In Budapest, the onslaught of cold winter weather brings with it one of the most important days in the festival calendar. During the celebration of St. Martin’s Day or Márton nap on the 11th of November, locals honour lavish gastronomic traditions including tasting the season’s new wines and eating special goose dishes. The festivities are set amongst the city’s eclectic mix of Renaissance and Ottoman buildings, making a St. Martin’s Day holiday to Budapest the perfect retreat for gourmands with a taste for fine architecture.
The history of St. Martin’s Day celebrations
Born in Hungary in the 4th century, St. Martin was a Roman soldier who went on to become a Christian missionary. According to legend, St. Martin reacted to being appointed Bishop of Tours by hiding in a barn full of geese. Today, St. Martin is the patron saint of geese, wine growers and wine makers, each of which play a prominent role in the St. Martin’s Day celebrations.
Historically, spring geese were ready to be slaughtered around this time of year, and because servants were also paid their annual wages on this day they could indulge in a sumptuous meal. The wines from the yearly grape harvest were also opened around the same time, and the combination of the two became the basis for the St. Martin’s Day festivities. Nowadays, the event is marked with huge family feasts in Hungarian homes.
Wine and fine dining in Budapest
Many Hungarians also go to Budapest’s restaurants to celebrate the day, with eateries creating special menus throughout November. Traditional geese dishes include roast goose with steamed red cabbage, roasted goose liver in cranberry and goose leg stuffed with goose liver and dates. These meals are accompanied by the locally produced wines, Borbíróság is a particularly good place to sample some of the finest. This popular modern restaurant has a selection of over 80 Hungarian wines alongside its festive menu. Borkonyha, which has a 200-variety strong cellar, also cooks St. Martin’s Day dishes.
Like France’s Beaujolais Nouveau Day, this is the first opportunity people have to taste the recent harvest’s wine. As the part of the festivities, Budapest holds an annual wine festival in the historic Hotel Gellért in the lead up to the feast day. Almost 100 Hungarian wineries are invited to present their produce over several days, and the festival is finished off with a St. Martin’s Day brunch.
Beyond St. Martin’s Day
In November, Budapest’s crisp, clear autumn gives way to colder weather, so once the St. Martin’s Day celebrations are over, take the opportunity to explore Budapest’s indoor attractions. The city’s world-famous thermal springs mean that Budapest has several historic baths, some of which date back to the 16th century. Király Bath was built by the Ottoman Turks and has a spectacular octagonal pool beneath its sky-lit dome. Visitors could also go to an organ concert in St. Stephen’s Basilica or relax to the sounds of a symphony in the Neo-Baroque Danube Palace.
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