These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Slovak Tokay: The Golden Nectar

The relationship between the wine and the cave's fungus is symbiotic, says a Tokay maker.

    Wine cellar in Ostrožovič.
 Wine cellar in Ostrožovič.
 Photo: Ján Svrček

No Slovak wine region is as vexed or celebrated as Tokay, a tiny scrap of land in the southeast of the country along the Hungarian border.

The area's winemakers produce the country's greatest and most expensive wine - yet they can't sell their product on the lucrative European market because of a trademark dispute with Hungary, where most of the Tokay region lies.

And in a country still struggling to get its tourist infrastructure up to standard, the Tokay territory ranks among Slovakia's least tourist friendly. The area is economically depressed, with unemployment probably exceeding 20 percent. Train and bus services from Košice to the major Tokay-producing towns are infrequent. Spending the night in Tokay country likely means sleeping in a functionalist monstrosity whose amenities were last updated when Václav Havel was still languishing in a Czechoslovak prison. Lunch probably means nibbling on something in a hostinec, a village pub with a limited menu. You're much better off using Košice as a base, preferably with a car. (Beware, however: in Slovakia it's illegal to drive with any alcohol in your bloodstream.)

And yet, inconveniences aside, Tokay country is an essential stop for wine-loving visitors to Slovakia. There is probably no great wine region in the world that is as unmolested by tourists. Across the border in Hungary, you'll find throngs soaking up the atmosphere of the old cellars while sipping wine. Visit a Slovak Tokay producer, and you're likely to be the only visitor. And the tour guide just might be the winemaker himself.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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