102km (63 miles) NE of Budapest
The village of Hollóko (pronounced Ho-low-koo, meaning raven stone) is one of the most charming spots in Hungary hidden in the Cserhát hills. Legend has it that the lord of a castle kidnapped a beautiful maiden, whose nurse was a witch. The nurse made a pact with the devil for the girl's return. The devil's servants disguised themselves as ravens who took the stones of the castle away. The castle of Hollóko was built on top of the rock. Village history dates back to the 13th century; after the invasion by the Mongols, the castle was built on Szár Hill. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a perfectly preserved, but still vibrant Palóc village with only 400 residents. The rural Palóc people speak an unusual Hungarian dialect, and have some of the more colorful folk customs and costumes (used for holidays only). They have been able to preserve some of their folkways partly due to their isolation. If you're in Hungary at Easter time, consider spending the holiday in Hollóko. Hollóko's traditional Easter celebration features townspeople in traditional dress and masses in the town church. When you see people in traditional dress, they are genuine, not a troupe of actors. You will sharpen your acting skills, since you will find less English speakers here than in larger cities. The websites below have no English links.
Getting There -- It is difficult to reach without a car. There is only one direct bus to Hollóko, which departs from Budapest's central bus station, Stadionok Bus Station (tel. 1/382-0888). It departs weekends only at 8:30am and takes about 2 1/2 hours to reach the town if there is no traffic, but be warned, it could take as much as 3 1/2. They don't stop for bathroom breaks either. The one-way fare is 1,750 Ft. Alternatively, you can take a bus from Árpád híd bus station in Budapest (tel. 1/412-2597) to Szécsény or Pásztó, where you switch to a local bus to Hollóko; there are four daily, but the trip will be longer. If you're driving from Budapest, take the motorway M3 as far as Hatvan, then along the main road turn off onto Route 21 in the direction of Salgótarján until you come to the junction for Hollóko. From here, it is a 17km (11 mile) drive.
Visitor Information -- The best information office is the Foundation of Hollóko, at Kossuth Lajos út 68 (tel. 32/579-010; www.holloko.hu). It's open in summer Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and weekends 10am to 6pm; in winter, it's open Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm and weekends 10am to 4pm. You can also get information through Nograd Tourist in Salgótarján (tel. 32/310-660) or through Tourinform in Szécsény, at Ady Endre u. 12 (tel. 32/370-777; www.szecseny.hu).
At Easter, everyone in the village puts on ornamented folk clothes and during the 2-day celebration (Easter Monday is a holiday), the old Easter traditions of the village are revived. Folklore programs fill the day with displays of folk articles for purchase, artisans' presentations, food specialties, and games for children. On the last weekend in July, folk groups of Nógrád county and from other countries gather to perform on the open-air stage of the village for the Palóc Szottes Festival. On the second Sunday of October for the Vintage Parade, the young people of the village walk along the main street in ornamented folk clothes, demonstrating that grape picking is over, celebrating that there will be wine in the next year, too.
Exploring The Village
A one-street town, Hollóko is idyllically set in a quiet, green valley, with hiking trails all around. A restored 14th-century castle is perched on a hilltop over the village. In the village itself you can admire the 14th-century wooden towered church and the sturdy, traditional peasant architecture (normally seen only in stylized open-air skanzen museums, such as the one near Szentendre), and observe the elderly women at work on their embroidery (samples are for sale). You can also visit the Village Museum at Kossuth Lajos u. 82, where exhibits detail everyday Palóc life starting in the early 20th century. Official hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 4pm, but it is closed in winter. Like everything else in town, though, the museum's hours are up to the whims of the caretakers. Entry is 620 Ft.
Where To Stay
If you miss the only direct bus back to Budapest, you'll need a place to stay. In Hollóko, traditionally furnished thatch-roofed peasant houses are available for rent on a nightly or longer basis. You can rent a room in a shared house (with shared facilities), or rent an entire house. The prices vary depending on the size of the room or house and the number of people, but 9,000 Ft for a double room is average. Standard private rooms are also available in Hollóko. All accommodations can be booked in advance through the tourist offices in Hollóko or Salgótarján. If you arrive without reservations (which is not advised), the address and phone number of a room finder are posted on the door of the Foundation of Hollóko.
Where To Dine
Dining options are limited in tiny Hollóko. The Vár Étterem (tel. 32/379-029) at Kossuth Lajos u. 95 serves decent Hungarian food at very low prices. Try a dish prepared with the "treasure of the local forests," porcini mushrooms. There is indoor and outdoor seating. The menu is available in English, and the waiters are patient. The restaurant is open daily noon to 8pm, except Christmas Day.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.