Known as Čachtická pani (Čachtice Lady) to Slovaks, Alžbeta Báthory was a powerful 16th-century Hungarian noblewoman (1560 – 1614) who owned a large swath of land in the Csejte region of Upper Hungary (now Čachtice in Slovakia).
Though never tried for her crimes, Alžbeta Báthory (referred to as Elizabeth Báthory in English) is said to have tortured and killed dozens of young girls, the majority of them being the family’s servants. Over 300 testimonies were made against the countess at the time, but their credibility has been questioned by modern-day scholars. Some even suggest that Elizabeth Báthory was a victim of a politically motivated conspiracy after her influential husband Count Ferenc Nádasdy died in 1604.
What we know for certain though is that the countess spent the last four years of her life under house arrest inside Čachtice Castle. Only crumbled walls remain now of this once lofty residence – just one of the many that the family owned in their time.
After the castle walls underwent a masonry check and subsequent repairs between 2012 – 2014, visitors can roam the site again. Most of them come to explore the place where the Blood Countess was supposed to perform her atrocities, unaware that there are other, more savoury attractions the village of Čachtice has to offer.
Very few tourists from outside of Slovakia have heard about Čachtická pekáreň (Čachtice bakery), a family-run business that has been in operation since 1992. Bread from Čachtice had already earned a reputation for its unmistakable taste, but the small bakery had to be fully modernized before their product range could extend to include sweet and savoury pastries, dietary breads, yeast-leavened dumplings and cakes.
Although most of the hard, monotonous work is done by the new technology today, the family still use classic, time-proven recipes that require handwork at some stages, like dough rolling, kneading and shaping bread loaves, or weaving the strands of plaited breads. They also make their own sourdough starter.
The staff of 47 work on shifts, each team having 6 bakers. They are a bunch of hard-working, committed people who ‘bake with love’, as the sign on their T-shirts says.
Čachtická pekáreň distribute their breads and pastries to more than 60 stores in the large area including the towns of Piešťany, Trenčín, Nové Mesto nad Váhom. They have a company shop located next to the entrance of the bakery, a tastefully refurbished old building right on the main square.
The shop is open Monday – Friday, 5:30am – 5:30pm, and Saturday, 6:00am – 11:00am.
The rolling hills around Čachtice village are planted with wine grapes of white and dark-skinned cultivars. The origins of Čachtice’s viticulture go back to the arrival of the Romans in the area about two thousand years ago. Winemaking flourished under the reign of the Nádasdy family, particularly at the hands of Alžbeta Báthory, who managed the family estates in the absence of her husband. He was a fierce warrior fighting the Ottomans in the 15-year-long war.
The red wine from Čachtice was well-known at the court of Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna. According to historical records, she ordered 80 barrels of Pinot Noir from Čachtice for her daughter’s wedding.
Modern wines produced by today’s winemakers age in the ancient cellars of the Nádasdy family. Some are branded with the name of the Blood Countess, like Dunaj Bátoryčkina krv (Dunaj Báthory’s Blood), Elizabeth, or Black Elizabeth. Others, like Pinot Theresian, pay respect to the Austrian Empress. All bottles of Čachtice wines are labelled with Báthory’s coat of arms depicting three dragon teeth.
The wine cellars are open to the public Monday – Friday, 7am – 3:30pm. Wine tastings can be booked for groups of at least 10 people. A tasting session lasts 1½ hour and costs 18 Euros per person. It includes 8 wine brands from the Čachtice region, cold buffet, mineral water and a tour of the winery.