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.