Tihany - the jewel of Balaton

The little peninsular of Tihany crowned by the village of the same name juts out into Balaton's nothern lakeside. It is a little haven of peace and beauty

Baratlakasok - Tihany Hermits' Houses

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fizzytom on November 28, 2011

On the eastern side of the Tihany Peninsula, on a hill called Ovar, are a group of hermit houses and a rock church hand-carved by Greek monks between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. From the heritage trail that runs round the peninsula (you can pick up a free map from the tourist office) they are signposted with the Hungarian name ‘Baratlakasok’. It’s claimed that it’s the only such site in central Europe that exists in reasonable condition, though you can see when visiting that a little work has been done in the name of safety and preservation.

We reached the houses from the village of Tihany, taking a circuitous and decidedly up-and-down walk that demands sturdy shoes and a couple of detours in places where the wooden steps were in disrepair (more the effect of bad weather than neglect). While we enjoyed the walk immensely, I feel I should point out that if you wish particularly to see the hermit houses and don’t wish to (or would struggle with) the walk, it is much easier to access the caves from the main road that winds round the lakeside, from the parking spots that run alongside the road it’s barely any distance at all to the caves.

A couple of illustrated boards explain the history of these houses. The monks who carved them from the basalt rock face were invited to come from Ukraine to Tihany by Andrew (Andras) I (and, indeed, the cave cells are very similar to ones you’ll find in that part of the world) where they were living at the time. Three complete cells still exist, as well as the church cave. Other houses had to be made safe by filling them in after a landslide in the 1950s.

You can walk right into the houses and appreciate the task that was achieved; quite a remarkable feat indeed as some of the sites are twenty metres up. To the ‘untrained eye’ – I must describe myself thus – there’s not a great deal to see. No doubt there are all kinds of interesting and illuminating details hiding in the walls that shed light on the lives and customs of the monks. Still, it’s worth a walk to see the houses and you’ll more or less have the place to yourself.
Baratlakasok-Hermit's Place
Carpathian Basin
Tihany, Hungary

The Golden House

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on November 27, 2011

The Tihany peninsula is full of interesting natural sites associated with the thermal activity that also created Lake Balaton, the body of water that the peninsular juts into. Nearly three million years ago the force of the thermal jets created a field of lava cones of which at least fifty are recorded. The ‘Golden House’ is one of them, so called because of the yellow lichen that grows on them and it's the largest of the cones in this geyser field.

The tourist information office has a free map which shows a street plan of the village on one side, and a useful map of the natural sights connected by a not too challenging walk on the other. If you wish to go directly to the Golden House it’s a brisk walk of about fifteen to twenty minutes from the centre of the village. It’s situated roughly on the other side of the Inner Lake from the village. The path starts out very easy, partly a road, and gradually becomes more of a rough track, then a narrow tree lined path which has lots of up and down sections.

Sign posts will direct you to Aranyhaz , its Hungarian name; this was just as well because I think I was expecting something more cone like. Mainly because of the approach it’s not easy to get an idea of the size and shape of the cone but if you are able to get to lower ground on the other side, it is easier to understand. Clambering onto the formation is worthwhile because you’ll get some wonderful views not just over the Inner Lake and Tihany Village but there’ll also be a glimpse of Lake Balaton in the distance.

Certainly the stone was covered in lichen though it was not the rich golden colour I've seen in photographs. We visited in September, could that explain it?

Sitting down to take in the view we suddenly realised we were not alone. A handsome lizard, his skin a wonderful bright green was quietly eyeing us, as if trying to decide whether we posed a threat. After a moment he withdrew as quietly as he had come. It was worth the trek just to see that dapper chap.

At the foot of the cone an old wine cellar contains an exhibition of stones.

I'm no expert on geology but I was keen to see the Golden House. Unless you are particularly interested in geology I wouldn't recommend a trip just to see the geyser cones but I'd encourage anyone to stop off if making a tour of the natural heritage of Tihany, even if only for the fabulous views.
Aranyhaz-Golden House Geyser Cone

Tihany, Hungary

The Road to Tihany Pier

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on November 8, 2011

Only a handful of the pubs and restaurants in the towns and villages on Hungary’s Lake Balaton open year round. We visited for the second time in May 2011 and found that the resorts were only now slowly gearing up for the oncoming season; facades were being painted, outdoor tables scrubbed and polished and shop shutters being thrown open.

Tihany’s 'Steg' Pizzeria is one place that is open almost all year round (March to December); it may be pizzeria by name but it’s actually one of those places that tick all the boxes – coffee shop, pub, pizzeria, steakhouse and snack bar – so it’s hardly surprising that it’s one of the most popular places in the village and it attracts a variety of customers.

'Steg' is situated in the heart of the village and accessed through an archway off the main street. The name means 'pier' or 'bathing jetty' and although the restaurant is very close to the immense Lake Balaton, it's not, as the name might suggest, overlooking the water, making the name somewhat Orwellian.

There’s a lovely courtyard filled with wooden tables and benches and the large indoor restaurant just behind it. Although we sat outside both times we went to Steg we did get to see the interior as you have to go inside and walk through the bar to get to the toilets. The interior is very cosy with lots of wood as it has been designed to have a nautical flavour. The courtyard was decorated with lots of hanging baskets and looked very colourful.

Our first visit was at lunchtime and we decided to share a pizza and a salad, not because it’s expensive (because it is not) but because we didn’t want to eat a great deal. There was plenty of choice of pizzas – about 25 if I recall correctly - so it was easy to find something we both liked. The pizza was more than enough for one person but just right for sharing; the salad, however, was very generous so in all we had a substantial lunch for two. Pizzas were priced roughly between £3.50 and £4.50 and a mixed salad was a very reasonable £2.09 for a sizeable bowl. After we'd ordered, a waitress brought a complimentary basket of lovely garlicky dough balls.

The pizza base was neither thin crust nor deep pan but somewhere in between and it was a little overcooked which made it quite difficult to cut to share because the topping would slide all over the base while we tried to saw it. We’d chosen the Mexican which was topped with sliced green peppers, spicy sausage, kidney beans and sweetcorn; instead of the usual tomato sauce, a chilli infused one had been used. It was tasty and filling without being astonishing but the chilli certainly made it more exciting.

The salad was colourful and included lovely fresh red tomatoes instead of the anaemic Dutch ones people in the UK seemed happy to eat and everything was really fresh and crisp. It was not dressed but oil and vinegar were provided.

As well as pizzas there are soups, larger salads suitable as a main course, chicken or lamb grill plates and a small number of pasta dishes. Main courses are priced around £4.00.

One disappointing thing about Steg is that they don’t serve domestic beers which are perfectly fine beers. We found that Czech beers are fast becoming the dominant brand with the suppliers throwing all kinds of advertising gear at the pub owners to get people buying Kozel in particular. At Steg its Gosser, the Austrian brewery, that has its name on the pumps so Himself ordered a half litre of the lager and I had a bottle of their lemon flavoured Radler. Unless you go somewhere really quite swish (there’s a new café-bar down by the car ferry terminal that takes vehicles over to Siofok that thinks it’s a cut above) the price of drinks doesn’t really vary much from place to place and beers, wines and soft drinks tend to be relatively cheap in Hungary in general; Steg is no exception.

Until the season ‘proper’ begins many places open only during the day and not at all after around 6.00pm so Steg is understandably popular as it is one of the few places open until later in the evening. We took ourselves along for a couple of beers one evening after dinner – our second visit - and found the place lively but not raucous although I suspect that in the height of summer when the peninsular is full of holiday makers it’s probably a very busy spot (The main focus of nightlife in Tihany, though, is by the ferry landing where there are several bars and nightclubs)

Steg is a pleasant place for a lunch a dinner or just a drink. The courtyard layout offers table in the sun or in the shade as you like or there is the possibility of sitting indoors. One advantage of eating up on the hill in the village proper rather than down by the lake is that you are less likely to be the victim of mozzies in the evenings.

We found the staff friendly and eager to please and, to our relief, the menu has English and German translations under the Hungarian (in spite of it being my third visit I still find the language almost wholly impenetrable).

Usually we prefer to try lots of different places rather than go back to the same one but we were due to the limited number of places open, quite happy to go there twice.

Steg Pizzeria
Kossuth Lajos Utca 18
Tihany, Hungary

May Night at the Oasis

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on September 20, 2011

Mid May is still not tourist season at Balaton though the restaurants are starting to prepare for the arrival of holiday makers. The day trippers are just starting to come and many restaurants open for lunch but are not yet open in the evenings. At Tihany we found two that were open for evening meals and on our first night there we dined at Oasis, a large restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, on a quiet residential street between Tihany’s front street and the Inner Lake. Look out for the yellow signs which will direct you to Oasis – eventually; a couple of sign post were ambiguously placed but we got there in the end.

Although there are a number of properties with thatched roofs in Tihany (the reeds come from the lakes which need to be cleared annually) this one looks rather incongruous because the place looks more like a tropical beach resort than a country restaurant. As well as the restaurant Oasis is a small complex of holiday apartments. The restaurant is open all year round and the menu changes slightly according to the season.
As it was a warm evening we decided to eat outside and you can access the garden without having to go into the restaurant. Most of the outside tables are free standing while a couple are under a wooden roof. We chose to sit in the open section near the bird house, a small enclosure (more than big enough for the birds that live in it, I hasten to add) containing a few colourful little birds, and a slightly surly parrot. Two other tables were taken and later on a rotund man, sporting a moustache that put me in mind of a walrus, came and imbibed two large glasses of wine before leaving; it wasn’t really lively but it was better than dining alone. Our table afforded us a good view of the garden though this was mostly given over to vegetables rather than flowers.

The menu at Oasis offers a bit of everything: traditional Hungarian dishes and international meals, fish from Lake Balaton, salads, meat dishes and desserts. Himself ordered the pike perch with garnish (priced per 10g but worked out around HUF2000 - £6.05) and I chose the goulash with salted potatoes (HUF1700 - £5.14)
Perhaps the best known of Hungarian dishes, goulasch comes in many different varieties, using different meats or with different vegetables added. Not only does it vary depending on the area it's made, but often according to family recipe. This one was a simple beef goulasch served with 'salted potatoes' which in this part of the world means simply boiled.The flavour of this goulasch was excellent, really rich and with plenty of melt in the mouth strips of red pepper, as well as lashings of smoked paprika. There looked to be a lot of beef but there was also a lot of fat on it which was a bit disppointing, but where there was meat it was tender and fell apart with just a touch.

The large pike perch was served whole and had been cooked on the grill; it looked delicious with a lovely crisp skin and a great golden colour. I might have been tempted had it not been for the fact that i don't really go for freshwater fish on account of the high number of bones; Himself, though, is more patient and kindly picked his way through the bones to present me with a delicious piece of fish to try; the skin had been simply sesoned before cooking which was perfect as this tasty fish needed no embellishment. It was served on a heap of sauteed mixed peppers, aubergine, courgettes and red onions - a kind of Hungarian ratatouille if you like - with a small pile of sauteed potatoes on the side. It was an excellent dish altogether.
Two delightful little cats made light work of what was left of the fish and the fat from the goulasch and then headed to someone else's table to find out what they could scrounge there.

While Himself chose to drink Hungarian beer (described on the menu as 'bear') I chose a large glass of a local wine from the south shores of Balaton, a blended Merlot which complemented my main course. There are some excellent wines made in this area and you can try some very good ones without having to pay a lot of money. We shared a simple dessert of a few balls of strawberry ice cream, nothing remarkable but a nice way to end the meal.

A little off the beaten track, Oasis is much less "showy" than most of the other restaurants in the village, which tend to try to pass themselves off as traditional inns. As a result the menu here is a bit simpler, but the food is still very much "Hungarian". The service is friendly and the surroundings are very pleasant.

Our bill came in at around £17 which is excellent value, especially when you consider that Tihany is a pretty touristy place.

It's one of the few places that opens year round so it's a good choice if you arrive early or late in the season. Highly recommended.
Oasis Restaurant Tihany
Major U. 47
Tihany, Hungary

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?


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