Hungary Stories and Tips

Tihany - Balaton's Little Treasure

Tihany at Balaton Photo, Hungary, Europe

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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