Exploring the Zemplen Mountains in Northeastern Hungary / by Seth Coleman

My great-grandfather was born in a Hungarian village called Hejce, nestled in the foothills of the Zemplen mountains. With a population of 163, it's a quiet place to spend a few days, especially during the all-saints holiday, when I went to hike in the surrounding mountains.

The fall leaves were at their peak, and the views stunning. With my trusty trail map I went out each day with what little food I'd brought or managed to buy in the village. Everything in the village was shuttered, except for the 'kocsma' or bar, which apparently never really closes. There I could procure a few basic staples from the adjoining shop, or refuel on beer, snacks and palinka, Hungary's potent clear liquor, after my all-day hikes.

The local 'kocsma', or pub.

The local 'kocsma', or pub.

One popular destination near the village is a monument to those who died in the 2006 crash of a Slovak military plane returning from Kosovo. It crashed into the hills above Hejce, and can be reached in about an hour from the village.

Memorial to the 2006 Slovak military plane crash.

Memorial to the 2006 Slovak military plane crash.

A fantastic limestone climbing rock near Hejce.

A fantastic limestone climbing rock near Hejce.

Numerous trails weave their way through the mountains, the most notable being the National Blue Trail (Országos Kéktúra), which crosses the entire northern part of the country east to west, connecting the low mountains which dot northern Hungary. Another interesting trail which passes near to Hejce is the Saint Elizabeth Pilgrimage trail (Szent Erzsébet Zarándokút), which connects Sarospatak to the city of Kosice (Kassa) across the border in Slovakia.

The National Blue Trail is well marked, but some of the smaller trails less so.

The National Blue Trail is well marked, but some of the smaller trails less so.

Hungary is well developed for hiking, with hiker's huts placed along the trail at various points. In the summer, I imagine they're frequently used, but not many were overnighting in the woods at this chilly time of year. I did meet one solo Hungarian girl who said she was sleeping in a tent, which was quite surprising. I was grateful to have a place to sleep back in the village with a toasty wood stove.

A typical hiker's hut, which line the long-distance trails.

A typical hiker's hut, which line the long-distance trails.

Back in town, All Saint's Eve, or Halloween was in full gear, with action centered around the cemetery. On this night, flowers and candles are brought to the grave sites of deceased relatives to be remembered. It's an eerie feast of lights in the dusk of the long autumn evening.

The Hejce cemetery on Halloween.

The Hejce cemetery on Halloween.

My great-grandfather was born here in 1875, but died in the US, so I wouldn't be finding his final resting place here. There were however, plenty of relatives, including one with the exact same name, János Lengyel (Lengyel János in the Hungarian last-name-first system).

It's a great place to spend a few days and I look forward to coming back in the summer and trying out those hiker huts.

More photos of Hejce and the Zemplen mountains.