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Turquoise water, scenic surroundings, exciting programs, countless sights, fine wine and sunny beaches: this is Lake Balaton, the ever so exciting place.
What makes a place special? (I mean, not in the sense as District 51 or Chernobyl) What makes a place a must when it comes to the masses spending their free time? How can it be popular through generations? Why doesn’t it get old and boring?
There is no short answer to this question. On the one hand, what connects a person to a place is rather subjective. Our birthplace, its surrounding area and the sights of childhood experiences are all of special significance. In addition, there are thousands of sentimental reasons that can turn even a carved table in a pub into a place of pilgrimage.
On the other hand, there are universal facts affecting most of us regardless of origin, gender or age. Mountains, valleys, rivers, and lakes capture us reflecting ancient coexistence with nature. Or we just simply love them.
Lake Balaton and its surroundings is a magical land where all the above details blend together. A station in so many kids’ childhood memories that never fade away, where we keep coming back without question. Furthermore, it is also an area of unparalleled natural treasures visited by endless numbers of tourists.
Taking Lake Balaton as an example, we might gain a better understanding of the nature of attraction that makes a certain place such a significant part of our lives.
Active recreation on Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton, is in many ways, a rarity as it is definitely a huge one. Being the largest lake in Central Europe, it provides a considerable surface for water lovers to enjoy the moment to the fullest in many different ways.
Few people can resist when near one of the beaches of Lake Balaton. Its shallowness is definitely a welcoming feature for bathers. Being only 12,5 meters at its deepest point, this standing water quickly reaches the comfortable warm temperature that invites us to jump into its wet pleasures. And thanks to the surrounding villages, these beaches provide much more than a waterfront area with a single stall selling lángos (fried scones).
The annually awarded Kék hullám zászló (Blue Wave Flag) representing high standards can be won in several different categories by applying beach operators. Some of the categories include Family-friendly beach of Lake Balaton and Best cyclist-friendly beach of Lake Balaton. Look for the five-star rated beaches and you won’t be disappointed with the water or the beach for sure!
Yet, there is much more to this lake than splashing or swimming. We can try out the widest range of water sports whether we are inexperienced muggles or adrenaline junkie pros. No one will pity us here if we let ourselves be hung on strings on a well-equipped wakeboard course.
We can also test our skills on landlock and kneeboard or, for the right amount of cash, on fences, but in this case all the equipment is to be provided by us. 🙂
The water, that gets warm quickly in the summer, can easily become wavy in windy weather creating the perfect time for catamaran, kitesurf and windsurf virtuosos.
If the lake is deep enough, or we are short enough, there is a chance to go diving in the lake. We can rent different size sailboats with or without a captain in several ports of the lake (I recommend Balatonfüred for the purpose). If you decide to go sailing without a captain, a boating license is required. If you are the ambitious type, join a course where you can learn the ins and outs of sailing on the lake.
Don’t get surprised. Check the weather forecast for Lake Balaton.
Those looking for less intensive ways of recreation in the water do not need to condemn themselves to a rubber mattress, there are numerous places for sup-yoga. The peculiarity of this aquatic form of yoga is that the asanas need to be performed on a surfboard-like equipment. There is no need to be afraid even if we are newbies, we will always fall on something soft.
Of course, the most basic form of exercise is swimming. Practitioners of this sport can definitely feel the performance output where the wind, the waves and possibly some big fish are all part of the challenge.
The queen of the genre in Hungary is undoubtedly the annual Swim Across Lake Balaton. Thousands of people, professionals and art lovers alike, swim the approximately 5-kilometer-long distance between the northern and southern shores of Lake Balaton. The support boat crew ensures the swimmers’ safety. It is undeniably the most important and most popular mass sporting event of the year.
You can have a really pleasant time taking the oar into your own hands and paddling along the water tour route. Kayak-canoe points have been established on both the northern and southern shores of the lake where we can rent equipment for the adventure and have a bit of rest as well.
As a combination of meditation and sports, we can join the thousands of people fishing on and around the lake. There are well-established fishing Meccas on both the southern and northern shores of the lake, and boat fishing on such huge waters is definitely a special experience. But don’t forget to check the local requirements and permits before ejecting the hook.
Sights and hiking trails around Lake Balaton
Apart from the lake, its surroundings are also a popular destination for domestic and international tourism for a good reason. The hills, mountains and forests are a true experience for nature-lovers. At the same time, the rich cultural and historical heritage of the area is also an important reason for a visit.
We can enjoy the castle tours around Lake Balaton linking nature with history. As the highlight of wonderful hiking trails, we can relax at historical sites such as Szigliget Castle, situated in the outstanding scenery of the northern shore, and also one of the most prominent sites of battles against the Turks.
Csobánc Castle and the route leading to it are no less attractive either. Wandering through the magnificent slopes of the Bakony we can reach the Fortress of Csesznek, an impressive size palace which has been preserved by archaeologists in a quite good condition.
Although the term untouched nature is becoming more of a publicity stunt nowadays, one can still find it beside Lake Balaton. Gulács Hill, located in the Badacsony region, and the hiking route leading up there are not recommended for complete beginners as only tourist signs indicate that someone has already been there.
Dense vegetation (sometimes to the point that we can’t see the sky over the trees), narrow paths, even steep hillsides now and then, but in return we get the unrivalled excitement of discovery, the pleasant feeling of tiredness and the delightful view from the top. Gulács is a rough diamond, and it is its rawness that makes you want to conquer it.
No pain, no gain—goes the saying, but as a generous donation of the Balaton region, the route to Tóti Hill is definitely easier, and the view from the top is even more beautiful than the one we get on Gulács. Only the last 30–35 meters leading up to the summit are a bit of a steep challenge. Apart from that, we can walk up comfortably to the top where a 360 degree of undisturbed panorama is awaiting hikers.
Personal taste is decisive in forming one’s opinion, but Tihany Peninsula undoubtedly provides one of the most beautiful and most meaningful pastimes available in the area surrounding the lake. Here you can really find everything in one place that makes Lake Balaton such an attractive destination: nearby waterfront and mountains, diverse flora and fauna, history and culture.
The first nature protection area was created here, and the Lóczy-Geyser Nature Trail, that was also first in the line, can be found here. The 18-kilometer-long trail connects the best of the natural and cultural sights of the peninsula as it literally goes over hills and dales. The best free beaches in the area can also be found here.
Apart from being the home of monks, The Benedictine Abbey of Tihany also provides permanent and temporary exhibitions in its museum showing the history of the church and the monastery, and the related sections of Hungarian history.
The open-air museum of Tihany provides an insight into the local history of the settlement and the everyday lives of the local people with various occupations, through its characteristic buildings. We can taste dishes prepared with traditional tools and means, what is more, we can roll strudel dough (rétes) ourselves and cook it in the yard oven of the restaurant located here.
But adventure is not limited to above the ground. Venturing underground, we can stare at wonders such as the Csodabogyós Cave near Badacsonyederics. It is important to note that this cave is quite different from other caves open to mass tourism.
Here, we can step into professional cavers’ shoes, as there are stages where we can only move forward on all fours or crawling. Moreover, it is not a lit cave, so we are obliged to rely on our headlights. All equipment—including the caving overall—is provided by the organizers, and tour guiding is conducted by real professionals.
The most adventurous ones can sink to a depth of 90 meters, taking in the entire excavated cave. One thing is for sure: both the scenery and the actual creeping and crawling are a unique experience that we can rarely see as laymen.
But what if we are becoming extensively introvert from all the tranquillity, peace and the proximity of nature? There is no need to worry, first of all, because there are several, well-known wine-producing regions around Lake Balaton, secondly, because the fruit of their work is available in unlimited amounts at the festivals organized around the lake.
It is impossible even to list the numerous events which include a gigantic festival featuring the top-notch people of national and international pop music, as well as classical music, gastronomic, local history and theatre events. Balaton Sound stands out of all.
One of the most prestigious festivals of Hungary fills the free beach of Zamárdi on the southern coast of the lake with party-goers every July. More than 100 world stars and approximately 200 national performers entertain the audience.
Exclusivity and premium feeling have become the trademarks of the five-day event. If the events on the shore are not enough, we can also jump on a party boat and dance to the music provided by star DJs, surrounded by the water of the lake. Balaton Sound has won the European Festivals Award twice in the category of medium-sized festivals so far.
Up in the air
It might not be the wine, that after such experiences one feels on top of the world. Let’s not come back down to earth as Lake Balaton has it all! There are many small airplane sightseeing flights available if you don’t only figuratively wish to see the lake and the landscape from a bird’s eye view. It is truly unforgettable to look down at all the beauty we recently admired within arm’s reach or to choose the next destination with the wild birds.
What goes up will have to come down eventually, and it’s best if we decide on how and when to land. This kind of amazing control over our lives is brought to us when tandem jumping, which can be tried out at several points round the lake.
We can connect our destinies with those of experienced parachuters, both figuratively and literally. Leaving the plane or the helicopter at the height of 4-5 kilometers, we jump into the arms of our destiny or our parachute. However, keep in mind that soaring should not be dominated by the above-mentioned wine, as everything falls back on us—and the tandem instructor—that leaves our mouth while in freefall.
Those looking for a more traditional way of flying can also get what they want, as flying up into the clouds is possible in a hot-air balloon as well. It is quite a spectacular way of admiring the landscape without the noise of the engine or extreme wind. There is little chance of ending up like a Zeppelin in history books, thanks to technical advances.
Those not afraid of becoming immortal can go paragliding which can also be tried out in tandem. Although it is not the safest way to get off the ground, there is definitely no other way to get such an amount of adrenaline rush. A favorite take-off point of gliders is the above-mentioned Csobánc, from where you can significantly speed up the route downward connected to an experienced paraglider.
Why do I recommend Lake Balaton?
So, this is Lake Balaton in just a broad outline. We have no other chance, but to gain lasting memories and experiences. And the lake and the surrounding area follow the stages of our lives, the changes in our needs and interests. There is no getting tired of it.
Everyone will find all the different programs suiting their needs, but we won’t get bored if we arrive spontaneously either. Of course, there is also a way to do it if we wish so. This is how the special bond between man and place is born, making it an anchor in the raging sea of life where we return to relive old adventures and start new ones.
Meeting old friends, or making new ones. Climbing the favorite mountainside again or trying the other side. The point is that this is the place we can always count on, it will always be there without reproach, even if we don’t visit it for a while and when we return, it will welcome us with open arms. So, let’s throw ourselves in the embrace of Lake Balaton!