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A cheap, cheery, and chilled holiday destination
Lake Balaton (Hungary)
Member Name: carl_lazarevic
Lake Balaton (Hungary)
Date: 18/01/13, updated on 18/01/13 (23 review reads)
Advantages: relaxing, cheap, food and drink are delicious
Disadvantages: lake surface a little silty with sharp seaweed. Some days were too hot!
First of all I feel that a few facts about the lake will be in order so that you can understand what makes it such a wonderful place to visit. Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe and is located in the transdanubian region of Hungary. The lake is entirely fresh water and starts off incredibly shallow making it perfectly safe to wade in with small children. Along the shores of the lake ideal bathing spots have been cordoned off into small beach like areas commonly referred to as strands. A small fee is charged at the gate of these strands, (ranging from around £1-£2 depending on the level of upkeep) and while you could conceivably enter the water anywhere it would generally be considered safer to do so from the strands as the rocky shore would make both entrance and exit dangerous without steps. Once you have paid this fee you are free to pick anywhere on the grass to relax and enjoy all of the facilities that you would expect from any other beach.
The key difference with Balaton and anywhere else though is that these facilities work out as much cheaper. The current rate of conversion is 300 Hungarian Forints to the Pound. On each strand you can expect to pay Around 300 Forints for most spirits, 400 Forints for a pint of beer, and the same for a 500ml bottle a coke. Compared to the average UK beach that is already a substantial saving; however the thrifty spender is free to pop by the local Tesco and bring along their own refreshments. This can bring the price down even further to around 450 Forints for a 2 Liter bottle of coke that should last you the whole day. Beers; including a very refreshing selection of fruit flavored beers, are even better options at around 100 Forints a bottle (about 55p) and there are no restrictions against taking these onto the strands yourself. This will free up your money for some of the many great value Hungarian snacks that you will no doubt want to try.
Fair warning to dieters should be given that Hungarian snacks lean towards tasty rather than healthy. Most are prepared with lard or deep fried, and it's no coincidence that a lot of Hungarian men are slightly larger. My favorite snack was the Langos. Langos is essentially a deep fried dough (similar to a donut but much larger) that you can have coated with your choice of toppings. My sister in law enjoyed it with Nutella, though I leaned towards the traditional topping of cheese and sour cream. Other popular choices include Kolbasz (a deep fried spicy sausage served with bread) and Giros (a Pork kebab served on Pitta) which are both highly spiced dishes full of flavor. Any of these will set you back between 500-700 Forints and are worth every penny. They were filling to, so me and Vicky usually found that we could enjoy the whole day at the beach for around £15, which included dinner and the entrance fee to the strand.
Outside of food though how was the area. Personally I felt it was a nice and relaxing way to spend our anniversary. It did get kind of busy on the bank holiday, but other than that it was nice to be able to just sit in the shade with my book and relax in peace and quiet. One thing I did find was that swimming was not the easiest thing in the lake. Playing in the water with Vicky was great fun, and her brother and sister loved every second of it, but swimming was harder. You have to wade quite far into the lake to be able to swim, and once you do the floor becomes very silty and had a lot of sharp seaweed rooted in. So swimming is possible, it was just a little weird every time I took a break to stand up. Despite how much I enjoy swimming I am not a strong swimmer and require frequent breaks; which is why I am a fussy so and so who prefers swimming pools to the ocean. Other than that minor complaint though the water had a really nice temperature that made relaxing easy no matter what temperature the weather chose for each day.
I should note on the weather front that the lake made things quite pleasant for the most part. Hungary does feature some VERY hot summers (30-40 degrees) and I do not cope well when I am hot and bothered. However because of the Lake Balaton receives around 2-3 inches more precipitation than most of Hungary, which means there's a little more cloud cover around the lake and as a result a lot less unbearably hot days. Although fair warning should be given that because Hungary is a landlocked country there is no sea breeze, and so even in the Balaton when the heat does raise it is inescapable even from the shade. Under such conditions however a dip in the lake and a cold beer can prove immensely refreshing.
In terms of scenery Hungary is a very picturesque country. As you drive along the roads of the Balaton you will find many large gardens decorated with a wide assortment of colorful flowers, as well as vegetable gardens and grape vines at nearly every house. A quick peddle boat ride on the lake really brought out just how picturesque it all was, including some impressive views of the mountainous peaks on the north shores of the lake.
Other than chilling out by the lake what else can you expect? The truth is that you won't find all that much more. This is a destination for lovers of chilling out and is totally unashamed of that fact. Balaton is around 100 miles from Budapest where you would generally go for the night life, which makes regular journeys impossible. However it's just close enough that if you wanted to book a night in a hotel you could easily jump on a train to enjoy sightseeing in this aesthetically pleasing city.
If you would like a more local option then the Balaton is home to Heviz; the world's 2nd largest thermal lake. Heviz was an impressive place to visit as it is one massive sulfur lake 160 ft. deep. The water is filled with a variety of microorganisms, is slightly radioactive, and believed to have a healing effect on many common ailments. It is naturally heated by volcanic vents under the surface and as a result is very relaxing to float in. I rented out a rubber ring as Vicky did not want to risk me sinking to the bottom, but found floating there quite relaxing. It was a little creepy to be able to see my feet through the crystal clear water and still be unable to make out anything but blackness beyond, but I had my rubber ring and felt settled. In all honesty I feel that a more traditional spa where you can sit on the bottom with your head over the water is preferable, but still could not claim not to have enjoyed my 3 hour stay at the Heviz spa.£9 for that three hour pass I would highly recommend Heviz as an essential visit for anyone staying at the Balaton.
A passing mention should also be made to the delicious local wines. We were fortunate enough to experience a few wine festivals during our stay, and could therefore sample some of the local bottles. You probably won't have that chance, but I would urge you to buy a few of the local white wines as they are cheap and very tasty; even for someone like me who does not like the taste of white wine. Oh, and you'll no doubt want to try a shot or 2 of Palinka as well. The local drink of choice can be brewed from a variety of fruits and spices and has a very pleasant burning sensation on the throat. However remember the days heat, and strength of the drink, before deciding how many shots to try.
That's about it for Balaton. It's a wonderful chilled out holiday at a great price in a picturesque part of the country. If you want high adventure and nightlife then stick to a big city, but if you want to relax with your head in a book and the occasional leisurely swim, then there are few places to offer this kind of value for money. Just remember, if you're a grumpy old so and so like me about slime then make sure your hotel has a pool and your holiday will be perfect. However even without that luxury, and limited time spent swimming, I found the Balaton to be a very relaxing place to stay.
Summary: It's a wonderful chilled out holiday at a great price in a picturesque part of the country.