Every year, Slovenians travel to the Croatian coast, to Italy and Austria en masse; interestingly enough, however, we nearly never venture across the border to the Hungarian side. Probably because we’re afraid of not understanding the language, even though Hungarian has the status of an official language in the area of Slovenia where the Hungarian minority lives. Most of us already struggle with only looking at the geographical names they use. Their words sound like no other language known to man, and even their names for hospitals and police departments are completely different to ours. The average Slovenian only knows the Budapest advertised by tourist agencies; they have probably also heard of Lake Balaton, while the rest of Hungary is virtually uncharted territory to them.
I admit that, until recently, I had never thought of taking a trip to this eastern neighbour of ours, either, until a Hungarian-born friend of mine captured my attention by telling me stories about their nature, people, and fantastic food. Even though we are already familiar with some of their culinary specialities such as goulash, they are also known for their excellent wine with a tradition going back two millennia, a fried dough dish called “lángos” which is usually served with sour cream and onion, and a dessert called “kürtőskalács” with cocoa.
Since there is no traffic congestion leading towards the Hungarian border, the drive between Lendava and the western coast of Lake Balaton will only take you about an hour. The word “balaton” is of Slavic origin but means nothing in Hungarian. According to a legend, this was the name of the last giant living on this territory. The lake is the largest natural lake in central Europe; however, it is only about 3.2 metres deep on average. In the summer, the bathing water reaches the temperature of up to 26 degrees Celsius due to the continental climate and to the fact that it gets more than two thousand hours of sunshine per year.
A well-marked biking trail attracts guests from all over who come to enjoy the pleasant, undemanding cycling trips around the wonderful natural lake, taking them through the flat terrain of the Pannonian Plain. At first glance, it is impossible to miss the immenseness of the lake, and seagulls on the vast coastline create a false impression of the sea. The southern coast alone stretches for a little less than 100 kilometres. When the weather is sunny, the lake is full of sailboats, and there are even some ferry lines operating on it. Fine sand covers its beaches, and it’s only when we occasionally spot a swan or smell fresh water that we are reminded we’re actually on the shore of a lake which is clean and tidy, just like the gardens surrounding the small houses on the northern side of the lake. The Tihany Peninsula is a protected area due to numerous rare animal and plant species thriving there. The southern side is an in-demand tourist destination, providing numerous opportunities to rent apartments and campsite facilities.
In the immediate vicinity of the lake is located a town called Héviz, also known as the “fountain of life”, the capital of Hungarian sanatoriums and spas. It is also the location of the largest biologically active thermal lake in the world, fed from the heat source from an underwater crater at a depth of 38 metres below sea level; in this lake, it is even possible to swim among water lilies in autumn and winter. The health resort built next to the lake is thus open year-round, since the temperature never drops under 24 degrees Celsius, not even in the winter. Its turquoise waters are crystal clear, its volume is entirely replaced once every three and a half days, and since its bottom is entirely covered by a layer of peat, it is extremely dark.
The little town of Tapolca lies on the northern shore of Lake Balaton. In 1903, while digging a well under its streets, they happened upon a cave with karstic water. The reason for its appearance is the fact that cold water from the cave was mixing with thermal water rising from the depths, which in turn provoked limestone corrosion and, gradually, created increasingly large passages through the cave. The Lake Cave is a part of a larger cave system without speleothems: the lack thereof is due to the fact that a thick layer of clay under the surface makes water seepage impossible. A tourist centre attracts numerous visitors with an interactive museum and the possibility to row through the Lake Cave. Two by two, you can go on an interesting round tour in a small boat passing through the well-lit, naturally formed passageways.
While it is true that our neighbours do not actually have a sea, the surroundings of Lake Balaton are nevertheless a good possibility to take at least a weekend trip to nature and splash in thermal waters. Despite the language barrier, Hungary is truly worth seeing.
A Ljubljana native, graduated from the Faculty of Computer and Information Science, a new member of the OurSpace group of developers. Nature and animal lover. I dedicate my spare time to music. I’ve been singing since I was a child. I’m currently singing in a choir called Sankofa, where I explore traditional music of the African continent.