While Budapest has gained a reputation of a travel destination worth your while, a lot of travellers neglect the rest of Hungary – a real shame. I haven’t seen nearly enough of it, but apart from Budapest I also immensely enjoyed the small town of Kecskemét with the Great Hungarian Plain National Park next to it; or the beautiful university city of Pécs in the South. I am excited to see the castel in Visegrád one day, and to taste the wines of Tokaj. There is one gem I want to recommend in particular, and that is the beautiful Lake Balaton.
My first encounter with Lake Balaton was in Siófok, on the Southern side of the lake, from where I wanted to take a ferry to the Northern shore – only to find out that outside of the season ferries were really scarce. I had to circle the lake on a bus instead. But already at first sight, at the pier in Siófok on a cold and windy early April day, I fell in love with the lake – because it looked grey and wild and untamed like the Baltic Sea I love so much. I understood there and then why it is justified that they call it the „Hungarian Sea“.
I am a little annoyed at the fact that apparently I wasn’t very good yet at taking pictures when I went there because the majority of the ones I have are not very good – but they should give you an impression of the beauty that can be found on the Northern shore of Central Europe’s biggest lake. I took these on a daytrip I took from Veszprém, a lovely town also worth a visit North of the lake. Just a thought: I imagine accomodation should be cheaper and easier to find there, so especially if you have a car, it might be wise you stay in Veszprém when you want to see the lake.
The first town I went to that day was Keszthely (say: „Cast-hey“ – yes, Hungarian is a very strange language!). The most notable thing in Keszthely was not the Balaton yet, but the gorgeous baroque Festetics palace.
I listened in on a German guided tour around the palace as I hung out in the park surrounding it. The guide mentioned lots of Hungarian, Austrian and other nobility, and I mused for a while on the fact that all he said sounded like out of a different world. The early Spring sun was warming my face, and I could only imagine how pretty the gardens must be a little later in the year.
Walking back to the bus station, I passed by beautiful secession houses, most of which were in that slightly run-down, morbid state I love so much. I also passed by this sign in German, which pointed out to me that probably during season there must be hordes of German tourists here.
While finding a German sign abroad would usually annoy me (if I wanted to read German signs I would have stayed home…), this one made me laugh. It says: „Excellent cuisine! Hotel manager: 143 kg. Restaurant manager: 126 kg. Head chef: 65 kg.“
From Keszthely I moved on to Balatonfüred. The quick walk through the cute little spa town took me right down to the promenade. How I would have loved to jump into the water! But it was too early in the year, the water still too cold. I did probe it with my hands, but it wasn’t too inviting. Of course, the beauty of taking the day trip at this time of year was that it wasn’t overflowing with tourists. I had views of the lake almost to myself.
As I had been advised to do, I kept the best for last: Tihany. The village situated on a peninsula that juts into lake Balaton was recommended to me by several people. And I was not disappointed. The abbey of Tihany, sitting proudly on the hill that comprises the peninsula, shone brightly in its white baroque beauty against a stunning blue sky.
It was closed, but I did not mind. With the day of walking towns and sitting on busses, as I had walked up the hill to the abbey, I felt both tired and completely relaxed. The views on the way up onto Belső-tó, another small lake on the Tihany peninsula, had been enchanting already.
What I had not expected was to find yet more incredibly views of Lake Balaton from the top of the little church yard of Tihany Abbey, but it quite took my breath away. While my first view of the lake had presented me a sea, an angry grey writhing entity alive with wrath and storm, angrily throwing waves back and forth, I now looked down upon an evenly blue mirror just sightly crinkled with tiny ripples.
I could not even quite make out at times where the horizon was, because the blue of the sky and that of the lake melted into each other in the dusk. Up here, the abbey behind me, the view into the wide lands before me, I understood the magic of change and constancy. The different faces of the lake fascinated me, and I was deeply thankful that I had gotten to see them both – the calm and the stormy side. I hope to return sometime during autumn when I imagine it to be equally lovely, yet uncomparable to what I have seen. Travel is finding constancy in the ever-changing.
What do you think? Is Lake Balaton a place you would like to visit – or have you been already and have something to add to my impressions?