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Holloko – The Best Reason to Spend Easter In Hungary

by Roberto
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Holloko is a town in north Hungary that strives to uphold the traditions of the country. In doing so Holloko Hungary is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In particular the traditions of Easter in Hungary are best observed in Hollókő, so it was a place that was top of our agenda during our visit there. The Holloko celebration is the largest spring festival in Hungary. In 2022, the Holloko Easter Festival will run from 15th to the 18th of April.

Why spend Easter in Hungary in Holloko?

So what makes Holloko Hungary so special? It boils down to the place, its culture, and people, and in particular the efforts they make to keep their traditions alive in the old village. Is it possible they do only to keep the stream of tourists coming and the local economy booming? Very much so. If so is it even relevant? Not at all. It’s great to see a town seemingly untouched by time. And no better time than at Easter, when timeless Easter practices are observed.

Everyone flocks here to see the “sprinkling”, more on which I will divulge later. But it’s not just this Easter tradition that is kept. The town and it’s houses are maintained in an old fashion, all white washed with either flowers or ornaments hanging from the roofs. The streets are all pedestrianized adding to that pleasant feel. Each street is a pleasure to walk around and explore.

Easter in Hungary is Holloko.

Easter and me

I’ve never really gotten Easter. Perhaps that sounds a little unusual but I don’t think we in Ireland as I grew up ever did. I mean we understood the religious significance of it. We abstained from meat on Good Friday, and were subsequently rewarded with Spring Lamb for Sunday lunch on Easter Sunday. We swapped Easter eggs, which was always wonderful if chocolate was given up for lent.

But even then we were allowed a day off on St Patrick’s Day to indulge our vices. Don’t remember a day when a carnival rolled through the desert during those 40 days of abstinence from the bible. But growing up I always wondered what the bunnies and eggs was all about. No mention of that either in the bible. To me the Easter Bunny was always ridiculous, even as a young child.

As I grew older, I discovered the links to Eostre, the pagan goddess of fertility who originally was celebrated on these days. Rabbits and eggs are linked to her also. So with time I grew more disenchanted with the notions of Easter, especially as religion faded from my life. What was Easter really all about?

Then travelling introduced me to other traditions of Easter. Suddenly I saw how Easter could and probably should be observed. The quest to discover such traditions was in fact one of my motivations on this trip to Hungary. That quest now took me to Holloko, the best place to observe Easter in Hungary.

Our Easter in Holloko Hungary

We had stayed the night before in Hatvan, a pleasing town, even if it took me by surprise to realise that. More on that and one of my Hungarian road trips in my Hatvan blog. We rose early to breakfast in the SOS Motel where we had stayed, and then made the thirty minute drive to the town of Holloko in Nógrád County of North Hungary. If looking to book to stay in Holloko at Easter, you would need to book extremely early, and furthermore options are quite limited. The Castellum Hotel is rated as best in town. Holloko is certainly more of a day trip destination.

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Budapest to Holloko Hungary

Holloko is not the easiest place to reach, and it is in fact best to travel here by car. It’s around an hour twenty minutes driving from the city of Budapest, but if buses are your thing, then it can take well over two hours and some bus changes. Not ideal. Check the bus service times here.

However if you do have your own wheels it’s a pleasant drive, rapeseed fields are quite common in the lower lands, and brilliantly illuminate the landscape of the during the springtime. Holloko is located deep in the natural environment of the Cserhat Mountains and soon the landscape turned rolling, and vistas looked across wooded lands. Holloko translates to raven stone, and when you finally see the carved wooden raven that lies on the towns edge, you know that it’s close.

Now comes the warning. As Holloko is the best place to celebrate and spend Easter in the country, then you can rest assured you aren’t the only one going there. On any given day over the holiday thousands of people descend on the destination. We were directed from here to one of many fields surrounding the town, that today would serve as car parks, and would approach on foot. Being Easter the celebrations also don’t come for free and entry costs 4000 HUF per person, which is around €11 or $12. Check ahead at the Holloko village website for the program.

Cottage decorations
Holloko Hungary
A villager lounging
Holloko - Easter in Hungary
Traditional cottage at Holloko

History of Holloko

Holloko village dates back to the 13th century, and it’s at this time first mention was made of its castle. The castle was built in response to the Mongol invasion. The village was captured by the Ottomans in the 16th century, and it was only at the end of the Ottoman era in 1683, did the present village spring up. The houses we see today were first built then, but their wooden nature meant that many had to rebuilt due to fires. The last major fires took place in the 20th century. The current population of the village is 387 people.

Holloko finds its way onto the heritage list as a living example of a rural village before the 20th century. It now contains 55 buildings which are all maintained as they were prior to the industrial revolution.

Traditional Dress of Hungary

But those streets and that history aren’t what brings Holloko to life. That accolade belongs to the townsfolk. What a glittering bunch they are. All play their part dressing up, from the animal-coat cloak-draped Gulyas (the cow herdsmen from which the popular dish goulash gets its name), to the regular folk of the town. The gents look great, waist coated and booted, but it’s very much the ladies that steal the thunder.

Their colourful and exuberant layered dresses contrast vividly against the black and white of the towns houses. These beautiful dresses actually consist of about seven layers to give them their lifted effect, and are said to cost in the region of around €1000. Suddenly you can see where your admission fee goes. Everyone throughout the whole village dresses up and takes part, making it just that little more special.

Gulyas cow herdsmen of Hungary
Gulyas or cow herdsmen
Villager at Holloko, Hungary
An elderly man dressed well
Traditional Village dress Easter in Hungary
This family seemed the stars of the village
Traditional Village Dresses for Easter in Hungary
Beautiful layered dresses for Easter in Hungary

Easter Festival at Holloko Hungary

The entry allows you access to all the activities and a full-time table of events spans the day. When we arrived mass was already underway at the St Michael’s Church in the towns heart. The church is tiny so the mass takes place outside. The mass is followed by a procession through the town, which was our first interaction with many of the colorfully clad country folk.

Following the mass at 1130, the crowds descend from all angles of the town and converge outside the church for what most have come to see, the tradition of sprinkling. See my section on that below.

Throughout the day there is much more entertainment, much of which takes place at the bandstand near the entrance to the town. Here dance and singing troupes will introduce the traditional dances such as czardas, as well as songs local to the area.

To experience this in a more personal setting the well near the end of the town is throughout the day the location of more song and dance. It’s also a good place to see the sprinkling in action.

Easter mass at Holloko
Easter mass at Holloko
Holloko Easter Procession
Holloko Easter Procession
Easter Procession Through Holloko
Holloko Musician
Entertainment can be found throughout the village

The Sprinkling at Holloko

Besides sounding like a horror movie title and looking not unlike a sadistic ritual, the sprinkling is anything but. It’s a time-honoured Hungarian Easter tradition. Finding its root in pagan times, the process of throwing a bucket of water over a young maiden was to ensure her fertility, the water ensuring she won’t wilt. With time the tradition has changed and cheap perfume is now sprinkled on the heads of maidens of all ages come Easter in Hungary. This is observed throughout every village in the country.

It is expected that the man in return will receive painted eggs, a cake, or a shot of palinka (a local fruit brandy, and strong stuff). Looks like the ladies come out worse come Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. However some still prefer the ancient ways, and it can be taken a little further by hiring the local fire service to show a man’s affections for a certain lady. Not a good time for a cat to get stuck up a tree.

But back to Holloko. Sprinkling is done with buckets and no one is too safe. It’s the highlight of the day and everyone descends on the church and well at the allotted time to see the action. It is important to be at the symbol below to get the best view. There are two of these in the village (at the church and the well), so scope them out when you arrive.

The Sprinkling- Easter in Hungary
Position yourself at this symbol for the best view

Top Tip- Go to the Well

It’s somewhat quieter at the well side, and we personally got lost in the crowd at the church and didn’t see much. We then moved ahead of the crowd to the well and here we got a perfect front row viewpoint. Personally I didn’t understand much, the guys chanted an Easter poem, the girls screamed and ran, and one unlucky one was caught. She was then held by each arm, by a guy on either side. This was the bit that was semi ritual and I felt I was in the world of the Wicker Man. She was then drenched by a few buckets of water. It’s all done in good spirits though, but beware, as once this is done, any girls around the village are fair game to get sprinkled and the same guys walk the streets looking for maidens.

The Sprinkling- Easter in Hungary
The Sprinkling- Easter in Hungary
The girl is soaked by several buckets much to the excitement of the crowd

Easter Entertainment at Holloko

Besides the sprinkling there is plenty of other entertainment around. The bandstand right at the entrance to the town is the spot to see those traditional Hungarian dances and song. The traditional dance is very unique, my favourite certainly being the tap dance performed by the men where not only the feet tap, but the hands are used to tap feet and knees, in a show of skill. We were even treated to a dance off.

The ladies have their own routines and one song was particularly entrancing. Performed at the well area it was one of the highlights of my visit.

Holloko Easter Entertainment
Holloko Stage Show
Traditional dance of Hungary
Traditional Hungarian Dresses
Traditional dance

There are innumerable activities going on through the day such as egg painting, pottery, learning whip skills with the gulyas, and many others. Egg painting has major significance in Hungary, the eggs being a symbol of eternal life and the red colours the boiled eggs are painted in are symbolic of the blood of Christ. Alas the number of children in the queues forced me to restrain myself from trying it.

The Easter Festival in Holloko

Things to do in Holloko

Easter somewhat curtails the ability to take part in the regular activities of the village, owing to the sheer crowds. But that is of course counteracted by all the extra seasonal fare.

Of course walking the village streets itself is a worthwhile sight. The queues to the heritage sites such as the village museum, doll museum, and the post museums were daunting all day, so we missed out. The old schoolhouse was only large enough to hold about eight students, and the classroom recreates one of the 19th century.

Nina, my daughters favourite place in Holloko was the playground attached to the toy store, Paloc Jatszahaz. All the toys were wooden including the hand wound carousel, and the games included ring toss, horseshoe toss, and a whole host of other non mechanical things. It was quite enchanting to see how kids played in bygone times, before multiplayer was invented.

For a more adult form of playing, check out the wine cellar, showcasing local products from the region.

Wine Cellar Holloko
The perfect escape from the crowds

St Martin Catholic Church

St Martin’s Church is the lower towns biggest landmark. And yet it’s tiny. It’s black steeple and roof set well against the white stone walls, but stepping inside makes you realise that there is hardly space for twenty people. I guess this is why they hold the mass outside. There is a rather intriguing crucifix at the churches entrance though. The church was built in 1889.

St Martins Catholic Church Holloko
The Church
St Martins Catholic Church Holloko
The unusual crucifix

Holloko Castle

In the hills above Holloko the castle ruins are the perfect excursion from the village. It’s a steep hike up if not a long one, with the steps near the town well taking you up in fifteen minutes. The castle again was the centre of much spectacle, this time more medieval in tone. The archery and the sword fighting was to be expected, but the huge guy making arrowheads the traditional way with fire, thongs, and a big hammer was fascinating. The guy as well wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in a blacksmiths around 500 years ago, or a Game of Thrones set.

Holloko Castle at Easter
The Castle from the top of the hill

The castle itself is semi-intact, and is accessed by stairs to get past the outer walls. The good thing about this is of course the views of the surrounding countryside which get ever better as you climb higher into the castle. The castle can be visited without seeing the village for 900 HUF, but why would you want to do that. If you do visit during Easter expect huge crowds again at the castle, where the stairs have constant queues up and down, and the central tower took twenty minutes to access. The best thing throughout is the views of the wooded countryside and the village below.

Holloko Village from holloko Castle
View down to the village
Holloko Castle Views
….and across the woodlands
Holloko Castle Tower
Be ready for a queue to see inside the remains of the tower

Holloko Castle Exhibits

The castle interior does have some worthwhile exhibits such as the weapon room, the chapel and displays on old furniture. One of the biggest queues I found (and joined out of curiosity) turned out to be to one to look down the garderobe. Look out down below! The best room in the castle featured waxwork figures of 13th century inhabitants of the castle, all dressed in attire from the period.

Holloko Castle Waxworks
The wax exhibit

Dining in Holloko

With all that exertion up and down hills and through the village, you are bound to build up a hunger.

Holloko doesn’t have too many restaurants but Miksrath and Muskati Vendeglo are very highly rated. However with thousands of other hungry people storming about the place, you will be doing well to get a seat. But fear not as other options galore come with the Easter festival. Stalls are open throughout selling much fare and especially baked goods. Street food is often my favourite anyway, so I was probably happier. Hot dogs (not too local I know) were great alongside the local flat bread called Langallo, served fresh from a clay oven.

Langallo- so tasty

Those with a sweet tooth (yes me) are well served too by the bakery, with Retes, a Hungarian variant on strudel, stuffed with jam or cottage cheese and Csoroge, long deep-fried parcels of dough, guaranteeing you will give up on that diet for the day. Not that I would ever diet on holidays though.

Conclusion on Holloko Hungary for Easter

Holloko is the ideal place to spend Easter in Hungary, with local traditions and food being a big draw. It’s a beautiful village set high in the Hungarian mountains, and an ideal day trip from Budapest.

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Where Else to Visit in Hungary

Easter In Hungary
Holloko Hungary at Easter
Holloko Hungary at Easter

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