Lake Balaton © Heather Cowper
Lake Balaton is the largest freshwater lake in
Central Europe and the most popular vacation region in Hungary.
Lining both shores of its 48-mile (77km) stretch are many towns and
resorts, and the north and south shores are distinctly different in
character, offering something for everyone.
The south shore is thronged by a string of largely
uniform holiday resorts and high-rise buildings where crowds of
young people congregate for hedonistic holidays. Besides the pretty
beaches and good swimming options, there are numerous land and
water-based activities while at night the discos pulse until the
early hours. Siófok is the largest and busiest resort and it
dominates the southern shore during the summer months, but it is
almost completely dead in winter.
By contrast, the northern shore has limited
waterfront development due to its deeper, colder waters and reed
beds. Its attractions are more historical and cultural in nature.
Although there are resorts here, it is generally a destination
embraced by travellers looking for picturesque scenery, interesting
towns, and mineral spas, complemented by the fine wines from the
nearby hills of Badacsony, rather than a party scene. Many of the
villages on the shores of the lake are home to a number of medieval
ruins and fortresses to explore.
Lake Balaton has been a popular recreation area since
the Roman times when the aristocracy built villas and set up health
spas here. It was also a famous winegrowing region and the graceful
rolling hills, cool water, and warm sunshine still provide the
perfect setting and climate for both vacations and vineyards.
Keszthely, Lake Balaton © Judith Duk
Balatonfüred has been the most fashionable resort on the Lake Balaton since the 18th century when the medicinal centre was established, and people are still drawn here on holiday because of its healing thermal waters. While the mineral baths are reserved for patients, the Balatonfüred resort area remains popular with tourists as there are three good beaches for swimming. The shores of the lake are great for all manner of water activities, from sunbathing to yachting, and there are also a number of cycle tracks along the lake and through the surrounding region. A wine tasting festival is held in August annually and the famous Anna Ball takes place on the weekend closest to the 26 July (Anna Day) at the Anna Grand Hotel.
Thermal Lake © Heather Cowper
Hévíz is the site of world's largest thermal lake: Gyógytó. It is the most extraordinary sight with its huge milky blue surface covered in water lilies and steam. The warm water wells up from a volcanic crater spring about 40 metres (128ft) below the surface and provides year round swimming, although the recommended maximum time in the water during any one session is one hour. The mud on the bottom and edges is said to be slightly radioactive which is good for various medical conditions but only in small doses. A pavilion in the centre of the lake is reached by a covered bridge and indoor swimming takes place in an area enclosed with Plexiglas. Gaps in the plastic lead to the rest of the lake where swimmers can float among the water lilies and swim between the platforms bobbing on the surface. There are also various other spa and health treatments that can be enjoyed.
Address: Lake Balaton region; Website: www.heviz.hu/en
Keszthely town centre © Alensha
Keszthely is a university town with trendy cafes, tree-lined streets, and busy market areas. Modern history shows Kesthely dating back some 760 years, inhabited since the Roman Empire. Its most import sight is the Festetics Palace, with the Helikon Palace Museum and Library both in one of its baroque wings. Varosi Strand is great for travelling families, with its beach and amusement area. It has water slides, a big pool, and various play spaces, as well as nice lawns, a beach, and loungers. Keszthely likes to describe itself as the capital of Lake Balaton and it is the best town from which to explore the surrounding lakeside area, including the nearby Kis-Balaton nature reserve (excellent for bird watching) and the thermal lake at Hévíz.
Address: Western shore of Lake Balaton; Website: www.keszthely.hu/en/