Mar 312013
 

Visiting tourist attractions on the Buda (western) side of the Danube, such as Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church, you may not be aware that there is more to explore beneath Budapest.

"Atop the Buda Hills at the Fisherman's Bastion in the Castle District of Budapest"

Atop the Buda Hills at the Fisherman’s Bastion

What Lies Beneath Budapest?

When I think of large cities, particularly old European cities, I don’t think of natural wonders, which I picture more typically in remote areas. Instead, I envision the architecture of old buildings, centers of art and culture, historic sites, urban scenes and culinary highlights. And when I think of what’s beneath the surface streets and structures, I think of subway systems and pedestrian tunnels.

"Metro train underground in Budapest"

Budapest Metro Train

But you might be surprised to learn about Budapest’s underground natural wonder — the large system of caves located in the hills of Buda. (Budapest is comprised of two parts: Buda is located on the west side of the Danube; Pest is on the east side.)

The Caves

Of the over 200 caves there, nine are protected and three of these are open to the public. The caves, discovered in the early 1900’s, were formed by thermal springs, a second natural wonder of Budapest and the reason it is known for its many thermal baths.

So where are our photos of our Budapest thermal bath experience? Mr. TWS caught my answer to that on this short clip from our second impromptu “Soup Interview”.

Next time, for sure…

There are two main natural caves that provide tours — Pálvölgyi cave (over 100m high and 7,200m long) and Szemlőhegyi cave (2,200m long) though the tours don’t cover the entire lengths. There is also the Labyrinth of Buda Castle which is a system of caves, tunnels and cellars under the castle where tours are available. It’s important to note that the caves are quite cool. Temperatures are constant, but I found contradictory reports from different sources (8°C to 11°C).

Though we didn’t relax and rejuvenate in the thermal baths or take the natural cave tours, we did explore two areas of the cave system that I’d highly recommend visiting.

A Cave for Wine

Fellow travel blogger, Jennifer Dombrowski of Jdomb’s Travels has a way of finding some of the most interesting off-the-beaten path places to visit. She told me that the Faust Wine Cellar in Budapest was a must-see and she was right!

"Stairs leading from the Hilton Hotel down to the Faust Wine Cellar beneath Budapest"

The stairs leading down to the Faust Wine Cellar

Faust owners, Gábor and his wife Barbara, personally provide service for wine cellar patrons. As each wine is poured at your table in the small, candle-lit cellar, Gábor explains in which of Hungary’s 22 wine regions the grapes were grown and the wine was produced, and offers expert commentary on the subtleties and flavors of each vintage.

"Gabor of Faust Wine Cellar in Budapest beneath Budapest Hilton"

Sampling Hungarian sparkling wine with Gábor of Faust Wine Cellar

There’s a warm, cozy and romantic ambiance about Faust. It’s an intimate place with several tables set a good distance apart even in such a small area, adding to the charm and the personalized service.

"Enjoying a fine Hungarian red wine at Faust Wine Cellar beneath Budapest Hilton Hotel"

Enjoying a fine Hungarian red wine at Faust Wine Cellar

Prior to reading Jennifer’s blog post, I didn’t realize that Hungary had wine regions that produced such a variety of fine vintages. I assumed that any wines produced in that area would be of the sweet variety (and they do have some fine dessert wines, such as a Muscat we sampled at Faust.)

"Label on bottle of Raspi Hungarian wine at Faust Wine Cellar, Budapest""Label on János Németh Syrah at Faust Wine Cellar , Budapest"

The tasting began with a semi-dry sparkling wine from Fazekas Winery that seemed to have dramatically more complexity than I’ve tasted in other sparkling wines and champagnes. It was tempting to ask for a another tasting of it, but we moved along with the other recommendations of our host. We enjoyed the delightful white that followed — a dry, white Tokaji Furmint from Bene Winery, but the reds were our favorites. A dry, red “Blaufrankisch” from Raspi Winery was followed by a Syrah from the János Németh Winery (Mr. TWS’s favorite). We finished with an elegant semi-sweet, white Mori Muscat Ottonel from Bozóky Winery.

"Tables in the cave of Faust Wine Cellar beneath Budapest Hilton Hotel"

Faust Wine Cellar

The location in the caves of the Buda Hills, the fine wine selection, romantic ambiance, and personal attention makes Faust Wine Cellar a unique experience — one that we’ll repeat next time in Budapest.

A Cave for Religion (or just a peaceful moment)

"Cave Church, Budapest, at the western end of the Elizabeth Bridge"

Cave Church, Budapest

Cave Church is located inside Gellért Hill at the western end of the Liberty Bridge across the street (Kelenhegyi út) from the Gellért Baths, among the most beautiful in Budapest and likely formed by the same thermal waters as the caves. (Don’t make our mistake. Being so close to the baths, try to work a thermal bath in your schedule when you visit Cave Church.) Gellért Hill is named for St. Gerard (in Hungarian, Szent Gellért), who was martyred there in 1046.

"Statue of St. Istvan at the Cave Church, Budapest"

The Liberty Bridge and statue of St. Istvan at Cave Church, Budapest

The cave is also called “Saint Ivan’s Cave” (Szent Iván-barlang), for a hermit who lived there and is believed to have healed people using the nearby thermal waters. Cave Church was founded in 1926 by a group of Pauline monks who expanded the hermit’s cave and added a structural entrance. It was enlarged in the 1930s by the Archbishop of Kalocsa and also used as a hospital for the German army during World War II.

In 1951, the Communist secret police raided the church as part of escalating actions against the Catholic Church in Hungary and arrested all of the monks. They sentenced the superior, Ferenc Vezer, to death and the others to long prison term and also sealed the entrance with a 2.25m thick concrete wall.

From Liberty Bridge, you walk up the hill to the entrance of the Cave Church where you first enter a ticket office and gift shop. Beyond that you step further inside the earth to the chambers of the church.

"Walking down the hall surrounded by rock to enter the Cave Church in Budapest"

Cave tunnel entering Cave Church

"Areas inside Cave Church carved through rock, Budapest"

Inside Cave Church

I thought that I’d find the church to be rather dreary and unwelcoming, but although dark in some areas, there was actually a pleasant, peaceful feeling about the church. In the main chapel area, I took a moment to rest and give thanks for travel opportunities that take me to places like this.

"Sitting inside Rock Church in the Buda Hills of Budapest"

A peaceful moment inside Cave Church, Budapest

A nun was preparing the altar for services while we walked as we toured the church.

"A nun prepares the altar while visitors tour Cave Church inside the Buda's Gellert Hill"

A nun prepares the altar while visitors tour Cave Church

Shortly after the fall of Communism in Hungary in 1989, the church was restored and reopened by the Pauline monks and it continues today as a church and tourist attraction. What makes it unique is the setting in the cave and the construction which integrates much of the natural cave interior. It is also a striking contrast to the opulence of the cathedrals and basilicas that we had been visiting, yet the feeling of reverence was not diminished.

We loved what we found beneath Budapest’s streets and buildings. What surprising natural wonders or features have you found in places you’ve visited?

We’re submitting this post to Bret Love’s “Nature” blog carnival going on at the Green Global Travel website. Take a look at the other natural travel stories in the round up over there!

  53 Responses to “Beneath Budapest in the Buda Hills”

  1. What a cool group of experiences…especially the wine cave! All of this sort of reminds me of the catacombs in Paris…crazy to think of what lies beneath or feet in any given destination. Hopefully you can make it back to visit the thermal baths soon…

    • Oh, the catacombs in Paris are on my list, even though I’m sure it’s pretty creepy down there. Budapest’s caves were really interesting and I am definitely going to the baths next time. 🙂

  2. This remind me that I want to take the Paris underground sewer tour, and the underground tour in Bologna, and for that matter, I have yet to take Seattle’s underground tour – shame on me! Beautiful photos and an interesting tour Cathy and Mr. TWS (whom I suspect was the photographer on some of these?).

    • Mr. TWS did take most of these pics. We’re a good team. 🙂

      I didn’t realize that Bologna had an underground tour. I’m heading that way in June — maybe I’ll get a chance to take it.

  3. Another thing I haven’t heard about, Cathy. Getting heaps of great tips from your blog these days. Wine tasting in a cave sounds absolutely wonderful.

  4. Thanks so much for your kind words, Cathy! I can’t even remember how we stumbled across Faust Wine Cellar the first time, but it is fantastic. We have different wines each time we go and Gabor is incredibly knowledgeable.

    We have not, however, been to the church cave. I am definitely adding that to my list to check out the next time we make it to Budapest.

    • It’s always nice when we travel bloggers learn about new places from each other, isn’t it? Thanks, Jennifer!

  5. Your photos of the Faust Wine Cellar reminded me that my daughter and her boyfriend enjoyed a wine tasting there. What a fun experience that must be. Next time, I hope you’ll try the thermal spas even if it is cold :-).

    • Cool that your daughter has been there, too! In retrospect, I know we should have done the baths no matter what. We did go into one of the buildings to see what they’re like. 🙂

  6. Who would have thought that such hidden treasures lie beneath Budapest. I so badly want to go to Faust and sample those wines in that sublime setting. I was touched by a few of your comments, specifically “giving thanks for travel opps” and that the feeling of reverence was not diminished. Keep up those talk soups too!!

    • Thanks, Jeff. I really do feel grateful that I get to do something I love — travel — as often as I do. So many wonderful places to see in this world. Oh, glad you like the soup interviews — Mr. TWS has plans for more to come. 🙂

  7. As if there wasn’t enough to see around Budapest now it turns out we have to explore underneath the city as well? Wow hehehe 🙂 Of course I love spelunking, whether on foot or in gear, and I also love finding unique, hidden attractions such as that wine cave, so count me in! Thanks for the heads-up.

    • Hey, you’re welcome, Derek. It is almost overwhelming when you think about all the fabulous places and things to do in cities like Budapest. How will I get enough time there to feel like I really know the place??

  8. I had just read a blog by Lash a few minutes before yours describing diving in caves beneath Budapest. No thanks but I would be very happy to do the wine tour. I haven’t tried Tokaji wine but would like to. There are some cheap Hungarian wines that are actually quite palatable for sale in Canada.

    I would definitely follow in your footsteps when I finally make it to Budapest.

    • I’ll have to check out Lash’s post — although I’m absolutely certain that I wouldn’t try diving in the caves. 🙂 I’ll have a glass of wine at Faust with you instead.

  9. Wow, that’s very interesting! That’s definitely something I want to check out next time I am in Budapest!

  10. I have seen a documentary on Australian Television about these caves – I love that they still exist today – and the previous lives they have lived. I loved the Moorish buildings in the south of Spain. They are not hidden, but I did not know much about them until we house-sat and discovered them.

    • Oh, the stories the places we visit could tell! One of the things that makes travel so exciting is finding the unexpected.

  11. I wish we had more time when we visited. The caves were on our list but had to be cut for the spa. 🙁

  12. Those caves look amazing. New York City has caves- and I think there are a bunch under Grand Central Station. I bet there are a lot of other cities build on caves as it is the natural geology in many places.

  13. You always find the most interesting “gems” – Budapest has always appealed to me and even more so now. I love this post.

  14. It looks like you had a fabulous time in Budapest! I’ll never forget the caves from when I visited years ago (in 1995) because I dropped my sister’s camera that I had borrowed, smashing the lens.

  15. This is very interesting and a part of Budapest I missed! I knew about Faust’s but just didn’t make it. I did, however, visit the Hospital in the Rocks which dates back to WWII. A very interesting underground hospital.

  16. There’s a whole world underground in Budapest, Cathy, and it’s great to see that it’s just as interesting as what’s above ground.
    Sad to read about what happened to the monks.

  17. These are so interesting but would love to do that Faust Wine Cellar. I didn’t know there were Hungarian wines. I would visit that cave church too. What a great world underneath Budapest and so off-the-beaten path. We loved the Scavi tour underneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. There’s a whole city there and also you get within inches of ST. Peter’s bones. One of the best tours we’ve had.

    • Living so close to and spending a lot of time in Sonoma and Napa counties, I’ve always been pretty skeptical about other wine regions. But I have to say that the Hungarian reds I tried were very good — quite surprising.

  18. What an amazing experience. Who would think there are so many things to see beneath Budapest. Faust Wine Cellar and Cave Church looks like very interesting places to visit. Thanks for the great information, Cathy!

  19. We totally loved the Hungarian wine! I’d love to go back to get out of Budapest and try visiting some of the wine regions…

  20. Looks like you had a great time in Budapest! The caves beneath Buda are definitely something to discover. Hope you will visit Budapest again!

    • Mr. TWS and I both agree that even though there are so many places we still have to visit for the first time, Budapest is a city that we must return to.

  21. I visited some of the natural caves where you need to wear head lamps and overalls… it was an awesome experience

  22. Budapest is on my must-see list, and you’ve given me another reason to go!

  23. My husband would “love” the wine cave! Add another one to the ever growing really long must see list!

  24. I’d definitely go for the caving, then maybe the wine afterwards. I have a blogger friend living in Budapest and she’s never mentioned the caves. Maybe she’s claustrophobic.

  25. There’s just something about a cave that’s lots of fun. Our ancestors spent thousands of years developing civilization for us to escape them and now that we have it all warm and cozy we just go right back. The salt mine in Poland, the caverns in Slovenia, and the cave hotels in Cappadocia were all highlights for me.

  26. Wow I want to go there!!! I love the idea of a church in a cave, and I looove wine cellars!

  27. Budapest in one of my favourite European cities.

  28. I haven’t been to Budapest for a number of years and even then only a few days. I definitely need to take Ali back. I have heard of the caves and the thermal spas and am interested in exploring.

  29. Hmmm…it’s a toss-up between the cave and the wine cellar for which one is my favourite. 🙂

  30. Very cool! I love caves and the wine cave sounds especially intriguing.

  31. Such an interesting post! Budapest is one of my favorite cities, I’ve studies there for one semester, I already know most of the highlights you’ve mentioned, but I’ve never heard about the caves. It must be such an amazing experiences to get down and explore them!

  32. […] Sonoma, and Monterey County wines I love here in California. In March, we went underground into the caves of Budapest to do wine tasting at Faust Cellars beneath the Hilton Hotel in the Castle District. In December, I […]

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