THE COGNAC EMBASSY IN KOSICE.
In a suburb of Kosice, Slovakia’s second city, in a block of flats like so many others and without even a sign to identify it, there nestles the Cognac Embassy. What, you may ask: a Cognac Embassy – French Cognac of course – in Slovakia? Well, yes.
But more surprises were in store for the visitors.
In the first room of the reception area bottles of cognac stood on shelves from floor to ceiling, as if they were en parade, without a trace of dust. In the middle of the room stood a low table adorned with cognac glasses of all sizes, each of them containing a smidgen of the precious brew.
The owner of the establishment, Sadko Mytnik, with his cap on his head, greeted the visitors and explained to them in great detail the whys and wherefores of this exceptional and timeless Embassy. To greet his guests, he invited them to raise a glass each, then he went round clinking his glass with theirs in turn, thus playing a real glass concert from which one could have written a musical score!
He lead them through the various rooms which were just as laden with venerable bottles as the first, some of which dated from the end of the 19th century and stand alone as pages of French history. And there were other bottles of inestimable value which ought to have been kept in a strong-room.
And finally, in the saloon decorated in the style of an English gentleman’s club, the moment had come for the tasting. It was an emotional moment, when comments are uttered as murmurs, and when everyone listens religiously to the information distilled with passion by the Ambassador. Moreover, the Ambassador wants to create a Cognac encyclopaedia, and showed us same sample pages. It is midday, the visit is ending. We are out in the open air again. Did we dream?
THE PREŠOV WINE MUSEUM
Slovakia, like its neighbours Austria and especially Hungary, produces excellent wines, including the famous Tokay. In Prešov there is a museum devoted to wine – it is almost hidden at the entrance to one of the many alleyways which run between the main street and the parallel street.
Dusan Hazir, an engineer, guided the group through the 500 year-old cellars of the museum, located beneath Prešov city hall. Here are exhibited, on two levels, the bottles of wine dating from the most recent years and back to the venerable vintages. Dusan Hazir, passionate about wine and a well-informed connoisseur of a great range of Slovak vineyards, has become an unconditional champion of the various grape varieties which have been cultivated since Roman times. And, something of which the visitors were unaware, Slovakia produces aTokay identical with the Hungarian one, although it bears a slightly different name. This grape variety has a separate section all to itself, and for a good reason: the three varieties from which it is blended are planted exclusively on 907 hectares close to the Hungarian border. In addition to Slovakian wines, the museum also exhibits wines from all over Europe, but also those from other continents. The visit ended in a beautiful tasting room where our host asked the visitors to taste two interesting vintages while providing appropriate commentaries.
EXCURSION FOR ALL
The day for the excursion for all participants was December 11th, when we headed for Nestville Park followed by a typical local meal at the Salas u Franka restaurant, and finished with a visit of the Stara Lubovna Castle.
NESTVILLE PARK AND ITS DISTILLERY
Around 70 kms from Prešov lies Nestville Park, partly an eco-museum but above all Europe’s largest distillery, according to the official guide assigned to us. First came the guided tour of the various buildings showing the old methods of distillation, then we moved into the modern part of the distillery with its enormous storage tanks and the inevitable shop; and finally the visit ended yet again in the tasting room with a sample of a three-year-old Slovak Whiskey, produced by the distillery; though most of the plant’s production of pure alcohol is sold throughout Slovakia and elsewhere.
SALAS U FRANKA RESTAURANT
The ‘Salas u Franka’ restaurant had been chosen for the lunch break for all participants. An extra treat was being greeted by our host in local costume, and the staff were as pleasant as they were efficient. We partook of an excellent traditional menu in a relaxed atmosphere. We should mention that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom had lunched here on October 24th 2008. When the meal was over, it was time for our visit to the nearby castle.
STARA LUBOVNA CASTLE
Apparently it had snowed the previous day, to the great joy of the team from the Azores who had never seen snow close-up. This imposing fortress, built around the 13th and 14th centuries, towers over the whole region and was intended to control access to the roads leading to Poland. The guide, wearing local costume, explained the history of the castle before leading the group into a maze of courtyards and a multiplicity of staircases to visit the different parts of the fortress. Some fearless visitors even climbed up into the tower, around a hundred steps higher up. But night was beginning to fall and the return to the bus, along the road which was more or less covered with snow, was for certain participants an opportunity for sports activities, including sliding along on the ice. In summary, the excursion was a very enjoyable voyage of discovery for all the participants.