We’ve been to weddings in other European countries, but never Hungary. In truth this was a Franco-Hungarian Alliance between a couple who’ve been together for around 16 years. Of course, friends and family were delighted that they were finally tying the knot.
Couples these days seem to spend 18-24 months planning their nuptials largely because of the availability, or lack thereof, of their venue of choice. The pair in question wanted a relaxed, traditional Hungarian style wedding with the reception in the Hungarian countryside, at a vineyard. This, like many of their events, was organised a couple of months ago with everyone pitching in to help with the last-minute arrangements.
A number of obstacles were thrown in the plucky pair’s path. Fortunately, none were insurmountable. The Pope almost put paid to the event as it clashed with his recent visit and available Catholic priests were rarer than hen’s teeth. Then the chosen church was closed for renovations but luckily one nearby became available.
All this uncertainty meant bookings were made at the last moment for the Ascension holiday week-end. We decided to fly via Vienna so that if there were further mishaps, or it was cancelled, we could at least enjoy a long week-end in the Austrian capital. Yes, we had a Plan B which rather amused the parents of the bridal couple.
Both my beloved and I have previously visited Hungary a number of times. Indeed my first visit was way back in 1972, well before the births of the bridal pair, while on a 6-week German language course in Vienna. I went on a trip down the Danube and spent a day in nearby, then communist, Budapest.
You could see the vestiges of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in its architecture but it was a grey, sad place by comparison with Vienna. I next visited several times in the early 90s when the bank I was working for handled the country’s first ever privatisation (a ceramics company) and helped a well-known UK supermarket get a foothold in Eastern Europe. However, this would be our first trip to Hungary’s southern-most wine producing region which borders both Croatia and Serbia.
While neither of us speaks Hungarian, we managed to communicate with everyone using a mixture of German, French, English and hand signals. It felt more like a family wedding than that of my beloved’s nephew last year in UK where we knew hardly any of the guests. By comparison we know both the bride and groom’s immediate family and many of their wide circle of friends.
We flew into Vienna on Thursday evening and drove to Shopron, a border town that specialises in medical and dental tourism – we were not tempted! We stayed at a family-run hotel in the Old Town which was delightful, as the few photos I took (above) show, and dined on yet more asparagus. It’s a wonder I’ve not become slim and pale green!
We had decided to drive through the countryside, via Lake Balaton, rather than speed down the motorway to our destination. The lake was lovely and I could understand why it has long been a holiday hotspot. The countryside was largely given over to arable farming and nothing of note aside from this former fort (pictured above) until we reached our destination where vines reigned supreme.
The bridal couple had thoughtfully provided details of hotels in Villany and we’d booked the only Hotel with a Spa to while away the few hours that hadn’t been pre-organised for us. We were the only wedding guests to select this option so we could easily escape from the week-end long party for a few moments of peace and quiet.
The celebrations kicked off on Friday evening with a welcoming drink and nibbles in the neighbouring wine bar owned by the proprietors of our hotel who appeared to own large tracts of the village. We opted for an early night, wanting to look our best on the morrow, and assume the bridal pair did likewise.
The wedding was held in a church in a neighbouring town as the one in Villany was being repaired. But, when we drove there early the following morning, we discovered there were three churches. We parked the car and made a panic call to the groom who confirmed that by chance we’d happened upon the right one. Being early worms meant we’d been able to bag one of the few parking spots nearby and it was clear we weren’t the only confused wedding guests milling about.
A large number of the Hungarian contingent had wisely come by coach in which they would return much later, after the wedding dinner. However, it was fitting that, as a former professional cyclist, the groom arrived on a bike. The bride wisely chose a more conventional form of transport for herself, her father and her six bridesmaids.
The priest conducted the ceremony in French and Hungarian otherwise we’d have been none the wiser. Thereafter, we took a horse-drawn cart for an apero and the civil service held among the vines which had previously belonged to the bride’s grand-parents. In a flash, the reason for the choice of location became obvious.
We then had a welcome lull in proceedings, an opportunity to slip into another, more relaxed outfit and enjoy time in the spa until the wedding dinner kicked off at 19:00. The chef came from a nearby restaurant and cooked up a storm, much of it over fire. He prepared more than enough for dinner for 100 that evening and for lunch for 55 the following day.
Entertainment was provided by a fabulous singer from the Budapest Opera and a local DJ who played exactly the same selection of tracks as if the wedding had been held in the UK. I suspect DJs the world over would have done likewise.
We didn’t stay until the bitter end but slipped away at midnight while the wedding party was inspecting the wine cellar. We’d arranged to meet the following morning at a nearby sculpture park, half-way up a steepish slope, to blow away the cobwebs.
The following morning, we enjoyed a wander around the park but the rest of the wedding party was MIA (missing in action) though they rallied sufficiently to enjoy the left overs from the night before. I suspect many of them had missed breakfast. By now people were starting to drift home and numbers were much reduced. 55 at lunch was whittled down to 25 by dinner held at the restaurant which had provided the chef who’d prepared the wedding dinner.
Our time in Hungary was drawing to a close. We’d much enjoyed the delightfully relaxed celebration and I’m sure we’ll be back someday. The next day we drove back to Vienna and our flight home. It’s fun to travel, we’ve had a busy couple of weeks, but it’s also nice to get home.