By Kiev Martinez
On a gray, drizzly morning, we set out to see one of the most historic sites in all of Hungary – the beautiful Pannonhalma Archabbey, located 130km west of Budapest. Overlooking the town of the same name (also the birthplace of the famous St. Martin of Tours), the Benedictine abbey was established in 996 C.E. Swathed in shades of cloud gray, we climbed up the hill it sits on, an estimated 250 meters above sea level.
The journey from Budapest – a bit harried, as one must catch a train to Győr, then a small, old two – car train to another stop, and then a bus to Pannonhalma (the local train station is under construction) – wasn’t difficult, just tedious. Be warned that it is a 2.2 kilometer walk from the drop off point to the abbey and isn’t handicapped accessible. Another option to arrive at the abbey is by driving (an elevator has access from the public parking area). The quiet, sleepy little town we walked through has a few restaurants and stores that we skipped over in the morning, heading straight up to the monastery.
The views from the abbey of the town and the beautiful, green plains of Hungary spread out below were incredible. As the day went on and the cloud cover lifted, the different farmed areas emerged in different shades of emerald and hunter green, with cheerful smoke spiraling upwards from the village below. The grounds of the abbey were quiet and well-manicured, with small paths leading to different attractions.
The abbey itself is old, imposing and enchanting, but the actual breath-taker is the Pannonhalma Library, with close to 400,000 books. Regardless of the day, the light pouring in through the windows shines off of the lovingly polished shelves and book cases, each tome being meticulously dusted and cleaned as evidenced by the state of the library. Amazingly, the abbey maintains a part of the library that is active, one must simply go through the paperwork.
Continuing past the library leads to an exhibition area displaying modern art with a religious focus, including interesting photos taken during a priest’s confession that demonstrates the importance of body language. Past the museum area is the gift shop with reasonably priced goods – with magnets as cheap as Ft 100, and post cards as low as Ft 50.
Heading outside again, there are paths that lead to the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the crypt, and herb gardens – all of which were closed for maintenance or due to the time of year. A 30-meter-tall guard tower overlooks a suspension bridge overlooking the town of Pannonhalma, which is a bit of a steep climb and you may mess your pants, but the views are totally worth it (until the tower starts rocking in the wind). Mind the walk back to town takes you along a curving road and you have to walk along the street – be careful or head back through the abbey to the stairs.
After a day of romping around, we decided to have lunch at the Kiraly Café, located in town of Pannonhalma. I cannot recommend this place more – all of the food that we had was very good. Exceptionally stand out was the plate for three that is enough to feed five for Ft 5,300. The service was also great, as was the comfort level of the place. The monastery also has its own restaurant – the Viator, which serves modern takes on Hungarian food with international influences, served in a contemporary setting. Wines made by the monastery’s very own winery, which is among the best in Hungary, wash down the food. Mineral water from the monastery’s own local water source, which is bottled nearby, is also poured from funky, peculiar shaped bottles.
On returning, you must purchase tickets on the bus (no invoice will be provided if you need it), ride the bus to Győr, and take a train back to Budapest (Déli is the most common station). A wonderful trip, easily done for singles, couples, or groups.
Photos supplementing this article were taken by Sarah Diefallah and Lidia Klingenberg.