Touring Lake Balaton

Reviews and writings from several trips to Balaton, 2003 and 2011

Tihany - Balaton's Little Treasure

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by fizzytom on June 22, 2011

We visited Tihany in mid-May, before the tourist season proper gets underway, and we were grateful for having done so as it meant that for much of the time we were able to explore the countryside without seeing another soul.

Although there is some development on the peninsula (most notably the village which is also called Tihany), it's largely unspoiled and the scenery and nature combine to attract walkers, fishing fans, cyclists and photographers. In Tihany village there are a couple of manmade visitor attractions but the great outdoors is what primarily draws tourists to Tihany.

The tourist office is a good place to start and you can pick up a double-sided map of Tihany. One side is a useful street map of the village and the roads in and out of the peninsula with various useful services indicated. The other side is a map of the peninsula in terms of natural and historical features; this map is less useful because the suggested walks contradict the ones sign-posted on the footpaths, however it does give you some ideas of what you might want to see. Unfortunately this is only available in English so it's a good idea to bring a guidebook with you.

There are two inland lakes, actually two large caldera, on the peninsula and there are sign-posted walks around both of them which are very pleasant in their own right but a better walk can be made seeing both of them along with some of the other interesting features of the peninsula. The smaller lake is nearer the town and is surrounded by pretty meadows, the larger one is a little further inland but situated much higher and affords terrific views not only across the peninsula but over Balaton too. The larger lake is shallower and has to be cleared of some of its reeds once a year; the reeds are then used to thatch many of the picturesque cottages in Tihany village. The volcanic activity that created the lakes also threw up lava columns (there are more than one hundred of them on the peninsula) which can be seen today and another sign-posted footpath will guide you there; a little climbing is needed for the last few metres. The largest and most impressive of these is known as the "Golden House" because of the colour of the lichen that grows on it.

Tihany village becomes quite busy in the summer, especially at weekends. We were there just as the season was getting underway but the hot weather had brought out lots of day trippers. The village is bustling during the day but is much quieter in the evenings as day trippers go home or holiday makers head back to their campsites or hotels in the larger livelier resorts. There are souvenir shops lining the main street and several places purporting to be museums but really acting as a front for various shops - the "Marzipan house" being a good example; another, a house covered top to bottom in dried chillies, smelled fabulous as you walked past, until you passed by the "Lavender House" and picked up the fragrance wafting from the various lavender-filled trinkets on sale there.

The chief attraction in the village is the abbey. The village had been founded in the eleventh century when King Andrew founded a burial place for the royal family; subsequently a monastery was built which was occupied by Benedictine monks. This was demolished when the Turks came but rebuilt in the Baroque style in the 19th century. The twin steeples of the church can be seen from Balaton and dominate the village. Elsewhere in the village there are several peasant houses that are worth seeing and a collection of picturesque dwellings that were part of the abbey grounds. Just behind the abbey there's a lovely walk that gives great views of Balaton. We were sitting up there on a Saturday evening when two wedding groups came out of the abbey to have their photographs taken against the backdrop of the lake; I can scarcely think of a more beautiful spot for wedding pictures.

Moving away from the village there's so much to see. You can walk, or take the road train, down to Balaton, or even hire a bike if you think you can mange the hills on the way back. There's a pretty harbour and a manmade strand for bathing (only open in the summer months) and from here you can take a ferry over to Siofok on the southern shore; if you want to take a car or a bike you must take the car ferry from the very tip of the peninsula, about two and a half kilometres along the lakeside road. We walked from one harbour to another, taking our time to enjoy the view and stopping for a beer. Every ten metres or so there's a picnic style table and chairs and fishermen get up early to get a pitch. Some bring their wives who lie in their bikinis, stretched out on a sun lounger with a cheap paperback while the menfolk catch something for dinner. Some have radios playing quietly, some have barbecues going, it reminded me of Americans and their tailgate barbecues at the big game.

If you take the country path (rather than the road way) from Tihany village to the small harbour you'll pass the "Hermit's Place" some old dwellings carved by hand into the cliffs by Greek orthodox monks between the 11th and 14th centuries. A bit further on is Echo Hill, a place that has been a popular stop of point for tourists since at least the 1840s; it's said that if you shout from Echo Hill the sound is bounced back by the north wall of the church. I can't claim to have had any luck with that one but someone later told us you need to try on a windless evening for the best results.

If you want to stay on the peninsula there are plenty of options. We arrived with no booking and simply knocked on the doors of houses with signs advertising rooms to let. At the first there was no reply but we struck gold with the second and bagged ourselves a whole little apartment on the upper floor of the home of a lovely family - bathroom, kitchen, bed sitting room and dining area and use of the garden for Euro20 a night for the two of us. If you prefer something more formal there are several pensions and larger hotels too. Down on the lakeside road there are some upmarket hotels too.

There's no shortage of eating places either. If you're self-catering there are a couple of small stores (there's also a TESCO and a SPAR in Balatonfured just off the peninsula) and the bakery opens early which is great for an easy breakfast. The bakery also doubles as an ice cream parlour and their ice cream is simply delicious. The restaurants on the main street are, not surprisingly more expensive, but I'd recommend those in the back lanes between the main street and the small inner lake. I can't complain about any of the food we ate in Hungary and it actually got better and better the further we moved from Budapest. The highlight in Tihany was freshwater fish from Balaton - so cheap and always beautifully cooked and served.

But for me the best part thing about Tihany was getting away from it all; the scenery is breathtaking and within a minute you've escaped the bustling main street and all around is the sound of birds, crickets and frogs. When taking a rest after climbing to the geyser hills I sensed a movement by my feet and there, just peeking out from behind some rocks, was the most brilliantly green lizard I've ever seen; ten minutes later we left the shady trail and stumbled into a meadow that was filled with literally thousands of tiny purple butterflies. I really don't think I've ever had such an intense feeling of being surrounded by nature.

If Tihany sounds like the sort of place you'd like to visit then it's really quite easy. You can drive down from Budapest in a couple of hours, or take a train which follows the lakeside for much of the way. The train stops in Balatonfured from where you pick up a local bus which drops you in Tihany twenty minutes later. We left Budapest at 9.00 am and were in Tihany for lunch. You could even go for the day if you're in Budapest - what could be better on a hot summer's day than getting out of the city?

Friday night at Lake Balaton

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by fizzytom on December 2, 2003

The lake itself - it's huge, beautiful and not to be missed. In season and at weekends, there is sailing and other water sports. There are beach areas for bathing and it is a great spot for fishing.${QuickSuggestions} In the off-season, do your research before you pick somewhere to stay. Many places shut down for the winter, and even by September, you will find many facilites shut down.${BestWay}

Hotel Tiffany

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fizzytom on May 16, 2005

Arriving without accommodation in Balatonlelle, we were cheerful to see lots of houses displaying the "sobe" (rooms to let) sign. However, possibly because October is the off-season, many of these turned out to be securely locked up with no signs of life.

Our only option seemed to be to investigate Hotel Tiffany, a slightly down-at-heel place close to the railway station but set off the road amongst trees.

The hotel caters mainly to German oldies on package tours, and the receptionist spoke no English, but was quite happy to converse, in very friendly fashion, in German. She didn't mind us asking to see the room before we decided and was generally helpful all around.

We paid around £30 for a double room with private facilities and breakfast. The room was a good size and the bathroom was also comfortable – it was a pity that the water absolutely reeked of sulphur! The bedding, while clean, was pretty thin, and a stashed blanket we tracked down was too small and a bit scratchy.

The television didn't work, and although we weren't really bothered about that, we did mention it only to be told that they couldn't replace it, as they had no more.

Having been up early, we took a nap before heading out to seek some dinner and were soon after woken up by the sound of the returning pensioners back at the hotel after a day trip somewhere, clearly full of excitement, as they had no idea they were making so much noise!

The next morning, our fellow guests had breakfast early and were on their way out before we got to the dining room. There wasn't much left and the staff didn't seem much inclined to provide more, so we feasted on slow-cooked peppers (actually very good!), sweaty cheese slices, very garlic-y sausage and stale bread, watery juice, and strong coffee - it was actually much better than it sounds!

The hotel has a bar, pool (closed at the time we were there due to season), and small outdoor play area for children. It is close to the lake (about a 3-minute walk), the train station, and a small number of bars and restaurants.

While not the cheapest option at Balatonlelle, it wasn't bad under the circumstances, and while it couldn't be described as plush, it was adequately clean, comfortable, and in a good location.

Hotel Tiffany
Vas Megyei Önkormányzat Családi Üdülője
Balatonlelle, Hungary
+36 (85) 554-060

Rocco Etterem es Pizzeria

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fizzytom on December 4, 2006

Rocco is really a tale of two restaurants depending on the time of year you visit. We visited in September just as the season was drawing to an end although the windy weather may have kept people away that night. From the outside the place didn't look much - dreary net curtains and dim lights were all you could really see. We tried to find somewhere else instead but many places had already closed for the season and so we made our way back to Rocco. What a surprise to go in and find the place lively and buzzing with only a few tables free. Admittedly it was quite dull inside, the decor was a bit drab although it was homely and cosy. Lack of Hungarian was no problem, the menu was also in English (though poor translations) and German (much easier).

The restaurant offers a range of traditional Hungarian dishes along with international meat-based dishes, Wiener schnitzel, for example, some freshwater fish dishes, and a range of pizzas. I went for the trout which was served with over done vegetables; luckily it was a fine piece of fish, cooked well. My partner went for the seafood pizza which was a generous size and had a thin and crispy base. The seafood was bit mean but OK. He had a side salad with this which was nicely dressed and the vegetables were crisp and fresh. Local and international beers are sold as well as locally made wines which are very good value. A bottle of wine and the two mains came to about £8. We picked up a postcard on leaving which showed photographs taken on summer days, depicting the restaurant as a lively and busy establishment. They have lots of outdoor space which will be quite nice to sit out in in the summer, though it is quite near a main road. I imagine that their are livelier and more pleasant places than Rocco in the high season, but in the off season Rocco is fine - nothing more.

Rocco Etterem es Pizzeria
Kossuth Lajos Utca 3
Balatonlelle, Hungary, 8638
06 85 354-552

The can't miss it!

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by fizzytom on December 3, 2003

My first glimpse of Lake Balaton, the biggest freshwater lake in Europe was from the window of the train from Budapest. Your first view is breathtaking and the amazement doesn't stop. We were there on a very windy and rather cloudy day but that just seemed to make it more beautiful. The train follows the line of the lake for much of its journey south and it allows you to appreciate how vast it is and how varied life around the lake is. We passed through small villages, holiday parks and larger towns. In parts, the lake is lined with holiday homes - tiny wooden houses, painted all the colours of the rainbow, each sitting in it's own neatly trimmed garden plot.

Once we'd arrived in Balatonlelle and found accommodation, we headed straight for the lake. A word of advice: much of the land on the lakeside is owned by hotels, sailing
Clubs, and holiday parks, so there is not complete unbroken access and you often find yourself abruptly stopping and being forced to back track.

That overcome, it's a fantastic place for walking. After 4 days of trains and cities, it was great to feel the wind in your hair and blow away the cobwebs. It was much too windy for pleasure boating but there was one solitary yacht on the lake, bobbing steadily on the waves. Over in the distance you could see the faint glimmer of lights on the north shore just starting to be switched on the in the late afternoon and behind them the ominous shape of dark mountains as a backdrop.

There is a marina at Balatonlelle and as we strolled round that Friday afternoon, people were starting to arrive, probably from the city, for a weekend on their boats at the lake. I felt quite envious as I watched them unload groceries from the car and carry them on board.

Next to the marina is an area with loads of cafes, bars and small wooden kiosks which, had they been open, would have been selling souvenirs and children’s toys. A couple of cafes and bars were open and we enjoyed a couple of beers and huge bowls of hearty bean soup and a side order of deep fried Hungarian cheese.

I am sure Balaton has a special beauty in summer, but on this blustery September day, it charmed its way into my heart.

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