Lake Balaton - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton is the largest freshwater lake in Europe and the most popular vacation region in Hungary. Lining both shores of its 48-mile (77km) stretch are many towns and resorts, and the north and south shores are distinctly different in character offering something for everyone.

The south shore is thronged by a string of characterless holiday resorts and high-rise buildings where crowds of young people congregate for a hedonistic holiday of sun and fun. Besides the pretty beaches and good swimming, there are numerous land and water-based activities, and at night the discos pulse until the early hours. Siófok is the largest and busiest resort that dominates the southern shore during the summer months, but is completely dead in winter.

The southern edges of the lake include the Golden and Silver Shore beaches (Aranypart and Ezüstpart). Breaking away from the beach life tourists can take a walk down either Beszédes and Petõfi promenades. The Lutheran Church in Oulu Park is also a notable attraction. A short day excursion to the nearby town of Zamárdi and a visit to the towns Ethnographic Museum are well worth the effort.

By contrast the northern shore has limited waterfront development due to its deeper, colder waters and reed beds; its attractions are of an historical and cultural nature rather than activity-centred. Although there are resorts here, it is a destination for those travellers looking for less ostentatious showiness, rather more in the way of scenery, interesting towns and sights, and mineral spas, complemented by the fine wines from the nearby hills of Badacsony. Many of the villages on the shores of the lake have a number of medieval ruins and fortresses.

The oldest and most popular spa resort is Balantonfüred, with an easygoing sophistication and relaxed atmosphere. Jutting out into the lake and almost joining the northern and southern shores is the Tihany Peninsula, which has an old Benedictine Abbey in the quaint town and is surrounded by a nature reserve, which many consider to be the most beautiful place on the lake. To the west and marking the end of the northern shore is the interesting town of Keszthely with its Baroque Festetics Palace which was built in 1745 on the foundations of a ruined castle.

Lake Balaton has been a popular recreation area since the Roman times when the aristocracy built villas and set up health spas here. It was also a famous winegrowing region and the graceful rolling hills, cool water and warm sunshine still provide the perfect setting and climate for both vacations and vineyards.

Information & Facts

Getting Around

With over 120 miles (200km) of cycle tracks around the villages and shores of Lake Balaton, cycling is a popular way to get around. Visitors to Balaton between May and September can make use of the Balaton ferry to cross between the lake's southern and northern shores (Tihany and Szántód), while excursion boats cruise between a number of ports along the shores of the lake. Local buses are also available and it is possible to drive between different towns surrounding the lake.

Hungarian (Magyar) is the official language, but German is widely spoken, especially in the areas close to the Austrian border. English is spoken in tourist areas and most hotels.

Even though Hungary is part of the EU it does not use the Euro; the official currency is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). Travellers cheques are not widely favoured. Credit cards most accepted in the country are AMEX, Diners Club, EnRoute, Euro/Mastercard, JCB and Visa, and these can be used to withdraw cash from banks and ATMs and to pay bills in hotels, restaurants and most shops. Banks usually open between 8am and 4pm on weekdays and some are open on Saturdays. ATMs and currency exchange machines are available in towns and cities throughout the country. It is advisable to retain exchange receipts for proof of legal currency exchange.

Hévíz is the site of Europe's largest and the world's second largest thermal lake, Gyógytó. It is the most extraordinary sight with its huge milky blue surface covered in water lilies and steam. The warm water wells up from a volcanic crater spring about 128 ft (40m) below the surface and provides year round swimming, although the recommended maximum time in the water during any one session is one hour. The mud on the bottom and edges is said to be slightly radioactive, good for various medical conditions, but in small doses. The complex offers indoor and outdoor swimming. A pavilion in the centre of the lake is reached by a covered bridge and indoor swimming takes place in an area enclosed with Plexiglas. Gaps in the plastic lead to the outdoor swimming area, the rest of the lake, where swimmers can float among the water lilies and swim between the 'rest' platforms bobbing on the surface.

Keszthely is a pleasant university town that has a life of its own outside the tourist season. It has trendy cafes, tree lined streets and a busy market area with strings of peppers and garlic decorating the stalls beside old fashioned weighing scales. Its most important sight is the Festetics Palace, the residence of the wealthy Festetics family with over 100 rooms. The Helikon Palace Museum and Library are in one of its Baroque wings. Keszthely is the best town on Lake Balaton from which to explore the surrounding area, including the nearby Kis-Balaton nature reserve, excellent for bird watching, and the thermal lake at Hévíz.

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