There are hidden miracles in every country and city. Some of the treasures of Lake Balaton are Haláp Hill and the Zalahaláp educational trail which had been forgotten for a long time until 2019.
The formation, which was once similar to Badacsony and Szent-György Hill, has lost its former shape, more precisely its top, thanks to human intervention, but it is still worth exploring, even if only because of the wonderful panorama.
Zalahaláp educational trail
This 3-km-long hiking trail, which consists of 10 stops, is a real family-friendly route for beginners.
Truly diverse landscapes and nature await you on this short 3km trek where you can walk in the fortress and find yourself facing both rock walls and craters.
Because it lost its basalt top due to mining, it has not received as many visitors. Moreover, it was forbidden to climb there, as it was not safe due to mining activities. While the 8-decade-long basalt mining era didn’t pass without a trace, it’s still worth climbing to the top to see what’s left of it.
Basalt mining began here during WWI; thus, from an original height of 358 meters, only 291 meters remain today. During WWII, the country needed even more stones, so Halápi was one of the three large basalt mines to obtain it.
Its popularity is no wonder, as it has the toughest basalt in Central Europe, and the runway at the Budapest Airport is also made of it. Mining lasted until 1986 and was officially discontinued in 2015 when the mining plot was cleared.
It was then in private hands for a long time, and later declared a protected area due to the animal and plant species living there, as well as geological peculiarities. And since then, luckily, it has opened for people to visit.
The educational trail approach
If you do not like to walk steeply uphill for half an hour, it is advisable to arrive by car. We chose that way too. The not-so-good road is quite bumpy, so a slower speed is recommended.
The Zalahaláp educational trail has two parking lots, one lower and one upper.
The advantage of the upper car park is that there are more parking spaces and you will be closer to the lookout, so you don’t have to climb that much. Park your car here and head left until you see the barrier, like in the picture.
A sign next to the barrier warns you that you have arrived in a “Private Area.” However, don’t let the barrier and the sign discourage you; it is forbidden to drive through by car, but it is permissible on foot.
Sights of the Zalahaláp educational trail
If the most beautiful part of the educational trail were to be highlighted, it would certainly be the lookout tower where a 360-degree panorama unfolds in front of you. However, it is worth keeping an eye out the whole way, as a wonderful environment awaits you any time of the year.
Although the Haláp educational trail is an easy field and can be walked in about 1.5 hours, it is not worth rushing through due to the many attractions. You have to walk up to the mine between vineyards and press houses, and here you can look out over a bit more deserted, more romantic countryside.
The view from the entrance of the mine is wonderful: the Y-shaped houses in Tapolca, the witness hills, and, of course, Lake Balaton are clearly visible.
At the entrance of the educational trail, a map helps you to find your way: it shows two routes, one longer and one shorter, and the route splits at the 5th station.
For those who only want to see the lookout tower, head to the right if you are facing the sign.
The longer trail takes you on the forest road, which promises really wonderful sights. Everything is clearly signed, so even the less experienced hikers don’t have to worry.
A lovely little legend, or rather a tale, is also connected to the place. Accordingly, the last giant who lived here was called Balaton and had a daughter, Haláp; they lived together in a rock castle. The girl committed suicide and this coffin-shaped mountain preserves her memory. And although you will hardly meet mystical beings here, you can still expect a miracle: a miracle of nature.
After that, you will arrive from the forest into a huge and barren crater. Be prepared as the wind is almost always strong here, and looking at the landscape, you might feel as though you were on Mars. This peculiar, cool microclimate is a good breeding ground for ferns and moss.
And since I already mentioned Stonehenge in the title, here’s the explanation. There is an amphitheater-like area inside the crater, all sides of which are bordered by high rock walls, much liek Stonehenge. This is due to volcanic activity 6 million years ago, which created 5 and 6 angled basalt blocks on the side of the crater. They extend not only vertically but also horizontally and obliquely.
Here you can really face it, what devastation man and mining can do, even though you are still greeted by an unearthly landscape. But when you consider that this huge crater is the product of stone extraction, it is not a bad thing to reevaluate things.
This area had been inhabited 2000 years ago in the Roman times. The Romans were mainly engaged in viticulture and mining. During the Turkish occupation, this part of Hungary was noisy from border fights.
The stones found here were also mined by Hungarian miners. This modern mining activity lasted for almost 80 years. During this time, millions of tons were excavated from the mountain, and a 6-8-hectare crater surrounded by a rock wall formed at the top of the hilltop. In the end, the mine closed due to a drop in demand and a new emphasis on environmental protection.
By the way, mining has also transformed the flora and fauna. In many places, instead of the dry rocky forests and rocky grasses which were typical here, only a barren rock surface remains. The current flora still contains remnants of the original vegetation, and atypical species such as the uhu owl or the peregrine falcon, and possibly the mountain grebe, also appear here. Of course, lizards love the rock walls here.
Steep stairs lead up to the tiny, remaining top.
From here, the already mentioned 360-degree panorama welcomes you. You can also see Lake Balaton, the Káli Basin, and the Tapolca Basin. But all the witness hills can also be seen and in fine weather, even the outlines of Somló are visible too.
Interestingly, between 1960 and 1990, NATO soldiers conducted military exercises in the area. In addition to the safe execution of sharp shooting, great care was taken to protect the natural values of the place. Military exercises have stopped there, but to this day it is the largest military training ground in Central Europe.
Haláp Hill is an undeservedly neglected and marginalized part of the Tapolca Basin. Although this area has been wounded and exploited for decades, it now offers an amazing sight and relaxation to visitors.
The Zalahaláp educational trail is a wonderful mix of man- and nature-formed countryside, which has now been recaptured by mother nature. And we have nothing else to do but to protect and take care of it when we are here.