Friends often asked which was our favourite country to visit during our European holiday in 2013. At the time we struggled to reply as every part of our land and river-based travels through Belgium, northern France, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia had been so spectacular. In hindsight though, it is often the beautiful country of Hungary that we revisit in our dreams.
This started with the magical experience of cruising along the Danube River into the magnificent capital city of Budapest late at night in early November – oh so icy cold! It seemed as if every fairy tale building and the many bridges were perfectly lit up just for us.
After leaving our river cruise the next morning we made our way to the Hotel Palazzo Zichy, a historic building on the Pest (pronounced pescht) side of Budapest. Buda and Pest were independent cities separated by the river until 1873 so it really is a ‘tale of two cities’. We quickly found out that each local has their own opinion on which side is the best place to live even today! The hotel was divine and we liked to sit on the huge window ledges with a glass of wine to check out the local happenings.
Our private tour with Andras from My Personal Budapest (booked 6 months ahead!) was an amazing day! We drove southwest through beautiful country for 2 hours to visit Lake Balaton, and the early fog cleared for us to enjoy coffee by the lake.
We then ‘promenaded’ through the gardens and trees surrounding the Balatonfured health resort. Andras explained that during the Cold War this was the one place where East Germans were permitted to travel to, so we could imagine the happy reunion of those families separated by the communist regime in such a beautiful place.
Next was a delicious Hungarian goulash lunch in Tihany. Yum, half way between a soup and a stew, with LOTS of fresh paprika – just the thing for a cold day!
Tihany is an ancient town, home to an 11th century Benedictine Abbey with a king buried in the crypt, and old thatched roof homes – and check out the carved figures! We loved exploring the tiny streets and shops and bought many beautiful Christmas decorations.
And then we found this hot shop showcasing the many different varieties of chillies!
En route back to Budapest one more joy was in store for us – wine tasting at the Hernyak Vineyard in the Etyek region. After our guided tour, we met upstairs to try the different vintages along with a platter of local delicacies to whet the appetite (yet again!) cooked up on a huge red stove which Ian is still lusting after!
We were the only English speaking people among the families and couples enjoying an evening out and it was so special to hear all the different languages being spoken around us.
It was a joy to have such a great local guide who was fluent in English and comfortable answering our many questions. Andras gave us far more insight into the past, current and future situations faced by Hungary and explained some of their history and politics. The Hungarian people have struggled with a series of ‘conquering hordes’ over the centuries starting with the Magyars – Mongolian invasion in the 8th century. For many, the latest ‘invasion’ has been Hungary joining the European Union, although they are yet to adopt the euro.
Our remaining time was spent exploring as much of the city as possible using public transport. Buda Castle in the heritage Castle Hill area was fascinating.
All in all, a great introduction to a strong and passionate country – we would love to hear from others about your Hungarian experiences as we plan to return one day!