I have got to know a lady in Hungary who, like me is half Hungarian, but unlike me, is the great, great, great grand daughter of Charles Dickens, on her British side. She is a global ambassador for the Dickens family, and has also set up a home and business in Hungary called Catherine’s Vineyard Cottages
The fact that a descendant of Charles Dickens is the owner of a boutique holiday destination in a beautiful part of rural Hungary AND that she has a Scottish connection felt like a truly wonderful realisation and with my friend Emilia, I was determined to seek her out.
She has an amazing family history: her mother, Jeanne Maria, had fled Hungary in 1944 when she was only 8 years old. By the time of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, she was 20, orphaned, still stateless and looking for refuge. A family friend informed Jeanne Maria, of a childless elderly Scottish couple by the names of Mr And Mrs Theodore Haughton-Williamston, near Inch, Aberdeen, who had an ’open door’ for students from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, who would join them for Christmas and Easter as it was too far for them to return home.
They took Jeanne Maria in and as she was in the UK on a refugee status, with her time due to expire, the Haughtons soon decided to adopt their young Hungarian guest just 6 months before her 21st birthday, after which it would have not been possible. On being presented, finally, with her new British Passport, from the Aberdeen passport official, she thanked him profusely, saying, ’Oh I am so happy to be English’ to which he looked horrified and replied ’You’re not English, you’re Scottish’ and she found herself a Hungarian Highlander who is entitled to wear Mackay tartan.
The next stage of Jeanne Maria’s adventurous life was to meet and marry her husband, Catherine’s father, a descendent of Charles Dickens, and to bring up their family in Yorkshire. She enjoyed the occasional visit to Hungary with her daughters for riding holidays and finally returned as a widow, to the village she was bought up in, at the age of 64, in the year 2000.
Catherine decided to join her in 2002 and moved to Budapest planning to embark on a property development. One thing led to another and Catherine quickly met her late husband, Christopher Gore. Together they enjoyed every second of their adventurous time together in beautiful Hungary.
‘I had trained in hospitality and had worked in the Caribbean and was keen to set up some sort of hotel business’ Catherine explains. ‘We came across a little known village called Csakbereny, a hidden gem, an hour from Budapest. There are uninterrupted views, large skies, stars at night, all tightly nestled in a curve of Hills and surrounded by extensive ancient woodlands.
‘We were just looking for a weekend getaway from the city at the time’ Catherine shares. ‘We found out about Csakbereny from a Hungarian aristocrat whose family stately home is 20km away. He arranged an annual weekend wine festival on the Csakbereny hillside and locals would hire out their wine cottages for visitors.’
An American friend, Jennifer Webster, visiting for just such a weekend, loved her cottage so much that by the Sunday afternoon she had bought it. ‘That was our inspiration’ Catherine laughs. ‘We realised that these beautiful wooden cottages in the heart of this abundant wine region would make a wonderful holiday destination, so we also went on to buy one in 2004 and soon after, Catherine’s Vineyard Cottages was born’. Jennifer later sold her cottage to a couple called Christine and Paul Kennedy and eventually they sold it to us and it is now the ‘Kennedy Cottage’ in the Catherine’s Vineyard Cottage collection.
There are nine in total now, enjoying a lovely swimming pool and surrounded by beautiful gardens, one of the cottages has an exclusive swimming pool attached. The grounds are tumbling with wisteria, fragrant lavender and shrubs bursting with colour. The views are stunning from the vine-covered hillside, known locally as ‘Poor man’s Provence’, it is part of the Mòr wine region, delicious white and rose wines are produced here and a huge wine festival is held every year in Mòr.
‘I love our village, it is so safe, you hardly need lock your door. When British visitors finally make it out of Budapest they’re surprised at this stunning countryside and all it has to offer and they return over and over again and it has become home for me and my daughter over the past 15 years’ Catherine shares. Fun activities available locally include walking, riding, cycling, wine tasting, pottery and cookery classes. All the more enjoyable in Hungary’s gorgeous climate.
The décor in the cottages is inspired by Caribbean style, harking back to Catherine’s hotel training out there. She has chosen fruity, tropical colours and combined them in with rustic Hungarian furniture, fashionable, raw local linens and stunning folk embroidery. Each cottage has been beautifully renovated by Catherine and enjoys a very well-equipped kitchen and a luxurious bathroom.
Life never runs smoothly it would seem and tragically, Christopher died of cancer in 2015. Catherine has recently met and married her new partner, Graham, who also has a background in hospitality and together they are delighted to report that the business is going from strength to strength. ‘We are continually improving our level of service and trying to make our offerings more and more varied and imaginative.’
You can expect a very warm welcome!
Doug and I visited with Emilia and her husband Feri, in March 2020, just before the pandemic broke out. Catherine had to put her cottages to bed for a while, but they are back out now and waiting for visitors and we cannot wait to return.
Prices start from 59,000 Hungarians Forint per night for a cottage for 1-2 people.
(Approximately £135 depending on the exchange rate)
Hungary is a fun and affordable destination. Combining a stay in the vibrant city of Budapest, with its world famous spas, celebrated cafes and excellent restaurants, with the pretty and tranquil Catherine’s Vineyard Cottages you will find yourself experiencing a fascinating, unique and nourishing holiday that you will really enjoy.