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When we go on the Internet to find travelling tips regarding the Balaton, most of the results will be directing us (too) towards the Northern shore.
This is not a problem, as the scenery is beautiful, the lake gradually deepens, comes with well taken care of beaches and countless attractions await. And of course all the other holidayers that are coming to the Balaton.
I would be exaggerating to say that you can’t enjoy the many wonders that the Northern shore offers due to the amount of tourists, but for certain it can be a ruckus sometimes. This is when the unjustifiably unpromoted stepsibling comes into the picture, where you have everything for a great holiday at Balaton, minus the competition in the fight for sunbeds.
That’s how it was!
Of course we don’t have to worry about wandering around all lonely at the abandoned Southern beaches, especially if we fold out our bathing towels at the capital of Balaton, in Siófok. Siófok has been many things in history, but never once abandoned.
Even in the first century, Romans lived here, who used the excuse that they are forming an important stop between the route from Pécs to Győr to settle here, but all it was is that they liked the land. So much so, that at the end of the third century, Emperor Galerius began to foresee real estate opportunities by draining the swamp and doing some deforestation.
After the conquest of Hungary, the founding letter of Tihany mentions this location in 1055. In 1522, not surprisingly, the Turkish also had a good time here, and we only managed to get them leave after 130 years.
The real development began in the 19th century, mainly thanks to the opening of the Balaton Shipping Company. In 1865 the settlement received the rank of a market town, which included the right to hold markets. In 1855, the present day swimming settlement began it’s construction, the first owners of the finished villas mostly were – although not always – artists.
Life became more and more active in Siófok, which cause the capital’s great citizens and prominent representatives of the acting world showing a growing interest towards the city.
The front line that was located here during the Second World War did not do any good to the city, a large part of it was destroyed.
During the second half of the twentieth century the second wave of tourist and cultural development began. Since the turn of the millennium, thanks to the modernization efforts and the rise of the service’s quality, the development of the city is continuous.
Visiting the Balaton shows that the person prefers activities related to water, but by turning our backs to the city and its area we miss numerous interesting and valuable attractions.
For example those villas at Siófok, where not only the artists who looked to relax spent their time, but was also the location for events that shaped the future of the country.
Not far from the port, the Thanhoffer-villa with its Baroque elements can be found, which is named after the famous medical professor who built it. In 1919, this building was the headquarters of Miklós Horthy, when he led his troops against the Soviet Republic.
Behind the centuries old plane trees of Batthyány street is the romantic styled Jókai-villa. In 1897, the finished building was bought by nationally renowned Dr. Vilmos Fekete, a celebrity lawyer from Temesvár. It got its name, however, from one of the most important characters in Hungarian literature (Mór Jókai), who in 1903, spent his last summer here.
Not far from here is the Karinthy-villa, which also didn’t become known on its original name. The writer and his family spent their summers in the originally Vitéz-pansion, but they were often visited by his writer friends from Pest, such as Jenő Rejtő. In 1938, this is where death took Frigyes Karinthy.
The Lutheran Church of Siófok is a real architectural specialty. Imre Makovecz’s first completed church design is also called “the ship of Christ”. The four-doored prayer house faces the four directions, with angel wings protecting its visitors above the main entrance.
Nothing is stopping us if we want to take a look at the city and its area from bird view, we can admire a breaht-taking panorama from the 40m tall water tower which was constructed in 1912. We can take two elevators to the top, where besides in a cafe, we can take in the 95% clean oxygen at the oxygen bar, more so, doing it while turning around slowly.
One of the most important buildings built at the shore of Balaton is the futuristic Meteorological Observatory built by the plans of Péter Molnár in 1956. This is where they observe the rather whimsical weather of the lake, this is also where all vital storm warnings begin.
With the help of numerous equipment, the meteorologists who work here try to predict the next few hours’ weather as accurately as possible. They send their data from here to the National Meteorological Service’s website, as well as to the water and life guards, guaranteeing the safety of bathers and sailors.
On dry land and water
Besides the large lake, nature provided other attractions as well. At the border of Siófok, is the 300 hectares of Töreki Nature Reserve (Töreki Természetvédelmi Terület) developed in a valley, and the 9km long Töreki Study Trail that brings you through it.
We can familiarise ourselves with the area’s flora and fauna through 12 stations, but we can also find a playground, a rest area and a fire pit. From the bird viewing towers we can stare at feathered beauties such as the Western marsh harrier, the sand martin or the Europen bee-eater. This trail was not made for hardcore jungle explorers, so it can be enjoyed by families as well.
We can also meet not necessarily native, but even more interesting species at the city’s zoo, which also functions as horse stables.
On the over 30,000 sq meters, camels, llamas, alpacas, kangaroos, meerkats and the more common goats, sheep, horses and ponies await visitors. We also have an opportunity to get in direct contact with many of these at the park’s petting zoo.
photos by: Bella-Zoo Siófok
In addition, we can take part in normal and trail riding in accordance to our experience, and if we get bored of the horses, we can try ourselves on the back of camels. The park’s doors are open all year long. As in for visitors. 🙂
There are thousands of ways to utilize the water of Balaton besides bathing, for which all equipment is provided in Siófok. Bamboo island, app. 100m from the shore, is a deck which can be accessed by foot, and is the port of the approximately 6.5 hectares wakeboard track.
You can tow yourself at 25-30 km/h speed at the 1km long cable track by wakeboard, monoski, wakeskate or even landlock. If we are beginners, we can get the help of instructors found at the spot.
We don’t have to leave the lake even if we want something slower. We can try the oh-so-trending SUP yoga at Siófok as well. Practicing yoga on the floating board is a special challenge, as it isn’t easy to complete our asanas in the midst of swaying, but in exchange, it’s even more rewarding when we actually manage. And let’s be honest, it’s much better to lose our balance on the water, than on a hard wooden floor.
You have a program – Festivals in Siófok
The yoga lifestyle can be enjoyed at the annual Samsara Festival. This event is a gathering of yoga, music, dance and psychedelic lovers. In addition to yoga workshops, we can take part in many lectures held by therapists, psychologists, doctors and healers.
On three stages over a hundred performers and DJ provides the background music to delve deeper in ourselves.
Besides nourishing the soul, it’s also important to keep the body in check too, and we have numerous opportunities to do this at the Wine and Bread Celebrations (Bor és Kenyér ünnep). Siófok commemorates the founding of the Hungarian State with this multi-day long festival.
Along the concerts, folk dancing, family programs, traditional games, market and gastronomic experiences await visitors at one of the area’s largest events next to the ship station at Siófok. The main attraction is the traditional bread consecration, the selection of the city’s wine and the usual 20th of August fireworks.
So that’s it at the Southern coast? Of course not. Siófok is the place where you can receive all the good things, that the Northern shore offers, and in addition you get to enjoy its specialties, so it won’t only be a destination due to its smaller numbers in tourists but it will also create a fan base due to its own value.
And as the Hungarian saying goes: if you don’t believe it, see it for yourself!