Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Eastern/Central Europe at 592 km2. It is completely landlocked, fed by the Zala River and Sió River is the only outflow point.
10 feet deep on average, many people teach their kids to swim in this lake. It is ideal for little ones, as the coast walkout is pretty shallow, and can go in 100 feet in spots, and is about waist deep on an adult in others.
Our kids ran into the lake and we didn’t see them again until dinner on both of the days we enjoyed swimming and sunbathing at the lake resort.
The people are not shy on a hot summer day! Not a single woman wore a one piece bathing suit, and Speedos were everywhere. When in Rome. Alfonz bought me a two piece on the beach. There won’t be any pictures!
People changed on the beach and a few women were topless. Most kids under 3 ran around naked, and young girls wore bottoms only. My kids loved this aspect, and quickly got over their shyness.
Akos and Angela, Angelina’s godparents, took us out on their boat just after arriving Sunday evening. There sailboat has a sleeper cabin below and is around 24 feet long. The breeze was perfect and the views stunning. No motorized boats are aloud on the lake. This keeps the water clear and fish abundant. A small engine in case of emergency is aloud to get in and out of the dock, as well as rescue vehicles.
1 million – 1.2 million people per year enjoy the banks of Lake Balaton. It only became a local destination to the common people of Hungary between 1950 and 1960. Before that it was only for the elite, rich and royalty. Balatonfüred and Hévíz resorts were established long before to cater to the Hungarian aristocracy. Once the train lines were put in, and after the war, it became a major destination to all. With communism in play from 1944-1989 it was one of the only summer destinations for Hungarians.
The beaches of the lake have sand shipped in, and has a seaside feel. But the waters of Lake Balaton are fresh. The packed mud base, mixed with sand gives the ideal conditions for sandcastles! Kids play in the shallow banks building, digging, and throwing for hours.
A ‘Strand’ is a gated shore, park area, which you pay upon entry, and filled with everything you could possible need for a day at the lake. Vendors sell; floats, hats, swimsuits, ice cream, drinks, magazines, and of course Langos, Palacsinta, Hungarian Catfish, soups, and all the yummy sweets and booze Hungary is famous for. These beach areas come equipped with playgrounds, and jumping castles, ATV’s, rental boats and slides. For a price and it is usually high. Loads bring their own picnic baskets and enjoy a day at the beach like we would on the West Coast. Except it is packed, jam-packed full of people shoulder to shoulder. From the boat they sounded like geese and ducks chattering away.
There are also entry points along the lake that are free and are deserted. Usually the locals use these places for a quick dip in the mornings or the evenings veering clear of the tourists. The natural long grasses grow along the shores and you are far more likely to meet a water snake or a frog. These public areas often have a little kids play area and a picnic table.
Tourists come for many reasons. Another draw are the bike paths around Lake Balaton. 220 km around makes for a fun weekend or week of exploring the little towns and communities of its shores. Many young Hungarians do this for fun, and is a great way to meet people from all over the world.
The most popular destination on Lake Balaton is Siófok, known as the ‘Party Capital of Hungary’. It is the biggest city on the Lake, and is one of the richest municipalities of Hungary from it’s tourism. Located on the flat Southern region of the lake, it makes a great stop with beautiful walkways and beaches to enjoy. The waves were big as the wind blew. The kids can’t pick which they like better, the waves of the South or the shallow mud sand beaches we discovered on the North Shore.
After a long day at the lake; swimming, tanning, enjoy the surf, we walked out of the pay beach area to find a Wine festival, in full swing, in the township of Balatonalmádi, where we were staying. They had local dance performers, wine to sample and buy, as well as food vendors. The main staples were there plus a few note worthy additions. Pork-hock, cabbage and bean stew, and small lean pork fried in onions and paprika over roasted potatoes, all in giant vats to lure you in. Sold! I love cabbage, served with homemade bread, sliced thick like mamma used to make and sour cream for dipping, yummy! Alfonz tried blood-liver sausage with pickled peppers Peter Piper picked! But sadly only got to one when Peter accidentally gave Alfonz hot pickled peppers. And we mean hot!! They had loads of different sausages to choose from too and it all went by weight, so huge eyes, stay home!
You can find hand made pottery from Tihany, another great destination on the Lake. Bragging the highest per capital income on the lake and the highest real-estate prices in all of Hungary.
I showed a picture of the Rétes for my mom. Sadly they did not have potato filled ones like my Nagymama used to make. I have more a salty tooth than a sweet tooth, and she would make a special of potato filled Rétes for us! I searched Hungary for the best potato Rétes on visits to Hungary of the past and found it in the Grand Market, first thing in the mornings fresh out of the oven. I guess it is not as popular as the sour cherry filled thin pastries or the cottage cheese and walnut flavours, but it’s salty-peppery potato filled light crust heaven for my mouth. Poppyseed is also yummy, but they have every flavour you can imagine. Like Langos, it is a must try.
All in all the Lake is a restful, enjoyable break from the city life we live in Budapest. Totally different Hungarian experiences, but equal in culture and enjoyment. A definite must see while touring Europe.