All the World’s a Festival

By Budapest Expert: Marta, Hungary, June 2011

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Hungary has recently become a country of festivals. Hundreds of them are organised year by year in a lot of topics, but practically in two categories: cultural and gastronomy festivals (or the two mixed). Many of the cultural fests offer a great opportunity to get involved with a branch of arts or music either you are an expert or a “beginner”. Some of them even targeted a wide audience, providing a great variety of programmes (concerts, theatrical shows, exhibitions, readers’ meetings, etc) of high quality, using a huge budget.

The other type of festivals, that I would like to write about, are the gastronomy – folklore – handicraft - whatever events which have been mushrooming lately. These programmes are the easiest way of getting away from the grey and dusty urban life and relaxing in the green – even if many of them are organised in the main squares of towns. 

This festival movement has become a sort of weekend hobby for many people: when the busy weekdays are over you jump into your car and drive to the nearest village or town where a festival is being held. You get fresh air, good food and drink, programmes, and a glimpse of the idyllic rural life that you have almost forgotten of. Wouldn’t like to travel or leave Budapest? Don’t worry, there is a solution, we bring rural life to the city, all you have to do is take the underground and get off at the right station where you get everything (except for fresh air), even some straw bales as decoration.

The recipe is simple: take a stage with a folklore group or whatever band, make some stalls where craftsmen can sell their hand-made products, set up some tents with benches and tables with food& drink stalls around them, selling good quality wine, beer, pálinka (the traditional Hungarian spirit) from local vine-growers or well-known wine cellars, sausages, and some other traditional dishes, and finally: give it a name which necessarily includes the word festival. And it works, people just love these events and so do I.

We have wine fests, beer fests, pálinka fests, sausage making fests, fish soup cooking fests, harvest fests, onion, paprika, folklore, folk dance, craftsmen’s fest, and so on. They are all great happenings with excellent quality products, authentic folkloric environment, and if I seemed to be a bit negative in the beginning of this writing it’s just because of my healthy Hungarian sarcasm. I really do enjoy these events and if I can’t find a festival held at the weekend in any of the squares of Budapest, I become rather disappointed, since festival-going has become a basic need also to me. The only thing I tried to pan is the usage of the word festival. Having grown up in the country I can’t remember any festivals. There were harvest balls, food making contests, May the 1st marches (in the “good old” socialism), pig slaughtering, carnival parties, celebrations, beer tents, feasts, fairs, saint-days, etc. No festivals. Never mind. Now we have them, and they are excellent chances for you, foreigners to get a taste of the authentic Hungarian traditions.

All in all, one more thing on your list of the musts/ things to do while staying in Hungary. There are several websites where you can get information about these events, however many of them might be difficult to find for foreigners (or to understand).

Let me help you out with a list of some of the upcoming programmes and some comments on them. In case this list contains more festivals on alcoholic drinks than food, it’s not a result of my personal preference but the collective Hungarian unconscious./

21-24 April: Újbuda Easter and Pálinka Festival (11th District, Budapest, near Móricz Zsigmond Square, next to Allee Shopping Mall). Children’s programmes, jazz, rock, folk concerts, food and handicraft stalls, and pálinka, pálinka, pálinka. All that make you feel good. No entrance fee.

24-25 April: Easter Festival, Szentendre, Ethnography Park (Skanzen). Ideal programme for families with small children 30 km from Budapest (1 hour by suburban train, direct buses from Deák Square) at the edge of the lovely town of Szentendre. 

All that one can know about Easter traditions (many of which are forgotten even by Hungarians) from the various techniques of egg painting to wood  carving, from St. George’s Day to the Jewish Easter. And the scenery couldn’t be complete without handicraft and food stalls and the concert stage. You can spend the whole day learning about the old rural life and folkloric traditions in the different regions of Hungary and having a lot of fun. There is entrance fee which worth the money.

5-8 May: 6th Budapest Pálinka Festival (1st District, Savoy Terrace-Royal Palace). The main spring “spirit” fest of the capital, starring: Plum (one of the most popular type/ ingredient of pálinka). Best pálinka brands plus cheese, chocolate, champagne, wine and sausage. What else do you need? Oh, yes, the additional concerts and programmes, too. Entrance fee approx. 7 euros.

7-8. May: Wine Day, Hollóko
Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hollóko in itself is worth a visit. It’s a place where rural traditions are kept alive in authentic environment. The wine day is a fair and exhibition of products from all the official Hungarian wine regions (we are a small country, yet we have 22 of them). 1-2 hours from Budapest by car or bus in the East.

21-22 May: Etyek Wine Cellar Festival
A lovely village 10 km from Budapest, with dozens of old cellars open for this event. A perfect week-end programme in the green with the typical festival tools: wine, craftsmen, children’s programmes, football matches, cheese and other traditional products, food stalls, all that creates a perfect festival feeling. Buses run every 15-20 min. from Budapest Kelenföld Station.

3-5 June: Buda Gourmet (2nd District, Budapest, Millenáris Park)
100% Quality guaranteed (the organizer is the owner of the first Michelin Star restaurant of Hungary). Best producers and products, programmes, Dining Guide Food Show, contests for restaurant specialists, “degustation” for everybody who loves eating.

12-13 June: Pentecost Games, Szentendre, Ethnography Park (Skanzen). Another lovely  family programme (30 km from Budapest - 1 hour by suburban train, direct buses from Deák Square - at the edge of Szentendre.)

Images of countryside life, improvised farces, Hungarian puppet-show, folk customs connected to Pentecost, Pentecost market and children’s programmes, like the Great Pentecost Swapping where children can sell their own old toys and other treasures, and they can also learn the craft of pricing, sales and bargain from a crier. Pastry horn, honey cake and bread-langosh baked on spot, fried sausage, roast joint and other market dishes.

Photos courtesy of Skanzen.

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