Have you ever tried onion marmalade? I hadn’t until I was served it at my recent visit of the Viglas (pronounced as Veeglush) Castle. It came with a venison paté – a house recipe invented by the castle chef Vladimir.
I knew I had to see the place for myself. After all the rumours I’d heard of its resurrection, I had to walk around the courtyard and feel the heartbeat of the walls. Yet my curiosity wasn’t just that of a regular tourist. I had known the ruins of the old Viglas Castle very well. I was born in a nearby town of Detva, and would pass the battered castle every day on my way to school. No matter how poorly it looked back then, it was part of my childhood and lodged in my mind as a dear memory. Now I wanted to know what they have made of the place.
Of course, the Internet can bring you almost everywhere in the world these days. And although pictures are often more powerful than words (and those on the new castle’s website do have a lot of atmosphere), sometimes even this is not enough.
I made the initial contact with the marketing department via e-mail. Could I possibly see the castle and take a few pictures of a meal from their restaurant menu? The reply came shortly afterwards – and it was positive. Good start, I thought, but wasn’t overly optimistic. People sometimes promise things one day, only to play ignorant the next one. Anyway, I had the marketing lady’s mobile now, and remembered myself to her the day before my arrival. Could she give me a few hints on how to get to the site? I wouldn’t be driving. The young voice on the other end gave detailed advice on bus services, and asked about the meal they could prepare. Er … anything local, perhaps? – I didn’t expect such a helpful approach. They’re about to make a few additions to the menu – the voice went on – game dishes that use local hunters’ catch. I was more than expectant by now.
And here I am in the middle of the sun-lit courtyard looking around in disbelief. The glory of times long-forgotten unfolds right before my eyes. The crumbling walls are pulled up and restored to clean, elegant beauty. Some of their original features have been left intact and brought to greater attention. Everything’s done with immaculate care and respect for history. I’m not an expert in the field, but I understand this is a work of finest artistry.
My first point of contact – the young lady from the marketing – comes to meet me and introduces herself as Monika. She makes a few arrangements with the head of the kitchen, and takes me on a private tour of the castle. I listen to her amiable voice and follow her explanations as she guides me through the museum. It’s filled with historical artifacts and paintings of kings who built the medieval castle and made it their home or a place of amusement. There used to be royal hunting grounds in the surrounding area, and a pond full of fish just below the castle.
We enter a large congress hall where preparations are well under way for a wedding. The castle has its own chapel, which was rebuilt on the site of the original one. I can’t stop marvelling at the extent of repair, and my guide informs me it only took four years to complete. We continue walking into the residential wing, where the paintings are of present day people – the nobles from all over the world who have already paid a visit to the castle. They’re all members of a knighthood, Monika tells me. That partly explains why this foreign investor had had such a strong interest in reviving the place that was once in possession of King Karol Robert of Anjou – the founder of the first secular knighthood in Europe.
While I’m trying to absorb all these new bits of information, Monika takes me to the upper floor, where hotel rooms are located. Here, as everywhere on the castle’s premises, I feel the sensitive touch of a historian, a restorer, an artist or whoever planned and overlooked the reconstruction. Despite having all the modern amenities and comfort of a 4-star hotel, the rooms breathe a delicate period atmosphere, not to mention the wonderful views they provide of the rustic landscape below.
On our way back Monika makes a little detour to show me another courtyard and a secluded terrace, both of which are accessible to hotel guests only. We also pass a huge dining room, where the guests are being served lunch. The room is designed in the grand style of the Anjou Royal Family.
As we sit back in a cafe on the first courtyard sipping our drinks and waiting for my venison pate to come, I ask Monika if she knows any legends associated with the Viglas Castle. I’m writing one, she says, and it’s based on a story I’ve heard of King Matthias Corvinus. He would often come to hunt in the royal woods and is supposed to have shot down the last surviving buffalo. I tell her about a book I’m writing of Slovak cuisine, and ask her where she gets the inspiration for her stories. Inside the castle, she replies. You dream big when you lie under a canopy of your four-poster bed, she smiles. Monika had quitted her job in a hotel in Switzerland to start working at the Viglas Castle a few months ago. I can’t imagine going back to a standard hotel, she admits, this is so much different. I can’t agree more.
When my paté finally arrives, I thank my young guide for her time. Monika is my daughter’s name as well, I say, and kiss her goodbye. I rarely get to see my daughter these days, and will surely want to show her the place.
I’ll be posting the recipe for The Grand Viglas Paté in a couple of days. Meanwhile, you can find out more about the castle and events they organize for public and their hotel guests at