Balaton végre! (Finally Balaton!)
What to say about Balatonfüred? It’s a tourist city perfect for recreation, fun, and relaxation at Lake Balaton. Balatonfüred is full of hotels, cafés, restaurants, clubs, and beaches.
One of the interesting sights is a promenade along the lake named after a writer and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (Tagore-sétány). While the Indian philosopher cured himself in the Balatonfüred hospital and spa, he started a tradition of planting trees along the promenade. According to the Hindu legend, if an older man plants a tree, he’ll live long enough to see his tree grow. Many famous people from Hungary and the world planted their trees on the promenade, among them Mahatma Gandhi.
We rented a room through Airbnb in a house of a Hungarian named Timea. The house was in Séta Street. From one side, it was next to a large park Kiserdő, and from the other, next to the railway. Luckily, we didn’t hear any trains during the night.
On our way from the house to the Lake Balaton, we passed the park, state cardiological hospital (where Tagore cured himself) and we drank water from the healing water spring. The healing Lajos Kossuth spring is hidden in a covered well surrounded by 12 Classic columns.
Our first afternoon, we dipped our feet in the lake at the Kisfaludy beach on the eastern part of the Tagore promenade. The entrance to the Kisfaludy beach costs 700 HUF, but it’s free during the evening or if the weather is bad. In our case, it was both. :/ We walked along the promenade filled with cafés, small stores, and restaurants. Eventually, we sat to grab a pizza and something to drink in the western part of the promenade.
Our plan for the next day was to catch a ferry from Balatonfüred to Tihány, a small town on a peninsula with the same name. Tihány is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The remains of an old volcano, whose craters formed two small inner lakes, Belső-tó and Külső-tó surround the city of Tihány. The lakes are about 20 m higher than the Lake Balaton. Volcanic activity also created around 100 geysers on the Tihány peninsula!
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit this pearl of Balaton with rich and unique vegetation, numerous bird and butterfly species. Instead, we only took a photo of the Benedict Convent in Tihány from the other side of the lake. The Benedict Convent is the seat of the Tihány Abbey founded in 1055 by the Establishing charter of the abbey of Tihány, the first written document in Hungarian. The convent church was later re-established in Baroque style and it offers a stunning view of the whole Lake Balaton.
We left Tihány for another time and sat on a train towards Badacsony, the center of a popular wine region.
We traveled by a better train than the one from Győr, but we were still the only ones on the train. We continued towards Badascony with the sounds of “Élvezd”, a song from my favorite Hungarian band, Punnany massif. Our friend from Budapest waited for us at the train station under “a roof of trees". He drove us through the vineyards that date from Roman times, showed us some “fancy” restaurants and took us to the belvedere with a beautiful view of vineyards and Lake Balaton.
Badacsony is also the name of the hilltop, which used to be an active volcano. You’ll notice the recognizable hilltop in the shape of a volcano from every part of belvedere.
The most famous wine types produced in this region are Kéknyelű, Olaszrizling (Italian Riesling), and Szürkebarát (a type of Pinot Gris). The first two types are considered to be healing because of the high concentration of potassium and magnesium. I tried Olaszrizling the same evening in Keszthely and I have to say: “Mmm, nagyon finom!” (“Very delicious!”) The next stop on our way to Keszthely was a belvedere in Balatongyörgy.
Our friend from Budapest has a girlfriend from Keszthely, so he quickly showed us the city, which we explored step by step later on.
With 21 000 inhabitants, Keszthely is the largest city at Lake Balaton. It’s a cultural, educational and economic center of the region. Its name comes from the Slavic word for a castle (kostel) and the Hungarian word for a place (hely). Keszthely was an important market town already in the 15th century.
We stayed in Keszthely for two nights and we didn’t regret it. It’s a town with the most things to do at Lake Balaton. I can recommend a walk through the city center from the Main Train Station to the Festetics Palace. The Palace of Festetics family is a huge castle with 101 rooms, a library from the 18th century (collection of 86 000 books), and a park with French and English garden. On your way to the palace, following Kossuth Lajos Street, you’ll see:
1) Lake Balaton Museum
A Neo-Baroque building at the beginning of Kossuth Lajos Street tells a complete story about Lake Balaton. You’ll learn about the lake’s history, development of the region, historical remains in the area, even about the different species of fish that live in the lake. The museum is open daily (even on Mondays during summer months) from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and the entrance fee is 900 HUF.
2) Main Square (Fő tér)
On the Keszthely Main Square, you’ll find a Late-Baroque City Hall, a Franciscan Monastery and a Gothic Our Lady of Hungary Church. The monastery was a border fortress during the Turkish occupation and its sanctuary conserves the largest collection of Gothic frescos in Hungary. Other attractions on the square are the Balaton Theater, a Holy Trinity statue from 1770 and a statue of the most famous member of the Festetics family – Festetics György.
3) The upper part of the Kossuth Lajos promenade
On the Kossuth promenade, you can find many 20th-century houses, a synagogue hidden in the backyard of a compositor Karl Goldmark’s house, many restaurants, and souvenir shops. Keszthely also has many new and fun museums for tourists. “Those are not museums, it’s a circus”, my friend likes to say. The same as in any larger city, there is a Museum of torture, a strange Doll museum, Erotic Panoptikum, and Nostalgia museum with retro clothes and toys. A special attraction is a model of Budapest Parliament building made of snails and shells from Lake Balaton that an old woman Ilona Miskei was making for 14 years. You’ll find it at Kossuth Lajos Street 11 and the entrance fee is 550 HUF.
4) Festetics Palace
The Baroque palace built by Kristóf Festetics in 1745, is one of the three largest holiday homes in Hungary. It’s the size of a castle. The Festetics are a Croatian noble family from the 15th century that came from Croatian Turopolje region. They spread across many countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, as well as other European and non-European countries (Argentina).
The Festetics Palace today hosts Helikon Museum, a museum of everyday life in the 18th and 19th century. There is an exhibition of old carriages in former stalls.
The first day in Keszthely, we walked along Balaton coastline, ate fish and drank Soproni beer in one of the many restaurants on the lake promenade.
Keszthely is also a city with many old and abandoned hotels. The largest Helikon hotel (from 1971) is located near a spacious Helikon park. Walking through the park, you’ll get to the coast of Lake Balaton. Two other old hotels are Hotel Balaton and Hotel Hullám from the 19th century, which both seem to be abandoned. From the first time I heard the song “Hotel California”, I always imagine it to be just like those two hotels. 🙂
Our last day on Balaton was sunny, so I paid a daily ticket (800 HUF) for the entrance to the local beach (strand) and swam in the green water of Lake Balaton. 🙂
If you come to Keszthely, you can also go for a boat ride around the bay. There are three or four boats departing daily from the port of Keszthely. A ride costs 1800 HUF per person. The boat ride, in my opinion, is not that interesting, but you can certainly try it. You can learn more about the history of Lake Balaton from a thorough audio guide (in Hungarian, German, Russian and English).
During our entire trip, the weather was not so good. It was less than 20°C, which was too cold for swimming in Lake Balaton. This is why we decided to visit Hévíz, a town with the healing thermal lake with temperatures around 30°C. Hévíz is the largest thermal lake in Europe, where Russian grannies go to cure their rheumatism. Hévíz even has its own airport for that purpose.
Why the water from Hévíz helps with relaxation and it’s considered to be healing? It contains magnesium, sulfur, radon, and calcium. The water from Hévíz cures irregularities in the locomotor system and rheumatism.
How do I see it? I don’t want to be rude towards the elders, who come here to ease their pains, but the water in the lake smells really bad. The lake, shower cabins, and changing rooms smell like rotten eggs. I felt dirty swimming among slimy leaves in the lake and I wanted to get out right away. Surprisingly, I only saw happy faces all around me - of grannies and whole families taking a dip in Hévíz. You can try the healing waters of Hévíz and judge it for yourself. The entrance to the lake area for 3h costs 3000 HUF per person.
My Balaton trip came to an end. I managed to swim in Lake Balaton only once (because of the bad weather). I didn’t stay at one place, but I visited a few interesting cities on the northern coastline. I liked Keszthely the most and I will definitely return there one day. 🙂
Short survivor dictionary of Hungarian phrases to help you on your trip:
Egy jegyet Veszprémbe/Balatonfüredbe/Badacsonyba/Keszthelybe = one ticket to Veszprém/Balatonfüred/Badacsony/Keszthely
Kérek szépen egy sört/ Olaszrizling bort/ bodzalimonádét = I would like… one beer/Italian Riesling/elderberry lemonade, please.
Igen / Nem = Yes / No
Nem tudom = I don’t know.
Jó napot/reggelt/estét kívánok = Good day/morning/evening!
Szia! = Hello!
Viszlát/ Viszontlátásra! = Goodbye!
Jó étvágyat! = Bon appetite!
Bocsánat! = Sorry!
Nagyon finom volt = It was very delicious.
Nagyon szép volt = It was very nice.
Köszönöm = Thank you.
Szívesen = Please.
Ez mennyibe kerül? = How much it costs?
If you want to change the language of your conversation to English, just ask:
Beszél angolul? = Do you speak English?