24 Mar Feign illness to take the waters at Lake Balaton, Hungary
The Victorians and early Edwardians were always very keen on visiting “the waters” whenever one felt unwell. It was felt that a visit to say Bath or Lake Geneva could refreshen and work wonders for one’s health. Some lucky folks, were considered “professional invalids” as they travelled from Spa town to Spa town to seek solace in its waters.
After visiting Lake Balaton in Hungary, I can see why that notion would be very appealing. At first sight, I knew I really didn’t want to be anywhere else. A sudden sickness requiring a lengthy stay, would have been bliss.
When I first visited Communist Poland in 1969 as a young man, I stayed in a nice residential area called Zoliborz, Warsaw. There was a fantastic restaurant called Balaton, which I was soon told was named as a tribute to a lake in Hungary. Ever since, I have wanted to visit. The staff had told me that the “emerald waters” were enchanting.
This dream finally came true in Autumn 2016 when I managed to visit Balaton, the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe. By being just 135km from the centre of Budapest, there really is no excuse not to visit.
Our first stop was Balatonfured. We got our first view of the Lake and it was breath-taking. There is a big sanatorium (rather interestingly called State Hospital) here and it was very easy to see how staying there would make one rapidly feel much better… The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore stayed there and to commemorate his stay there is a beautiful bust of the poet in the park on the shore. If you feel the need to stretch your legs then venture on a long walk with tall trees on either side of you called the Tagore Promenade. If you can’t feign illness to stay in the Sanatorium then there is always the Astoria Hotel nearby to rest your weary legs.
It is worth hiring a car to drive around the lake of almost 600 sq kms to the other side you can stay in Heviz. We opted for the Danubius hotel. We could walk out of our room to the Lake. This is a thermal lake and lots of German and Russian tourists come here to ‘take the waters’. Its easy to see why. One is momentarily transported back to the times of Tolstoy and the French speaking Russian aristocracy. There are lots of natural minerals known for their healing properties, in the lake. Arthritis, Rheumatic ailments are amongst the many that benefit from this. The temperature is extremely pleasant throughout the year even when it is quite cold outside. In October it was just perfect. Spa facilities right on the Lake are excellent here and there are many points to jump off from. The Lake has different depths and takes on different colours. There are sailing opportunities.
But if you aren’t one for spas and health, there are wetlands like the Kis Balaton National Park. Not to be missed is a visit to the 13th century Sumeg castle atop a hill.
Last but not least there are special Hungarian wines in the region which must be savoured. Not as well known as Tokaj in the North but delicious white wines which speak of the terroir and are as special as Balaton.