March 3, 2011 by Heather Cowper
Filed under Accommodation, Art and design, Budapest, Eating and drinking, Europe, Gardens, Hostels, Hotels, Hungary, Lake Balaton, Leisure, Podcasts, Sightseeing, Spa & Pampering, video
In Podcast No 15 in my travel podcast series, you’ll hear about my week’s holiday in Hungary starting and ending in Budapest with a few days in between at Lake Balaton, a large freshwater lake that’s a popular Hungarian holiday destination. We spent four days in the laid back Hullám Hostel and visited the castles and palaces along the lake shore, took the ferry across the lake and floated around among the water lilies in the thermal spa at Hévíz. In Budapest we also enjoyed the Palatine Baths on Margaret Island, admired the statues of the communist era at Memento park and spent our last day exploring the castle district and the Hungarian festival of folk arts that was being held over St Stephen’s day.
I hope you enjoy the slide show below that is designed to accompany the podcast
Our first couple of nights in Budapest were spent at Mandragora Hostel, set in a turn of the century apartment building with an internal courtyard, with Indian style decor. We found the Mandragora Hostel charming and comfortable, and the staff were extremely helpful, but you should be aware that the location is on a busy intersection, so some of the rooms facing the road can be noisy.
On our first morning we walked around Margaret Island, a large public park set on an island in the middle of the Danube and visited the Palatine Strand Baths there. The park is named after the daughter of one of the kings of Budapest who vowed that if the Mongol invaders would cease their attacks, his daughter would devote her life to God, and so she spent her life here in a convent.
The Palatine Baths is ideal for families with a large number of different outdoor pools with fountains and jets, some for swimming, others with warm thermal water and waterslides and a wave machine. We had lunch at the snack bar beside the baths and managed to over-order six plates of chicken livers!
After we returned to the Margaret bridge at the end of the island, we took the No 2 public tram which is well known as a good sightseeing route as it runs along the Danube, past many of the major tourist sights such as the Hungarian Parliament building. We were pleased that we’d bought a 24 hour transport ticket which was valid for the metro, buses and trams and meant that we could hop on and off as many trams as we liked.
In the afternoon, we visited the Central market where we admired the beautifully presented stall selling vegetables and paprika products, and bought a few souvenirs on the upper floor, such as painted eggs which we planned to use as Christmas decorations. We tried some snacks from the food stalls that were also on the upper floor of the market and especially enjoyed the Lángos, that’s a cross between a pancake and a doughnut, with sweet and savoury toppings. Guy also enjoyed his dark malt Hungarian beer that was a little like Guinness.
The next day we drove down to Lake Balaton, stopping on the way at Memento park, where the statues of communist leaders and other sculptures from the Communist era are now on display. The only leader who’s stautue was destroyed was that of Stalin who was so hated after his death that his enormous statue was pulled down, leaving only his boots that are on a podium at the entrance to the park.
Laka Ballaton is a major holiday area, popular with Hungarians and Germans with many campsites, guest houses and holiday apartments around the lake, which is used for swimming, fishing and sailing. The lake side is very green and fringed with reeds, with sections of the shore that have been made into swimming areas with platforms and steps into the lake.
We loved our stay at Hullám Hostel, a stylish and friendly hostel, that attracts an international backpacking crowd, but is also very family friendly. At the Hullam Hostel we enjoyed the Hungarian goulash and other local specialities that they served up each night that was cooked in a cauldron over an open fire, served with bread on an all you can eat system. During our stay a juzz evening was held in the hostel to celebrate the Hungarian national holiday of St Stephen’s day and you’ll here some of the music from the evening throughout the podcast.
We visited the nearby castle at Szigliget that was built in the 13th century, set on the top of a volcanic plug and clambered over the battlements to get amazing views over the lake and surrounding area. On the way back we drove through the wine growing area on the slopes of the volcanic plugs and stopped for lunch at Salföld, a pictureque traditional Hungarian Village, with Salföld Manor a restored show farm, and tried the sour cherry soup in the garden of the Pajta Galeria restaurant on the edge of the village.
On another day we visited the Festetics palace at Keszthely, built in baroque style in the 18th century with the air of a French Chateau, surrounded by formal gardens. We didn’t go into the palace as the queue was rather long but the formal gardens were free to enter, with fountains and colourful floral displays.
On coming out of the palace, we followed signs to the Marzipan Museum, which was more of a patisserie and tea shop, with a room at the back displaying examples of cake decoration and marzipan models, including one of the Keszthely Palace. We enjoyed our cake and coffee at the end of the visit in the small courtyard at the back, although I thought it was stretching the point to call the display room a museum.
In the afternoon we visited the thermal lake at Hévíz which is naturally heated and where the mineral properties of the water is thought to be very healthy. The spa is like a modern leisure centre, built on to the lake where swimmers float around in the warm lake with rubber or foam rings. It was a great example of the Eastern European enthusiasm for Wellness although a somewhat bizarre experience for us Brits.
On our third day in the Lake Balaton area, we crossed the lake on the ferry over to Balatonboglar to the southern shore and found a busy holiday scene with a funfair in full swing to celebrate the St Stephen’s day holiday. After a couple of hours wandering around the packed resort, we returned to the more tranquil northern shore and decided that we definitely preferred the area we were staying.
We dove back to Budapest where we stayed in Art’Otel for our final night of the holiday, with a great view of the Danube. The hotel is modern at the front although the back half is made up of older townhouses, joined by a pretty courtyard. The feature of the hotel is that it features the work of a single artist, Donald Sultan and we took an art tour to learn more about his art works on display in different parts of the hotel. The hotel is perfectly positioned for the castle district on the Buda side of the river and from the Art’Otel you can climb up through the cobbled streets to see some of the well known Budapest sights.
On our final day in Budapest we walked up to the Mátyás church which is notable for the decorative painted walls and colourful tiles, and also saw the Fisherman’s Bastion, an ornate colonade where you can get a great view over the Danube. You will often find gypsy bands playing traditional folk music there and there are also a couple of cafes on the ramparts with a great view, and no doubt prices that include a premium for the view.
From there we walked along towards the Hungarian Royal Palace and found the Festival of Folk arts in full swing. There were many stalls with beautiful embroidery, painted eggs, pottery and wood carvings and we enjoyed watching the Hungarian folk dancing and listening to the traditional music.
We took the Castle funicular down from the area of the Hungarian Royal Palace to the river level, which was only a 5 minute ride and rather expensive considering the short distance, although if you’re on a budget it’s perfectly easy to walk the short distance. We concluded that although we loved the Laka Ballaton area for a family summer holiday, there was plenty more to explore in Budapest and we’d really need a return trip to do it justice.
If you enjoyed this travel podcast please check out my other podcasts in my Travel Podcast Archive
Visitor information for Budapest and Lake Ballaton
On our holiday we stayed in the following accommodation;
Mandragora Boutique Hostel on the Pest side of Budapest
Compare prices and book Mandragora Boutique Hostel with Hotels Combined
Hullám Hostel in Révfülöp on the northern shore of Lake Ballaton
Book Hullam Hostel in Revfulop with Hostel Bookers
Art’Otel Budapest on the Buda side of the city, overlooking the Danube.
Compare prices and book Art’Otel Budapest with Hotels Combined
For more information on the other places we visited, please follow the links in this article to my other blog posts.
The jazz music used in the podcast was recorded on St Stephen’s day at Hullam Hostel. Gypsy violin music was recorded around the Fisherman’s Bastion and other folk music was recorded at the Festival of Folk Arts. The opening music was Venus as a Girl by Andy McGee on Musicalley.com
More articles from this trip to Hungary
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
When travelling with our teenagers, we often choose a private room in a stylish and family-friendly hostel over an apartment or hotel, which is how we came to select Hullám Hostel in Révfülöp for our stay in the Lake Balaton area of Hungary. This way we got the best of both worlds with an an en suite room, lively atmosphere, other travellers to talk to and free wifi for our kids to get their daily fix of Facebook (and Mum to keep up the blog).
I researched the hostels around the shores of Lake Ballaton to use as a base for our holiday in this area, and from everything I read, the northern shore of the lake, with it’s historic towns and villages,vineyards and castles sounded more our scene, whereas the resorts on the southern shore are more devoted to package tourists and busy nightlife.
The other thing I was wary of in Eastern Europe, is of finding accommodation with that dreary ex-communist feel, with old fashioned fittings that were probably considered chic by the party faithful in their 70s heyday. Not so at Hullám Hostel in Révfülöp which I saw described as a boutique hostel and seemed to get excellent reports and reviews.
When we drew up in our hire car, having driven down from Budapest, we didn’t have a great start, as someone had obviously stayed a little longer than planned in our room and so they proposed to move us down the road for one night to alternative holiday accommodation and move us back in the morning once our room was free. As the other accommodation epitomised that dreary 70s decor, I was a little bit grumpy that evening, but once we had settled in to Hullám Hostel the next day, things started to look up.
Révfülöp is a pleasant small resort town by the lake and from here you can get ferries over to the southern shore, do some fishing or sailing or swim from the club-style lakeside swimming area. From the hostel it was only 5 minutes to walk across the road and over the railway bridge to the lake where there were a number of open air bars and cafes catering for summer holiday visitors.
The Hullám hostel is set in an old building beside the main road that runs down the length of the lake and parallel to the train track that will take you to Budapest in one direction and to the western end of the lake in the other. The old building had obviously been gutted and remodelled to make it into a hostel with white walls and colourful accents of burnt orange and green, with funky murals in the reception area and parts of the exterior, and a proliferation of inexpensive but well designed IKEA style fittings.
We learned later that the hostel was designed by Dora Berkes, a friend of the owners, with bright paintings, murals and tiles throughout. She also designed the Grand Hostel Budapest in similar style and is known for her Raypainting. Not sure what Raypainting is? Me neither, but I discovered that it’s the painting of well known buildings with projected light paintings, normally for special celebration days. Dora’s online portfolio shows some amazing examples of her Raypaintings from Berlin, Vienna and Budapest.
In the large garden at the back of the hostel, there is a second building with more rooms and I believe some rooms that are suitable for families on the top floor. The garden was a fantastic space to relax, with space for children to run around, a table tennis table that our kids loved using and wooden sculptures and enclosures made from willows bent into shapes, and a hammock under the trees. We also saw a few guests who were camping there in small tents on some nights.
We had specifically asked for a quiet room that was en suite if possible, and our room was perfect – and was worth waiting the extra day until we could get into it. They joked that they were giving us the ‘Presidential suite’ as this was the best room in the house. It was a family room with a double bed and bunk beds with an en suite shower room, although the kids had a separate small room with twin beds next door and used our bathroom. On the same corridor there were other dorm rooms and a girls and boys bathrooms next door to each other.
The hostel is really designed for warm summer days and only opens in the spring through to autumn, as there is no heating and no indoor sitting room that we saw, but everyone sat in the covered bar area that was open to the road at the front and adjoining the garden at the back. There was a very small kitchen in a wooden lean-to with just a sink and two ring burner, but the hostel got around this by cooking up a one pot stew every evening that almost everyone ate, as it was so delicious and cheap. At weekends, there is often live music in the bar area and for the National Holiday of St Stephen’s day, there was a local jazz band playing all the swingtime favourites.
The best things about the Hullám hostel was the relaxed atmosphere with good humoured and helpful staff who seemed to be a loosely connected group of friends, cousins and extended family of the owners, who would bring their children and babies along with them. Although most of the guests were an international backbacker crowd in their 20s, there was definitely a very welcoming atmosphere for families too. We had some great chats with Zoli, one of the co-owners and Artur who was working there for the summer season, both of whom spoke excellent English and gave us lots of information about the area. Every evening we sat around in the bar to the sounds of jazz and world music, playing cards and chatting to other travellers from the UK and using the free wifi in the bar area to catch up with things online. The weather in the summer in the area is pleasantly warm, with the odd shower or thunderstorm to cool things down, and so it was great to sit and relax outside, although I suspect that outside the main summer months the lack of an indoor sitting room might have been more of an issue.
Every day we ate the stew that was cooked up in the big Hungarian cooking pot – one day it was Hungarian goulash, another cabbage and bacon with sour cream, served with slices of bread, and you could go back and help yourself to seconds, all in the price of 1000 HUF ($5, €3.60, £3) a head, which saved us trying to cook.
We had hired a car to drive down from Budapest which takes 2-3 hours, depending on the traffic (the roads around Lake Ballaton area get very busy on summer weekends). The alternative was to reach the hostel by train from Budapest and we met some travellers at the hostel who had done this, although it had taken them the best part of a day to get there. Once at the hostel you could get around by train or bus that went up and down the side of the lake, stopping at other resorts and you could hire bikes at the hostel., to explore the immediate area.
The hostel is well placed for shops and provisions and bang next door there was a wonderful fruit and vegetable shop where we admired the piles of glossy red and yellow peppers and bought our favourite watermelon. Then there was a small supermarket, with a wine merchant’s at the front that stayed open into the evening after the main shop had closed. These were literally next door, but 5 minutes up the road there was a slightly larger supermarket and a few other shops
While we were at Hullám Hostel we enjoyed exploring the area on the northern shore of Lake Ballaton, visiting the castle at Szigliget with wonderful views over the lake from the battlements and tried the sour cherry soup in the picturesque village of Salföld with its traditional whitewashed and thatched houses. On another day we wandered around the gardens of the Festetics palace at Keszthely, tried the coffee and cakes at the marzipan museum and floated around in the waterlilies in the thermal lake at Hévíz. On our last day we decided to bond with the lake and took the ferry across to the resort of Balatonboglar on the other side, where the crowds were out for the fun fair on the national holiday of St Stephen’s day. It was all a bit brash and busy and after a couple of hours we were glad to escape back to the more peaceful northern shore.
We decided that Hullám Hostel was definitely the sort of place where you might arrive for a day or two and end up staying a week – we just loved the style and the atmosphere of the place, and especially the super helpful Zoli and the rest of the crew. If want to visit the Lake Ballaton area or get out of Budapest to relax for a few days, we highly recommend Hullam Hostel as a great place to stay while you explore the area.
Get the info
- Hullám Hostel, Révfülöp, Lake Ballaton, Hungary email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Prices for private rooms range from $20 per person/night for a 4 person shared room to €45 for a single en suite room. Prices for dorms are €13-17 per person per night (Guide prices from the hostel website)
- The hostel also welcomes group bookings and can arrange guides and transport in the local area.
- The hostel is open from March to October
- Book Hullam Hostel, Lake Ballaton, Hungary with Hostelbookers.com
More tales from Lake Ballaton
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
Every night of our family holiday at Hullam Hostel on the shores of Lake Ballaton in Hungary, we ate the stew that the hostel served up, cooked in a huge cooking pot over the open fire. The weather was warm and the guests sat in the open air bar area adjoining the street, chatting, chilling, playing cards and listening to the jazz and world music that was a constant backdrop. The hostel’s guest kitchen was a miniscule area of shed with a sink and 2 ring burner – but the hostel had come up with a great way of overcoming these shortcomings.
Every night they cooked up a different one-pot stew that they served up in bowls with slices of fresh bread. One night was Hungarian goulash, another was ham and cabbage. They ran an all-you-can-eat system and we found ourselves going back for bowl after bowl of the delicious home cooked stew. The supper was really cheap too – I don’t remember the exact cost but I think it was £3-4 per person, so you’d have been mad not to eat it, even though there is a mini supermarket and fabulous greengrocers right next door.
At around 4 o’clock we’d watch the young chef arrive and get chopping all the vegetables, throwing them into the huge cooking pot which would gently bubbled away for a few hours over the open fire. Apparently this is a really popular way for the Hungarians to cook together, just as we might fire up the barbie, and we saw plenty of the cooking pots being sold beside the road.
I asked Hullam hostel if they could send me their recipe for the Hungarian goulash that they serve at the hostel so I could share it with you, and here it is…
Hungarian Goulash is best made on open fire in a kettle. This recipe serves 10 people
- Stew 70 dkg chopped onion on low heat in lard or in oil until it is golden yellow.
- Take it off the fire and add 3 large spoonfuls of red paprika powder (Hungarian)
- Add 2 dl water and 1kg of beef (cut into 1 inch cubes) Put it back and cook it on high fire until the meat is white and a little bit fried.
- Now add a whole garlic (finely chopped) , 2 coffeespoonfuls of caraway (whole) some ground black pepper, 3 tomatoes cubed , 2 sliced sweet paprika (in Hungary it is called TV paprika which means paprika to be stuffed)
- Stir it well and add 6-7 litres of water and return to medium heat and simmer it for three hours.
- When the meat is nearly tender add 70 dkg peeled potatoes (cut into cubes) 3 sliced parsnips and 5 sliced carrots and 1 piece of celery root cubed.
- Cook until all ingredients are tender and at this point you can add some finely chopped parsley if you like.
Enjoy it! Yummmmmy!
So there you are folks, dig out that cooking pot, string it up over the open fire and cook up your own Hungarian Goulash.
Many Thanks to Hullam Hostel in Revfulop for the Hungarian goulash recipe and for the great holiday we had at Lake Balaton in Hungary
My Hungarian Goulash is part of Wanderfood Wednesday hosted over at Wanderlust and Lipstick – do head over for some Texas Southern Comfort food and other delicious food ideas
More good things to eat from Hungary
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey