What does fertility, drinking copious amounts of “noble” red wine, and Slovakia have in common? Drinking and pregnancy may not be highly recommended by doctors today but it turns out that a tasty drop of red was a sworn solution for one over-fertile queen…
We find out more about wine history and micro-vineyard culture when we visit Bratislava, Slovakia.
What to do in Bratislava?
Upon arriving in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, we really had no idea at all what to expect. We admittedly hadn’t really done our research about what to do in Bratislava, but we had heard that the old town was beautiful and that they had a bit of a decent craft beer scene (Our favourite bar: Le Senk). Honestly all you have to do is whisper the word craft beer and we will want to check it out – mmm beer!
But, to our surprise, we found out that it’s not just tasty beer that the Slovaks are producing. They also have a relatively unknown wine producing scene. One that is so popular (once you’ve tried it) that even Vladimir Putin and other celebrities have a barrel or two ageing in some of the wineries.
As I mentioned before, the old town of Bratislava is known to be especially pretty. But sadly as soon as you begin to head outside of the old town, the full impact of the communist era is still very evident. Blocky and grey high density housing, that was built in the standard ‘communist’ style, is a harsh reminder of a time that took it’s toll on the locals.
Although residents are doing their best to revitalise the buildings by painting them in bright, bold colours as a kind of rebellion or ‘fuck you’ to the previous years of horrible grey, there is still a way to go.
But once you leave the city limits behind it’s easy to believe that you have gone back in time, the contrast is immense. Before too long you start passing by little villages all surrounded by vines. Grapes as far as the eye can see. Individual homes have their own vines in their backyards. Some just for personal drinking, some for micro-commercial sale. But everyone is in on the wine scene.
The roads along the small Carpathian wine route are lined with thick walled, stone houses of differing colours. Many date back to the 17th century and though they appear at the roadside like regular, small homes, many have vineyards extending back hundreds of meters, or more. Many are independent cellar doors.
In fact Slovakia has 20,000 hectares of registered and active vineyards but we rarely see Slovakian wine in English speaking countries. Mainly because Slovakia only produces 0.3% of all European wine and they do a good job of consuming almost all that wine themselves!
Wine History in Slovakia
The original vines came to Slovakia with the Ancient Romans, and the region grew to the point where it was producing wine for the many Kings and Queens that came and went over the centuries. In fact Queens used to drink Slovak wines as medicine, as well as a ‘magical’ brew on their wedding night – wink wink!
It’s even said that Maria Theresa, the only ever queen of the Austro Hungarian Empire, was a massive fan of Carpathian wine. She even credited her exceptional fertility to the wine. If you are wondering – she gave birth to a whopping 16 children in her lifetime.
Legend also has it that, during her coronation anniversary, she held a celebration in Bratislava where the fountains of the city sprayed wine. The Frankisch wine recipe for that day, her favourite, is still the basis of a wine named after her today. It’s a bold red based on the noble grapes.
Another fun fact: a Slovakian man by the name of Jacob Palugyay’s opened a winery in 1859. His wine found itself being enjoyed by the rulers of Japan, and was served on perhaps the most famous ship of all time – The Titanic!
We learned many of these incredible facts about the region while on a day tour to the Red Stone Castle, and while the tour sadly didn’t actually involve too much stopping to try the wine – it was however really interesting to discover more about all the wine villages bordering Bratislava to the east. And I swear if we ever go back we will hire a car and do the wineries properly.
One place we did actually get to stop at during the tour was a refurbished cellar door called Vinocentrum. Within the white stone walls of the rustically cute traditional store front, we discovered wooden wine casks and old farming equipment mixed with modern furniture and artwork.
The owner had three types of local wine that we could taste test: a crisp and semi-dry white, a rose and a red. Surprisingly for my taste, I found the rose to be the most inspiring. Smoother than many Californian roses I have tried before, uniquely mellow but rich. I usually am a red wine girl all the way – but this Rose lingered crisply on my palate and without any acid tones. Winner.
While we were in Bratislava we stayed at a funky little hostel called Freddie Next To Mercury. This hostel is close to the train station so if you are taking the train from Vienna to Bratislava, it’s only a short walk. There is also a tram and bus stops nearby that you can ride inclusively if you get the Bratislava City Card.
Our private hostel was the size of a studio apartment, with a small kitchenette included. It’s in a great location to explore all that Bratislava has to offer: tasty food, modern craft beer bars and elegant restaurants where you can try some more of the local wine.
Looking for more accommodation options in Bratislava? These come highly recommended
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It’s amazing what you discover the more you travel. We all know the big wine producers of the world: Spain, Italy, France, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and Sth Africa. But the more we travel through Eastern Europe the more we continue to find local wineries that would give any of the big hitters in the wine world a run for their money.
The sad part (for us) is they are keeping it all for themselves. So if you want to try some of this incredible wine, you’re going to have to get off your butt and visit Central and Eastern Europe! You won’t regret it.
We would like to especially thank Betty from the Bratislava Tourism board who gave us a welcome bottle of Maria Theresa’s coronation wine. We now understand Maria Theresa’s obsession with this wine and the region – it’s divine!
P.S. no babies were made during the tasting of any Slovakian wine during our time there (much to my mother’s disappointment I’m sure). Maria Theresa must have just been a baby making machine LOL.
Transport – Getting in and out of Bratislava
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Have you tried Slovakian wine? Let us know in the comments what unknown wine you’ve discovered!
Disclaimer: We did receive the Red Stone castle tour and the Bratislava City Card mentioned complimentary. Also we received a 50% media discount for our stay at Freddy Next to Mercury’s. All opinions remain our own. This post does include affiliate links, thank you for supporting our blog by using them.