By ALEIX GWILLIAM
Lake Balaton is the biggest lake in Central Europe, located 28 miles southwest of the Hungarian capital, Budapest. This freshwater lake is one of the most popular destinations in Hungary, combining tourism, gastronomy, leisure activities and nature.
Hungary is still finding its feet in terms of being a tourist destination, if we compare it to other destinations in western and northern Europe. Its capital Budapest has no shortage of attractions and landmarks to visit but there’s more to see just outside the city. Lake Balaton is roughly 30 minutes from Budapest and it’s one of the most beautiful places to visit while you’re in Hungary.
Lake Balaton is the largest lake in central Europe. It is thought that the name ‘Balaton’ comes from blato, which means ‘mud’ in Slavic. Since this is the only big water location that the Hungarians have, since they’ve been landlocked since the fall of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, many Hungarians come to Balaton to enjoy good weather and the surroundings. The lake itself isn’t very deep, only 36ft at its deepest, and 48 miles long, running from the towns of Keszthely in the south to Balatonkenese in the north.
This is a perfect place for all sorts of activities, from sports and nature to relaxing in spas and savoring the region’s gastronomy. However, let’s go bit by bit.
If you’re into water and adventure sports, Lake Balaton offers you the chance to carry out sailing, windsurfing, kite surfing and water ski, with many schools in towns around the lake offering courses. Also, the lake has over 120 miles of cycling paths and you’ll be able to find bicycle rentals in most towns. Also, there are horse-riding activities and in winter, when the lake freezes over, you can skate or practice ice sports.
For nature lovers, Lake Balaton has the Balaton Upland National Park, which encompasses many protected natural areas. Areas such as Pécselyi Basin or Káli Basin, on the north shore of the lake, are ideal places to enjoy all the geological remains of what used to be volcanic activity, the wildlife and flora. Also, this is an excellent place for hiking. On the southwest shore there’s Kis-Balaton, one of the greatest wetlands in Europe and it also holds a buffalo reserve with up to 200 buffalos.
In terms of relaxing, the lake has many spa resorts around it thanks to its medicinal waters. Hévíz is perhaps most famous since it’s home to the largest hot water lake in the world. Csisztapuszta, Alsópáhok and Zalakaros are three other hot water lakes in the region. However, if you want to feel really healthy, you can also take part in the Cross-Balaton Swim Race, a race which covers 3.3 miles from Révfülop to Balatonboglár and usually takes place in September of every year.
Lake Balaton is also famous for its gastronomy. If you visit any of the towns on the shores of the lake, you will notice the large amount of specialized restaurants there. Don’t miss lángos, the typical regional bread usually served with grated cheese and sour cream. This region is notorious for its many vineyards, so make sure to try the fruity and white wines that the Balatonfelvidék, or Balaton Highlands, produce.
Lake Balaton is quite simply amazing. If you find where to stay in Budapest, aside from visiting the city, make sure you spare a day or two to visit this wonderful lake and all the things that come with it.