|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Pearl of the Danube
Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe, bordered by Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. This small country is the size of the state of Indiana in the USA and one of the oldest European countries.
When Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi was asked if he believed in extraterrestrials, he replied: "They are among us, but they call themselves Hungarians".
The Hungarians are hospitable people who speak a language and form a culture unlike any other in the region: this distinctiveness has been both a source of pride and an obstacle for more than 1100 years. Hungary guards her folk traditions jealously; the "csarda" rustic restaurant is the birthplace of the folk dance which gave way to an individual brauva. Hungary is also rich in history, folk art and horse shows which introduce the lifestyle and traditions of the "puszta",(Great Hungarian Plain)
Hungary is the country that boasts one of the world's most beautiful capital cities. Budapest sits astride the Danube and is known as the "Pearl of the Danube". The capital has two sides, Buda and Pest, stretching along the banks of the Danube representing two different personalities of the city.
Suburban Buda, and its historic castle, offer medieval streets and houses, museums, caves and Roman ruins. The dynamic Pest boasts the largest parliament building in Europe, riverside promenades, flea markets, book stores and cafe houses. Budapest has a lot to offer - churches, synagogues, palaces and historic buildings, there is an unmistakable feeling that something out of the ordinary is just around the corner, but it will be up to you to find out.
60 kms from Budapest are castles from the Middle Ages, numerous churches, villages famous for folklore, tradition and handicraft, and historic towns such as Csehac, Matram, Bukk and Hollo, perhaps Hungary's most photographed village, preserved with thatched roofs and home to some 380 people.
The Danube Bend, creating Hungary's finest landscape, is where the river passes between the hills and turns towards the south. This was the land where major historic events took place in Medieval Hungary.
Szentendre with its colourful houses, narrow alleys and two-dozen museums is the most frequently visited tourist centre along the Danube. A Mediterranean-like town with 13-14th century Roman Catholic Church standing on the Castle Hill, shops, and ancient buildings in the Main Square. The Szab Marzipan museum offers fantastic delights made of marzipan, while the Dobos Confectionery Museum introduces visitors to the true Dobos cake.
Visegrad is rich with natural and historic attractions. The castle on top of the hill has a wonderful view of the Danube Bend, Main Street and Solomon Tower, among the oldest and most intact Romanesque dwelling towers of Central Europe. The Palace of King Mathias is worth a visit.
Esztergom is the seat of the Roman Catholic Primate of Hungary and the Cathedral is the largest church in the country with the largest altar piece in the world. In the neighbourhood of the Basilica is fresco-ed castle chapel.
In Godollo the 250 year-old Royal Mansion is one of the largest palaces in the country. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy's ruling couple Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Queen Elizabeth frequently stayed here. Classical concerts are organised in the state room and the ceremonial court of the palace.
Nature has bestowed beauty on Lake Balaton, Central Europe's largest lake, which provides a natural outstanding landscape and belongs to the protected area of the National Park of Upper Balaton. The Hungarian Sea is the people's name for the 50 mile long lake with silky green-yellow water in the middle of Transdanubia. Lake Balaton is one of Hungary's most precious treasures and most frequented resorts
Badacsony Hill is an extinct casket-shaped volcano, the slopes are covered with strange geological formations, fossilised lava columns called basalt organs, as well as vineyards which produce excellent wine. One of the two hundred year old press houses is home to one of the most popular restaurants.
Balatonfured is a little town on the northern shore of Lake Balaton and became famous mostly because of its curative springs and Mediterranean-like climate. Heviz has its thermal bath which has been attracting visitors for more than two centuries. The lake is covered with water-lilies and is the second largest hot-water lake in the world and pleasant even in winter.
Keszthely, the oldest settlement of Lake Balaton, was an important hub of commerce in Roman times. The beautiful Festetics Mansion, with its ornate wrought iron gate and surrounded by an English park, is the third largest chateau in the country.
Siofok is the largest town on the southern side of Lake Balaton and is known for being the party town of the lake. Its port serves every boat route on the lake.
The Tihany peninsula, inhabited almost a thousand years, is of volcanic origin, and has a profusion of rare plants and animals. The twin-towered church of the peninsula is distinctly visible far and wide. The crypt of King Andros I, founded in 1055, survived the turbulent past and still stands in its original form. In the Museum of the Benedictine Abbey is an exhibition about ancient times.
The region of Pannonia lies west of the Danube and offers excellent wine. Pannonihalma, the most ancient Hungarian house the Benedictine Abbey, is a treasure of Hungarian architecture. The library is one of the oldest in the world and the 13th century basilica is now the scene of organ concerts. The teaching order of Benedictines continues to pass on knowledge as the monastery still operates a boarding school.
Sopron sits close to the Austrian border and was an important station along the Amber Road crossing Europe from north to south. With foundations dating from Roman times, the 185 ft. high Fire Tower has become the symbol of the city. Also worth seeing are the numerous old churches, such as the Dominican and the Evangelic, a synagogue dating back to Gothic times, and former Burgess houses, like the Storno and the Fabricius, and the Caesar House with its Venetian-style balcony.
The famous product of the town of Herend, the porcelain, has been a favourite with British and Austrian households for many years. The skills of painting are passed from father to son. Mysterious burial chambers from Roman times, a slender minaret, exquisite Zsolnay chinaware and cosy restaurants and cafes this is Pecs.
The 2,000 year old city with a Mediterranean climate boasts important Baroque monuments, including a Franciscan church and monastery with furnishings made by Franciscan monks, the Lyceum church and the former monastery of the Pauline order. There is a Carmelite nunnery next to the church of All Saints.
Nearly every house along Kaptalan street is a museum. The Zsolnay Museum displays a collection of ceramics representing major milestones in the history of world-famous Zsolnay porcelain. The modern Hungarian Gallery has one of the richest collections of 19th-20th century Hungarian fine art and the Urban History Museum details the past 200 years of the history of Pecs in an easy-to-follow manner.
The Villany-Siklos Wine Road in this ancient wine country, was the first such to be developed in Hungary. It connects through eleven towns and villages in a protected wine-growing area. The October Red Wine Festival that is held once every two years introduces the popular Villony wines: Blue Port, Merlot, Kokfrankos and Cabernet.
Mohacs is a port on the Southern Danube and is the scene of Hungary's most spectacular folk tradition called "busjoros". The masquerade originally devised to frighten off the Turks, now a merry carnival during which participants dressed in rags and wearing grotesque masks say farewell to winter and welcome the spring. Sounds like a real good idea.
Eger-Tokaji is the hilly wine region where the highest mountain and smallest village, the first Hungarian language bible from the 16th century and the oldest railway from 19th century can be found.
The world renowned Hungarian wine Tokaji Aszu is found in the cellars of this region, while one of Europe's most beautiful horse tracks and biggest cave systems is also found here.
Eger is one of the most beautiful Baroque cities in Hungary. Its inhabitants are proud of its glorious past and priceless heritage of monuments. The Prison Museum, the Waxworks Museum and the Minaret evoke historical memories. The town also offers a wide selection of full bodied red wines. In the century old wine tasting cellars honeycombing the volcanic soils of the hillside of Valley of the Beautiful Ladies (Szpasszony volgye) you can taste the famed Bull's Blood.
The historic Tokaj wine region has been producing "the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings" for 450 years. Crowned heads of states, including Russian Tsars, Polish Kings and the Pope of Rome were among regular customers of the wines made from grapes which ripen on the sunny hill until late autumn giving them high sugar content.
Hortobagy(The Pustza), the area of the Great Plain, is one of Europe's largest expanses of protected prairie, where Hungarian grey cattle, stud horses, Racka sheep with spiral-shaped horns and buffalo herds graze on open pastures. A World Heritage Site since 1999, the Hortobagy National Park stretches over an area of 200,000 acres and is of great interest on account of its nomadic stock-raising, sand dunes and ancient juniper groves. In this region the sun shines more hours than any other region in the country and abundantly flowing thermal water helps health-seekers to recuperate.
You can go by carriage ride to experience the Puszta and see the powerful horses full of energy pounding the plain, or the grey cattle and sheep grazing on the open range. The most spectacular sight is the so-called "Puszta-Five", where a horseman drives galloping chargers, himself standing precariously with one leg on the back of each of the two rear horses, a sight not to be missed and never forgotten, as is Hungary, one of the most beautiful countries in Central Europe.
The Alfold, a distinctive landscape protected treasure, has given us everyday terms such as puszta, paprika, csard and csikos, a place of legends and legendary sights, two bird nature reserves, three national parks and Central Europe's biggest windmill and the plains only medieval castle.
Smooth water, huge bays, backwaters and islands, rich fish and wild stock this is Lake Tisza. In the middle of the Great Plain, Lake Tisza is the second largest surface of water in the country. The lake is situated on what was a flood plain and in between water dams there are sixteen islands and ten water channels. The shallow water areas are suitable for bathing and the deeper parts for sailing, water skiing and surfing.
The Upper Tisza region is one of the most wildly romantic districts in all Hungary with old peasant houses, a cemetery at Szatmarceske, a sight that is unique in Europe -six hundred, boat-shaped, carved wooden grave-posts, each about the height of a man, and in Turistvandi another Central European protected rarity, an eighteenth century carved water mill, resting on wooden piles and still in working order.
Bugac, the area between the rivers Danube and Tisza, includes the Kiskunsag National Park where at Apaji the largest concentration of grey cattle anywhere in Hungary are to be found. Another special feature of the Kiskunsag region is the range of huge, yellow sand dunes, two of which are still moving today.
Hungary has produced some culinary delights such as paprika, powdered onion from Mako, the world's most flavoursome green pepper, goose liver pate and more than 100 types of wine from 22 regions.
Paprika, lard, onion, garlic and sour cream are essential ingredients for authentic Hungarian dishes. Almost every family in a village raises its own pork and butcher it during the winter months within a great feast called disznstor. Ancient Hungarian dishes such as stuffed cabbage, beef soup, fish soup and the famous goulash are still popular today. The Turks during their 150-year rule brought paprika to Hungary which became a symbol of Hungarian cooking. First only peasants cooked with paprika and the country is now the leading producer of paprika.
Dishes you simply must try are of course goulash in one form or another, Hortobogy style pancakes filled with minced chicken paprika, Lecs (Hungarian style Ratatouille), roast duck with forest fruit sauce and potato croquettes, Jokai bean soup with smoked pork knuckles, goose leg with steamed red cabbage and sauteed potatoes mashed up with onion, and Toro gomboc (cottage cheese dumplings).
For dessert sample apple or cherry strudel, Dobos cake, Gundel palacsinta (Gundel crepe), Somloi galuska (Somlo sponge cake) or the amazing Gesztenye pure (Chestnut pure with whipped cream).
Palinka is a traditional part of Hungarian hospitality, so no visitor of Hungary should even dream to escape a tot! The name palinka can only be used for those products distilled from 100% fruit - that is without added alcohol or artificial aromas - and with an alcohol content of at least 37.5%, it is not called firewater for nothing!
This has been just a taste of Hungary, a country so lovely with such history you really must visit for yourself and maybe stay awhile, you sure will not want to leave in a hurry!