Hi, I’m Lucy! I’m a Marketing Associate here at FTI. A lot of my job is behind-the-scenes, but I want to share an incredible travel experience I had – all thanks to FTI, UNESCO and National Geographic!

I had the opportunity to visit three amazing World Heritage Sites as part of a World Heritage Journeys program. Our small group of travel professionals visited Tokaj, Hungary; Aranjuez, Spain; and Brugge, Belgium to learn more about these incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The first leg of our journey took us Tokaj. If you’re unfamiliar with this region of Hungary, you should know that its wine history runs centuries deep. Ten million years ago, the area was full of volcanoes, resulting in a mineral-rich soil containing rhyolite, tuffa, and zeolite. For hundreds of years, the combination of this volcanic soil, the unique microclimate, and the distinct grape varieties grown here led to some of the most treasured wines in the world.

Tokaj aszú (the world’s oldest sweet wine) was a favorite of royalty, artists, and popes throughout history. It’s easy to understand why once you experience its unique amber color, dry nose & full-bodied honeylike sweetness.

Day 1: Bikes & Budapest

Lucky me! I arrived in Budapest early in the morning so I could have some time to explore the city. My new friend Michele and I embarked on a three-hour bike tour of the city, something I highly recommend if you’re trying to see the highlights in a short amount of time. Even though the weather was a little drizzly, we had a blast riding our bikes up to Castle Hill and Fisherman’s Bastion. It was a great way to get the best panoramic views of the city – the bastion was used as a real lookout tower during the 19th century!

Day 2: Welcome to Tokaj

We started our day with a drive to Tokaj, about a three-hour journey from Budapest. Upon arrival, we enjoyed a brief tour of the Tokaj World Heritage Museum which showcased the history of the wine region, including some earlier production methods of aszu wine. We also enjoyed lunch and wine pairing with Ronn Wiegand. Master of Wine and Master Sommelier, he is one of three people in the world to hold both titles.

Ronn’s wife, Hajnalka Pracser, owns the Erzsébet Pince winery with her brother. We visited their winery and sampled some of their award-winning 2016 Furmint.

Afterward, we visited the cellars of Chatea Deresla. This winery was founded in the 15th century, nationalized during the communist period, then privatized again in 1991. The D’Aulan family took over the estate in 2000 to revive this historic winery that had been withering on the vine. Boy have they.

The view of the expansive vineyards, golden in the the late afternoon sun, took my breath away. I must admit I had it wasn’t easy to focus on driving that John Deere gator.

Once we arrived at the wine production facility, we had the rare opportunity to do a barrel tasting!

For dinner, we joined the “Tattooed Winemaker,” Endre Demeter, at Percze Restaurant. We enjoyed a spirited conversation with this engaging wine personality while sampling delicious wines from his winery, Demetervin.

Day 3: Zipline, anyone?

This morning, I ziplined for the very first time at Zemplen Adventure Park. After spending a lot of time in underground wine cellars, I needed some sunshine! In addition to ziplining, this adventure park offers indoor rock climbing, obstacle course, a bobsled track, and skiing (winter only).

We stopped for a bit at the beautiful library in Sárospatak, home to some of the oldest and most valuable books in Hungarian history. The focal point of this ornately-decorated room is an amazing trompe d’oeil dome. 

For lunch, we enjoyed a delicious fish goulash at Boros restaurant, before continuing on to Hercegkút, AKA the Hobbit Land cellars. Deep under each of these charming triangular facades lies an extensive, multi-level cellar system. I was surprised to find out that each for these was individually owned and often passed down through families for generations.

We also visited the Oremus cellars which is famous for their sweet wines, essencia in particular. This intensely sweet wine takes 6 to 8 years to complete its fermentation and can have as much as 85% residual sugar. Compared to an average wine, essencia takes 75 times the number of grapes to produce, and each raisened grape must be hand-picked individually – not by the bunch. This rare Hungarian wine is presented in a numbered bottle packaged in a hinged wooden box, accompanied by a traditional crystal spoon.

Next, we pampered ourselves at the Helia-D Herbal House cosmetic workshop. This plant-based skincare company has completely transformed a Baroque mansion into an extensive herbal library, workshops, salons, and a cafe. I made my very own face cream using natural ingredients picked out for my skin type.

Day 4: Farewell Hungary, hello Spain!

Historically, the art of winemaking has been reserved for men. Rather than positioning themselves as competitors, three women winemakers – Stephanie Berecz, Sarolta Bárdos and Judit Bodó – have teamed up to create 3Gracia. This unique wine, a blend of their three individual wines, is the perfect representation of their business collaboration. We joined them for an interesting chat over brunch before our departure to Spain.

Later on, we boarded our flight to Madrid. I’ll see you in my next installment where I cover our time at the World Heritage Site in Aranjuez, Spain!