Nestled in the heart of Europe is one of the oldest countries in the world: Hungary. While Budapest’s charm attracts majority of the country’s visitors, Lake Balaton is a favorite summer retreat amongst the Hungarians. It’s also the largest freshwater lake in central Europe, but more enamored by its breathtaking turquoise color than the actual size. Balatonfüred is the largest town situated on the quieter, more family-friendly, north shore of Lake Balaton and known for its Mediterranean-like climate. Once a former Roman settlement, during the 19th century Hungarian poets and writers flocked to the area to build their summer villas and utilize the spring mineral water for remedies.
Traveling by train from Budapest-Déli station to Balatonfüred generally takes 2 hours, unless the language barrier led you to a rickety old train that chugged along for 3 long and weary hours. With a few wrong turns, we lumbered through the hilly unmarked streets until we approached our hotel.
Anna Grand Hotel Wine Vital
It may have been the jetlag or the hormones—since I was 9 weeks pregnant with our second child, but this city girl was feeling slightly apprehensive over of the prospect of spending FOUR days in the sleepy Hungarian countryside. Thankfully, the check-in at the historic Anna Grand Hotel was painless and we were reveled to see our receptionist, a friendly college student, who spoke English. Our room was one of the more traditional rooms with cherry wood furniture with a lovely view of the classicist building. Started in 1825, the Anna Grand Hotel hosts one of the most prestigious balls in Hungary, Anna-ball. It’s the most exciting annual summer event and draws Budapest’s most notable artists and politicians. In addition to its elegant appearance, the hotel is carefully designed for the highest quality of services including: a wellness spa, swimming pool, gourmet restaurant, café with the most divine pastries (we indulged daily in gelato and hot cocoa in the evenings), and much more.
Strolling Tagore Promenade
A short stroll down to the waterfront was the Tagore Promenade. It was named after a Nobelist Indian poet who was healed by mineral water from a local hospital. The beautiful tree-lined promenade seemed to be the town’s greatest feature and ran along the shore away from the pier. Despite the busy atmosphere, the stroll was quite beautiful and romantic with light afternoon showers or catching a glimpse of the postcard-worthy sunsets.
The waterfront town is easy to get around by foot and offers a bevy of entertainment possibilities. The town has still retained its old Eastern European charm and we even stumbled upon a few former communist buildings mixed in with the historic buildings. Meandering the old town, the crowds quickly gathered at restaurants and cafés or souvenir shopping along the way. The marina was always a flurry of activity with children admiring the boats, busy food stalls, and live music on the stages. The villas and residential neighborhoods were very charming, but it’s hard not to notice the lake beckoning in the distance.
A trip to Balatonfüred wouldn’t be complete without a ferry ride on Lake Balaton. Gliding across the turquoise waters while enjoying the sun, but the calm can be broken by the surprising leaps of Silver Carp. These nonnative fish were introduced in 1972 and the largest Carp ever caught weighing in at over 101 pounds! Our ferry took us to Siófok, the largest town on the southern side of the lake. The town attracts younger partygoers in the warmer months, but much less populated than Balatonfüred during the off-season. The area was also filled with lakeside bars and restaurants along with sitting gardens hugging the banks. The highlight of the boat ride back and perched atop a peninsula was the views of Tihany Abbey. Built in 1055 AD, the abbey is home to some of the deepest history of the country. The first existence of the Hungarian language can actually be traced here and the village surrounding the abbey enjoys some of the highest income in all of hungry.
There are a wide array of restaurants serving local Hungarian dishes such as Borcsa Étterem and Balaton Étterem. Surprisingly, one of our favorite meals was from a food stall near along the promenade. The region’s volcanic soil and mild climate has led to the perfect balance for producing wine. Primarily known for its whites, the surrounding wine region also produces quality red wines, like Merlot and Cabernet.
Visiting Balatonfüred allowed us to experience a unique slice of Hungarian culture we wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. However, being this far into the heart of rural Hungary, we did struggle finding locals that could speak English, but this only added to the adventure of the trip. Having traveled extensively and enjoyed embracing new cultures, it’s always been important to brake out of the comfort bubble and interact with the locals. We did find it surprisingly difficult during this visit and knew we were missing out on invaluable insight. Perhaps, a bit off the beaten path but overall a relaxing getaway for those seeking Hungary’s most extraordinary scenery.
Have you visited Balatonfüred? We love to connect with others, so feel free to leave us a comment and share your experiences!
(Disclosure: Burbs2Abroad traveled to the above location as guests and was not compensated for this review. As always, our opinions are our own.) Time of Year Visited: April/May 2011