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
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