There is no need to convince anyone fascinated by the middle ages to visit Boldogkőváralja. The most beautiful castle of Zemplén Mountains is considered to be an ace of its kind. Every weekend from spring to autumn the chivalric era comes to life here; children can enjoy the largest toy soldier collection of Central Europe, photography enthusiasts can bask in the marvelous view from Oroszlánszikla. Those interested in medieval food can try it at the restaurant; those drawn to hiking will have their expectations met.
Boldókő Hill rises above the village Boldogkőváralja. Atop the hill stands the castle with its irregular layout. The castle itself has seen a multitude of owners; however, it is still one of the most perfectly preserved fortifications of Hungary. The area surrounding it has been part of the Zemplén Nature Reserve since 1984. The Blue Trail passes by also.
The origins of the castle are shrouded in the mist of time, but the general belief is that it was built by either the Tomaj or Aba family. The legend has it that fruit drier man named Bodó built it. King Béla IV was fleeing from the Mongols and he found asylum in the cellar of Bodó. When the Mongols came looking for the king Bodó pretended to be deaf and deceived them. In return, the king bestowed the villages Aszaló and Bodolló upon Bodó on condition that he would build a castle. Luckily, Bodó had seven beautiful daughters, who decided they would only marry those who worked on the construction for at least a year. The castle was finished seven years later and was named as Bodókő. According to the legend, all seven weddings were held there at the same time, with the king attending as guest of honor. The king declared: ‘Be this place called Boldogkő (meaning Joyous Rock/Gladstone) henceforth, as seven beautiful women, the seven fairies were the happiest here.’
It would be difficult to list all the proprietors of the castle, even with the help of the archives. What is probable is that the Drugeth family, who received ownership from Károly I of Hungary in 1312, built the wing of the castle attached to the keep. The castle was further extended in the 15th century by adding an irregular four-sided tower on the southern side, a horseshoe shaped gate tower and an outer barbican on the eastern side.
One of the most interesting part in the history of the castle might be time when it belonged the Bebek family, thought to have been the most infamous of all. In 1542, Ferenc Patóchy acquired the castle, whose daughter Zsófia married György Bebek. Bebek knew no fear, loved gigantic feasts, and was famous for his high alcohol tolerance. Although he was considered to be a great soldier, his loyalty towards his ruler was questionable. His main interest lay in keeping his power – he never shied away from cruelty and crime to maintain his rule. He is believed to have been actively committing forgery behind the walls of the castle. After a short period, he traded the castle with Mihály Sárközy in 1560.
In the upcoming years, poet Bálint Balassy spent a lot of time in the castle. He wrote one of his popular poems ‘Borivóknak való’ (lit: For wine drinkers) here. The castle served as a muse for others as well: Dezső Szabó wrote a tale, Jenő Vécsey a symphonic poem about the fort.
After changing hands several times, Leopold I ordered it demolished at the start of the 1700s, making it uninhabitable. During its renovation, the castle received some neo-Gothic design, which makes pinpointing the original structure difficult.
The castle belonged to the Zichy family from 1890 to 1945, until its nationalization. Archeological excavations and renovations started in 1963, creating a hotel in the keep. It remained in that status until the early 1990s, when it became home to one of the largest exhibitions of military history and tin soldiers of Central Europe. The sand table shows the battle of Muhi in extreme detail with more than a thousand tin soldiers.
The castle has been through two phases of reconstruction since then. In 2002, two towers received a canopy, the cellar was connected to the wine house, and a 100-meter long wall walk was built to the rock of Oroszlánszikla, one of the most characteristic parts of the castle.
In 2013, the keep received a roof and a great hall was created inside. The treadmill was renovated; anybody can have a go at it. An overlook and several historical exhibitions were created, for example on mineralogy, heraldry, vexillology and a smithy was built with a mint also. One hall contains items related to military history. Naturally, one can find the prison and torture chamber here as well.
The most fascinating event of course is the tournament held at the first weekend of August. Every weekend from Easter to Oktober, a multitude of programs awaits visitors: the historical reenactment group, Kóborlovagok Team (knight-errants) entertains spectators with duels, weapon shows, guided tours in medieval clothing. In the Castrum Boldua restaurant, the weary traveler can taste food made according to medieval recipes.