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RAČA AND MODRA PREPARE ANNUAL 'VINOBRANIE' CELEBRATION

Wine belt awakens to stage Dionysian festival

In the Carpathian foothills, stretching northeast from Bratislava, September stands for more than a dreary return to work and school. All along the famous Carpathian wine trail, from Bratislava's Vinohrady district to Smolenice 50 kilometres away, sleepy villages awake for Vinobranie, the annual grape harvest festival.
Viticulture has a long and hallowed tradition in Slovakia, beginning under the Celts and Romans and peaking in the 16th century. This year's Vinobranie celebration marks the 40th anniversary of the event. The two largest local bashes, held in the Bratislava suburb of Rača and the town of Modra, are planned for successive weekends, beginning on September 12 in Rača. Each festival serves up barrels of traditional music, dancing, food and, of course, wine.


Those were the days. The vinobranie celebration has a 40 year tradition in Modra.
Courtesy of vinobranie

In the Carpathian foothills, stretching northeast from Bratislava, September stands for more than a dreary return to work and school. All along the famous Carpathian wine trail, from Bratislava's Vinohrady district to Smolenice 50 kilometres away, sleepy villages awake for Vinobranie, the annual grape harvest festival.

Viticulture has a long and hallowed tradition in Slovakia, beginning under the Celts and Romans and peaking in the 16th century. This year's Vinobranie celebration marks the 40th anniversary of the event. The two largest local bashes, held in the Bratislava suburb of Rača and the town of Modra, are planned for successive weekends, beginning on September 12 in Rača. Each festival serves up barrels of traditional music, dancing, food and, of course, wine.

The two day celebration in Rača officially kicks off at 11:00 in front of the Kultúrne Stredisko Račan (Rača Culture Center) on Detvianska ulica. The festival promises to be in full swing by then, however, as the Cajlane Brass Ensemble is scheduled to take the stage at 9:00, and will doubtless attract its share ofearly-morning revellers.

Rača's main street and central square will be blocked off and lined with booths selling wine, burčiak (unfermented grape juice - see box, this page), food, crafts and souvenirs. The traditional way to clear the taste buds between drink samples is with lokše, which resemble a buttered soft tortilla.

Sunday's schedule offers more of the same, with children's programs at the amphitheater from 12:30 to 21:00, and music and entertainment at the cultural center until 20:00.

Those with a hankering for Sunday morning sports can catch the Mayor's Cup Football Tournament at Černockého, the BMX competition at Hečkova, or mini-football at ZŠ Tbiliská. All of these spectacles begin at 10:00 a.m.

Visitors thirsting for knowledge about Rača wine making history can check out two exhibitions running from 12:00 to 18:00 each day. The first exhibition, "Ovocie a zelenina," at Klub KDH on Knižková dolina ulica, focuses on the cultivation of grapes and various other fruits and vegetables. The "Račianska izba" exhibition at Obecný dom Alstrova focuses on local wine making history and culture, featuring traditional tools and folk costumes.

To get away from the crowd and clear your head, follow the blue or green trail up the hillside. Along the way you'll see orchards yielding some of the wine and burčiak you've been drinking.

To get to Rača from downtown Bratislava, take tram number 3, 5 or 11 about 15 minutes out of the city center and get off at the Detvianska ulica stop. Follow the crowd across the tram rails to your left.

Modra

If Rača can't quench your thirst, or if you prefer a more rural setting, head out to Modra, "the Pearl of the Little Carpathians." This little jewel of a town was the last home and final resting place of Ľudovít Štúr, the codifier of the Slovak language who died here in 1855 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Streets and squares across the country bear his name, but nowhere is he more ubiquitous than here. His whitewashed monument on Štúrová ulica, the main street, and the Štúr Museum are prime examples.

This year's celebration will commemorate the 840th anniversary of the first written reference to Modra and the 40th combined Modra-Pezinok Vinobranie celebration - the site alternates each year between Modra and Pezinok, its southern neighbor. Modra is also welcoming visitors from its Belgian sister city, Overijse, the Belgian wine center near Brussels.

With so much to celebrate, this year's festival promises to be a classic. The center of town will be closed to traffic and lined with booths from Friday afternoon through Sunday evening. But the action picks up well before then, beginning Thursday, September 17 at 15:00, with the opening of the first of five exhibitions in Priestor Hornej Brány, the space above the only remaining gate in the town's medieval fortifications.

This exhibition will feature traditional Slovak ceramics, one of Modra's other claims to fame. These colorful hand-painted gems, in many forms including jugs, plates, candle holders and cups, grace numerous Slovak kitchens and souvenir shops. You'll have plenty of opportunities to purchase your own throughout the festival, at streetside booths.

Other exhibitions opening on Thursday afternoon include one on historical Slovak cities at the Kultúrny dom Ľudovíta Štúra at 16:00; an exhibition of historical documents at the Ľudovít Štúr Museum at 16:30; a crafts exhibition, entitled "By my eyes, by my hands", on Štúrová ulica at 17:00; and finally, at 18:00, a hunting trophies exhibit at Klub dôchodcov (the retired folks' club).

The official opening ceremony kicks off at 17:00 on Friday, September 18, followed by country and folk music and dance throughout the evening and the rest of the weekend. One advantage of the Modra festival is the opportunity to taste the latest award winning wines from the winetasting competition held before the festival (the Rača wine competition is held in May). Arrive early on Saturday to taste the best wines, and then head straight for the Stredná Poľnohospodárska Technická Škola-Vinárska (Secondary Agricultural School of Viticulture) near the Evangelical Church. There you can buy a program listing the winners, a small wine-tasting glass and drinks coupons.

Hourly buses to Modra leave Bratislava's main station on the half hour. It takes nearly an hour to get there. If you have a car and a designated driver (remember, Slovak law does not tolerate any alcohol in the blood) you can take road number 502 out of Rača and follow the signs to Modra.

Modra and Rača are eager to welcome foreign visitors who want to struggle with life's more important decisions, as expressed in this Slovak saying: "Taste says another glass, reason says no. The smarter one gives in, so I'll have another go."

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