Our Travels: Sopron, Hungary

It’s no secret that the last year hasn’t been especially kind to the tourism industry. Covid continues to disrupt travel plans for people everywhere by grounding flights, emptying hotels and shuttering attractions. Naturally, it’s been a tricky time for the writers and editors at World Words, who not only need to travel for their work but also love to do so for pleasure – as regular readers of our Our Travels blog series will know. (Not a regular? Dive into our archive).

However, some of us have managed to explore a little in the last year – and that includes our editor-in-chief Joe. Back in August and September, he spent six weeks travelling throughout neighbouring Austria and Hungary for two different guidebook commissions. And there was one stop along the way he loved so much, he decided to feature it in both guidebooks. Scroll down to read about Joe’s experience in the beautiful border city of Sopron…

A sweeping view of Sopron’s Pauline-Carmelite Monastery, now a one-of-a-kind hotel and restaurant.

Why I went to Sopron
Last summer, I was commissioned to work on updating two Fodor’s Travel guidebooks: ‘Vienna and the Best of Austria’ and ‘Budapest and Highlights of Hungary’. I’d be writing about day trips from both Vienna and Budapest, and with Sopron located close to the Austria-Hungary border (en route between the two capitals), it was a prime candidate for inclusion in both. So after six jam-packed weeks of exploring, I ended my research trip in Sopron.

My highlight of the trip
It didn’t take me long to fall in love with the city – and a big part of the initial attraction was my accommodation. I was lucky enough to stay in the Pauline-Carmelite Monastery of Sopronbanfalva, a converted 12th-century priory on the outskirts on the city, and it was unlike anywhere I’d stayed before. Guests are accommodated in the simple but comfortable monk’s cells and can wander freely throughout the complex, from the magnificent abbey church to the curated monastic gardens – there’s even a free audio-guide available in several languages. Best of all is the renowned refectory restaurant, a elegant fresco-filled dining room that serves some of Sopron’s finest food.

What else I love about Sopron
As lovely as the hotel is, I was keen to leave and explore Sopron as soon as possible. Like the vast majority of its visitors, I headed straight for Belváros (Inner Town), a compact quarter enclosed within city walls partly built by the Romans and partly by the Magyars. It’s almost impossibly picturesque. I spent a whole day pounding its medieval cobbled streets and admiring its magnificent mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture, with highlights including the 13th-century fire watchtower and the eye-catchingly grand Goat Church (so called as it was allegedly built with funds from treasure discovered by a goatherd). Then, on my second day, I ventured outside the walls to explore some of Sopron’s other delights, from historic chapels to hip cafes, chocolate factories to lush vineyards.

Fö tér (Main square) is the centre of Sopron’s medieval Inner Town – and home to the Goat Church.

Why you should go
Sopron makes a perfect day trip from Vienna or Budapest – or a perfect stop between the two. There are enough city attractions to fill a day (or a lazy weekend) and many more within easy reach of the city, including Eszterházy Palace (known as the Hungarian Versailles), the Széchenyi Mansion (the historic mansion of probably Hungary’s most famous family) and Lake Neusiedl (a vast body of water that’s just shallow and warm enough for paddling).

How you can visit
While visiting during a global pandemic proved a little tricky – my trip required special Covid travel dispensation and a lot of help from the excellent Magyar Turisztikai Ügynökség (Hungary Tourism Agency) – Sopron is usually far easier to get to. You can fly into the international airports at Vienna or Budapest and then hop on a train direct to Sopron (it’s about 1 hour 30 minutes from Vienna and 2 hours 30 minutes from Budapest). Once you’re in town, everything is walkable. And there are plenty of accommodation options… though only one in a former monastery.

Looking for more travel content on Hungary? Then take a look at our project page. You’ll find general Europe content here. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for all the latest industry news and other travel titbits.

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