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Adventures around the most remote regions in Hungary: Őrség And Vendvidék

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Both regions are part of the Őrség National Park and make enchanting destinations. Remote and secluded, the westernmost reaches of Hungary offer unforgettable adventures. 

Őrség and Vendvidék – two distinct ethnographic areas that are often mistaken for each other. Vendvidék or Rábavidék – the “Windish Country” or “Slovene Rába Region” – is the westernmost region of Hungary, with the town of Szentgotthárd at its centre and its villages home to roughly 3,000 inhabitants. Őrség lies to the south of Vendvidék and is bigger, however both extend into the Muravidék region that lies on both sides of the Slovenian border. Although they are neighbours, Vendvidék and Őrség are two ethnographically distinct regions. 

Vendvidék, as the name suggests, is the home of the Windish (Vend) people – Hungary’s Slovenian ethnic community brought to the country by the Cistercians, who built a monastery in Szentgotthárd, the “capital” of the region. Vendvidék, the land where the sun rises latest in Hungary, lies on the Austrian border and consequently was a closed border area during the Communist era. This, however, also prevented the region from systematic nationalisation and collectivisation of private land and assets, and the forests and natural treasures also survived largely intact. A great example of this is Fekete Lake in Orfalu, a marshland formed during the end of the last Ice Age and one of the most strictly protected natural sites in Hungary for its outstandingly rare fauna. Fekete Lake has many a legend – it once even “swallowed” a whole church according to one – but what is indisputably true is that it was really rather easy to sink and disappear into the marsh.

The idyllic and enchanting beauty of the forests in Vendvidék are almost matched in Hungary and thanks to the rather moist climate, the woods teem with mushrooms. The region’s tiny and sparsely inhabited villages are excellent destinations for tourists arriving on foot or on two wheels. Felsőszölnök – the westernmost settlement in the country – has an intriguing landmark, the so-called Triple Border Stone, erected after the Treaty of Trianon in 1922 to mark the point where Hungary, Slovenia and Austria meet.
Here you can take a surprisingly fast round trip, visiting three countries in less than a minute. Apátistvánfalva is home to the Baroque Harding Saint Stephen church, the most beautiful church in the region, the Border Guard Museum and the Ecotourism Information Centre, run by the Őrség National Park Directorate.  

Őrség and Vendvidék mostly differ in their former inhabitants and their settlement patterns. While Vendvidék typically has scattered villages with lavishly spaced houses, Őrség mostly features clusters of buildings close together – the so-called “szer” pattern. The people of the Őrség have been the guards of this border area since the Hungarians came to this land, hence the region’s name (“őrség” means guard or guard post in Hungarian). The centre of Őrség, Őriszentpéter, for example, comprises nine such “szer”. Its main attraction is the Romanesque St. Peter’s church. Another relic of the early medieval history of Hungary visitors to the region simply must see is the early Gothic church in Velemér, which boasts the largest surviving medieval mural in the country. 

Gothic church, Velemér

Exploring the slopes of Őrség will take you past wooden bell towers, listed houses and orchards, so you may want to make it a car trip. The most authentic settlement in the region is Szalafő, home of the Pityerszer Őrség Folk Monument Ensemble – an open-air ethnographic museum where you can see the typical buildings of the region in their original locations and with their original interior, while the kids
have fun at various art and craft shops and in the so-called play barns. The village of Pankasz boasts perhaps the most remarkable example of the “skirted” wooden bell towers that are so typical of Őrség. The art of pottery, one of Őrség’s trademark crafts, is showcased in the Pottery Museum, a typical village house built in Magyarszombatfa in 1790. Although rather plain on the outside, the reformed church building of Szentgyörgyvölgy reveals a lavishly decorated interior – a visit is definitely recommended.

Őrség offers a cornucopia of unique folk traditions to discover, not to mention the famous cuisine, with dishes such as porcini and buckwheat soup, salad with pumpkin seed oil, fried potato dumplings called “dödölle”, pumpkin and poppy seed strudel, millet cake and millet meal soup. Notable events in Őrség include the Hétrétország, the Őrség International Pumpkin Festival and the International Pottery Festival – all considered great reasons to pay a visit to Őrség and the neighbouring Vendvidék. If you have time, you should definitely include the town of Szentgotthárd on your itinerary: you will love the beautiful Baroque Cistercian church and monastery, which today houses the mayor’s office. And while in Szentgotthárd, why not pay a visit to the popular, Mediterranean-style thermal spa – the No. 1 reason visitors come to town. 

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