Searching for places that are untrampled by mass tourism, where the wines are well made and well priced, we recommend a trip or two beyond Hungary’s capital to its surrounding regions.
A medium-sized country of 10 million in the heart of Europe, Hungary is easy to get to and borders seven states, including Austria to the west, Ukraine in the east and Serbia to the south. The country’s position as a gateway to the West meant that over the centuries it has been invaded – and influenced – by Mongols, Ottomans, Austrians and Germans. It also fell to Soviet control after the Second World War. Since the Iron Curtain came down in 1989, Hungary has joined Nato and the EU, and embraced some aspects of its Western neighbours while keeping an identity of its own. That character is rooted in its landscape of vast plains, soaring peaks, sporty escapes and more than a few lakes and vineyards.
The terrain swoops from the flat grassland and wetlands in the east, known as the Puszta, to the stunning Matra Hills in the north, which are dotted with ancient churches, castles and charming independent hotels. The north shore of Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe and an agreeable spot for a summer dip, is surrounded by rolling countryside and is known for its wine, as is the area around the southern city of Pecs, which enjoys a balmy almost Mediterranean climate (though summers are hot throughout the country). International trains connect Budapest with many foreign capitals, including Vienna, Warsaw, Berlin and Paris. Budapest also has quick rail links with cities Miskolc and Debrecen in the east and Pecs, while the far-reaching Volan bus firm is also useful. Some routes, however, such as Budapest to Lake Balaton or out to the eastern wine region of Tokaj, are best reached by road. Visitors are advised to hire a car and utilise the country’s nippy motorways to get around – nowhere in Hungary is much more than a three-hour drive from the capital.
Although there are five smaller airports in Hungary, most passengers will arrive directly into Budapest Ferenc Liszt International, which is well served by routes to 144 destinations in 47 countries. The airport is 25km from the city proper (an easy cab or shuttle-bus ride) but those wishing to hire a car here will see that the busy traffic in the capital quickly disperses as you head away from town. Do remember to drive on the right, though.
Ferenc Liszt Airport
Danube Bend: Resorts on the river
Etyek: Wine region
Veszprem: Spa town
Balatonboglar: Resort town south of the lake
Heviz: Spa town at the lake’s southern tip
Pecs: A charming city with many age-old factories
Palkonya: Village close to Croatian border
Sopron: City in a western wrinkle
Pannonhalma: Don’t miss the Abbey
Eger: Northern city with great hotels at hand
Tokaj: Top wine region
Debrecen: Plain charming
Hortobagy: Home to a national park.
Szarvas: Town on the Koros River
Baja: Southern city with plenty of galleries
Kalocsa: One of the nation’s oldest towns
ILLUSTRATOR: Róbert Farkas