Of course, wellness hotels are great for relaxation, and a pleasant massage can be recharging, but life at Balaton in winter is about more than that. To be on the lakeshore, to wander around Káli Basin, to talk with locals, to have great wines with friends with good music thrown in the mix – these are just as soothing for body and soul as a strong hand on our shoulders. Here are some alternative fitness ideas for the soul.
When Saint Stephen first saw the magical landscape of Bakony Valley, he was so charmed that he immediately founded a monastery. Saint Gerard, who was also the master of Prince Imre, Saint Stephen’s son, and who later died a tragic death, also spent time here as a hermit. Although there aren’t any hermits in the forest now, some things haven’t changed: the shape of Szent Mauríciusz Monastery in Bakonybél, the silence, and the tranquility that tears one right out of the hustle and the bustle of urban life in such a way that a cell phone no longer seems neccessary. This is a different life, one that’s interesting to those who aren’t religious as well – and, while we are leaving social media behind, the monks are just starting to discover it.
The church is under construction until Easter, but the pilgrim-yard, the 3 hectares large arboretum, the 1.5 hectares large organic herb garden, and the bookbinding workshop can all be visited and we can even try bookbinding at the workshop (just make sure to make an appointment at least one day in advance). The monks give tastings of the products made at the monastery; the ever-changing selection includes jams, herbal teas, chocolates, ramsons puree, liqueurs, and syrups.
Bookbinding workshop: for those who have an entry ticket to the monastery: 750 HUF/person
Tasting: 450 HUF/person on top of the guided tour’s fee
Like every good farmers’ market, Veszprém’s Csalán Farmers’ Market also has jams, syrups, cheeses, sausages, breads, and pickled goods. Well-known producers of the north shore can be spotted here: Margit Rákos, the mayor of Vöröstó brings cordials, Bea Kovács comes with breads and heavenly pastries from Szent György-hegy, Tekeresvölgyi Cheese Workshop brings cheese from Nemesvámos while Bálint Szabó brings the same from Óbudavár. All these delicacies are worth a trip to Veszprém, but a nice chat with the producers also does – they can talk about this land the way only those who live and breathe here can.
It feels truly different to look at the world from a saddle – and this way we can even travel on paths that we couldn’t really conquer on foot. The motion of the horses has a calming effect, it helps to relax, and with the stress gone we can focus on what’s happening then and there. Then we can pamper the tired limbs at the saunas and jacuzzis of various stables near Lake Balaton.
Forest therapy was practiced by ancient Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Indians as well, and shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing, has been the part of the national healthcare program of Japan since 1982. The essence of it is to be near trees because their presence is calming, lowers blood pressure and stress, while also strengthens the immune system. If we aren’t up to a longer hike, we can go to Folly Arboretum: there’s no need to take the plant encyclopedia with us if we are curious about the names of trees. The vegetation here is lush, and there’s a huge variety of species. Most of the trees in the Arboretum are evergreen, so there’s plenty to see even in Winter. Plus the view is worth a trip no matter what the season is.
Unlike many other beaches around Lake Balaton, the one in Szigliget doesn’t go into hibernation: an ice rink and sauna opened here in November. Relaxing on the deck chairs of the sauna’s building, we can either enjoy the sight of the lake, have a nap, or we can jump into the cold water and swim among the ducks; we can also skate or have some mulled wine – not to mention that here we are surrounded by nature and joyful people.
BL Yachtclub in Balatonlelle makes sure that we can find saunas and an ice rink on the south shore as well.
Prices in Szigliget:
Skating: 850 HUF/person
Sauna: 1,000 HUF/person/ 2 hours
Riding a train can be relaxing, especially for those who like retro vibes and slow life. Since the train isn’t exactly going with a high speed, we have time to adjust to the slow pace of Balaton. There aren’t too many passengers (in the direction of Lake Balaton) and they are quiet – it feels like everyone is happy that they can relax and enjoy the tranquility.
With all the leaves gone from the trees, we can finally see the light blue, grey, and white tones of Lake Balaton. The red train that goes from Székesfehérvár to Tapolca has a back entirely made of glass so it has a great view – no surprise that kids love it. We can admire the landscape from the heated train cars as if we were looking at a picture book, especially since we can spot deer and boars along the rails and, instead of getting scared, they remain calm, making it feel like we are traveling through a wildlife park.
Depends on the travelled distance, it costs 1,300 HUF/person from Székesfehérvár to Balatonfüred, but of course it’s worth to travel for longer.
Those who seek some wintertime tranquility can’t miss Kredenc on Blaha Lujza Street, near Tagore Promenade, Vaszary Villa, and Vitorlás Square. The place isn’t just on the list because it's so lovable and because it has great wines but also because the owner, András Dobai. He’s the heart and soul of the place, and throws a Soul Massage every week with a selection of music; add in some great cheats and there we have the that vibe that makes a weekend at Lake Balaton so relaxing.
Kredenc is on a break all through January but they are back with the café vibes from February.
When it is all too much, and we feel like we’d rather be as far from everyone else as possible, that’s when it’s time to go and just watch wild animals. They aren’t in a hurry, they aren’t nervous; they just walk around, chewing peacefully. They have it good, and we have, too, as we can watch them for free all year round at the wildlife park hidden deep in Koloska-völgy. The 2.2 hectares large park gives home to eight different types of game: red and fallow deer, mouflons, roe deer and a selection of birds (quails, partridges, pheasants and mallards).
We aren’t saying that it feels like being Christopher Columbus to explore the small villages around Lake Balaton, but it does feel special given that some of them are really fairy-tale like. And it’s even better when we have a local guide like Piroska Pető, who explores the values of the region.
Following Piroska’s tips, we should stop in Örvényes: the calm, quiet fountain, the shaded churchyard, and the watermill with the mill museum are all waiting to be explored. The grove of ancient oaks that’s only a short walk away through Templom Street is especially nice and it feels good to stop under the old trees for a moment. The traditional press houses of Fenye-hegy and Les-hegy in Balatonakali are exceptional examples of folk architecture and their pretty facades have a view of the lake.
Badacsony actively communicates that it’s open all through winter and if wine-drinking can be part of the “alternative wellness” category, then Pláne Badacsony surely has a place on this list. The new wines of Gilvesy Winery premiered here last December, and those who are interested in local wines will receive some good advice at this place. They are open on Fridays and Saturdays in January, and they will organize wine-related events and presentations once February arrives.