothills and even cultivated land. There are actually several distinct parts to the mountain range, notably the Western Mátra, where the highest peak is Muzsla (805 m); the Central Mátra which is made up primarily of the plateau, Mátrabrec, and a series of volcanic cones that include Kékestető, the highest peak in all of Hungary at 3,042 feet (1,014 m); the Southern Mátra, which has gentle slopes and parallel valleys, among them the Nagy-völgy or Great Valley; Eastern Mátra, characterized by its series of 650-800-meter-high peaks; the Northern Mátra, also known as Mátralába or "Mátra's feet," consisting of smaller cones, 250-400 meters high, and hilly terrain and arable land; and the "main entrance" to the Mátra which was created in parallel with the Great Stream, Nagy-patak, and which ranges from Mátrafüred to Mátraháza.
To get to the Mátra Mountains, head east-northeast from Budapest on Route 3, then Route 24 up the mountain. Gyongyos, the main town here, lies just off Route 3, some 80 km (50 miles) from Budapest; while Route 24 has a bonus: Sasta tó (Sasta Lake), the highest lake in Hungary! which offers panoramic views of the surrounding country, as well as good fishing, boating and hiking possibilities. There is also a narrow gauge railroad, Mátravasút, journeying through the Mátra Mountains, with stops at connection points to walking trails.
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