Mihaly Liszkay likes to go by his English name Michael. It makes sense, as he has spent most of his life abroad. Liszkay left Hungary as a teenage refugee without his parents in 1956, and 50 years would pass before he returned to his homeland.

Having spent most of the time in between in the Netherlands and Canada, he clearly still struggles to adjust to the Hungarian way of doing things. As we order cappuccinos, he tells me wryly: “The waiters stay asleep while they are walking. This is Hungary.”

In the years since he has been back, he has thrown his energy into building and running one of the most impressive wine estates in the country. The Liszkay Borkuria is not far from the northern shore of Lake Balaton, and the estate state boasts nine suites furnished in a tasteful vintage style, a pool, sauna and 350-year-old wine cellar.

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Surrounded on all sides by rolling vineyards and the remnants of volcanic mountains, the building gives way to a stunning vista of the Káli Basin. The estate often hosts weddings of up to 150 people, and even international celebrities have chosen the estate for their wedding parties. Decades ago Liszkay was a pianist in different countries, on cruise ships, and later on in his own restaurants. On request, he joins in with festivities by playing the piano.

A self-described entrepreneur who has dabbled in various businesses over 40 years, Liszkay has led a colourful life. “I ended up in the Netherlands as a refugee and received a Dutch government scholarship to enrol in the prestigious Hotel Management School Maastricht.” After graduating, he opened his first restaurant and a couple of years later he had three restaurants in Maastricht. After the drama of the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis and so on, he decided to emigrate, in 1976, to Canada.

There, he managed a 14,000-hectare ranch in the Rocky Mountains and he continued to explore various business ventures. But as he explains to me, after many decades away from Hungary, he was compelled to return home.


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“I actually never intended to return to Hungary. I came back with a serious amount of money from Canadian investors to open restaurants in Budapest. While the restaurants were very successful in Canada, the business climate in the 2000s in Hungary was not welcoming to foreign investors.”

He finally discovered the old ruin in the Kali Basin, in the village of Monoszlo. He bought the ruin and some ten hectares of depleted vineyards, and built a summer residence for his family, who live in the Netherlands.

“I don’t come from a wine background. I wanted to build a holiday home for my grandchildren. The estate is really a personal project, a small venue and not a typical hotel as such. There was no business plan, and this is why it became a stylish grand guesthouse.”

His vineyard is spread over ten hectares and produces mainly red wines, although the Balaton region is mainly known for its whites. But he decided to work with the better-known French red grape varieties. “I found a winery that was neglected by the state-owned farmer cooperative. I had to cut out all the old grapes, disinfect and fertilise the soil. I planted the four classical French varieties- Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir”.


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The decision was essentially based on history and politics. “Fifty years of communism destroyed the reputation of Hungarian wine, since very low quality wines were exported to the world market. It doesn’t matter how many awards a Hungarian wine has received, their reputation was ruined after the Second World War, and it will take a long time to recover from this.”

But Liszkay is fiercely proud of the gastronomy and wine that guests can enjoy on the estate. “My wines are very successful, and we have established a good reputation, winning awards in international competitions.” His 2008 Cabernet Franc won the silver medal at the Decanter World Wine awards, he tells me.

I am interested in what he thinks about the business environment for young Hungarians today. “I don’t see the drive, energy, focus and setting of goals in young people today. They just want to get as much as they can as fast as they can, for free. Most young people won’t start a business at 24 like I did. There is a huge difference between today’s generation and mine,” Liszkay says.

For more information see: www.liszkay.com

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