Here’s something a little different for those times when after days of 40-degree weather, a quick and strong storm hits Balaton, ending long afternoons spent at the beach, and you go over your options as you sink into lethargy, but you don’t want to go sightseeing or visit an adventure park, you’re bored of reading, and you cannot stop asking “why now?” when you see the overcast sky. You should go on a chapel tour! An easy hike, perfect spots and unbelievable energy. Why?
Perhaps because back in the day people knew what they were doing, why and where. Many of the local vineyard owners teamed up to erect a miniature church or chapel on their estates, in an obviously perfect spot, on the hillside. There they prayed for a good crop, their families, they village and who knows what else. Maybe it’s because of their good intentions that these sites are still pleasant places to take a rest today. On a bench. Because you can find benches everywhere. You have to sit down, not because you’re tired. Just for the sake of sitting down.
Turn your back on the lake that has been rendered temporarily useless by the cold front, follow highway 71, and then the Roman Road (Római út). Coming from the direction of Badacsony and approaching Badacsonytördemic, you’ll spot Szent Anna Chapel first, on the right, among the vine rows. It was built by Balatonfüred-based Zsigmond Szentgyörgyi Horváth, the very landowner who played a major role in organizing the first Anna Ball in 1825. The celebration on the saint’s day of Anna starts here.
Go down the Roman Road a few more kilometres toward Tapolca, and you’ll bump right into Szent Ignác Chapel, standing by the road in a nicely groomed, fenced garden. Landholder Count Károly Eszterházy had the monument built between 1847 and 1850 with permission from local vineyard owners. If you’re in luck, the gate will be open and you can sit down for a while on the bench.
Nothing is too far from anything else on the north shore of Balaton, which is good because you only have to drive 10 minutes – or bike 20 minutes – in the direction of Szigliget, and you’ll come upon a new attraction worth stopping for. Arriving in Szigliget from highway 71, visitors are greeted by the Avasi-Réhelyi church ruins. From the road you can only see an old tower, but these are in fact the remains of the town’s ancient core. The ruins of the 13th century church are guarded by shady trees.
Glistening like a pearl in the distance, the small, white chapel is visible even from Szigliget Beach. Turn up the “hill” by the marina, go all the way to the local convenience store where you can park your car or bike, and head up a flight of modest wooden stairs to get to Szentháromság (Holy Trinity) Chapel, a charming centrepiece of the Balaton panorama. This one too was built by the vineyard owners of the area in 1845. It is also a solemn memorial of Szigliget’s WWII heroes and the crew of the American B-24 bomber that went down in June 1944.
At this point you might think you won’t see anything more beautiful, but the tour is not yet over. Even so, there’ll be a moment when you’ll feel you don’t want to leave (you don’t have to, by the way), as you sit back on the bench, rest you back against the wall of the chapel and listen to the noises of the hill with Balaton sprawled out in front of your feet.
If you decide to leave the previous chapel behind, you can continue your journey on the south side of Szent György Hill, another "good old" landscape. This spot is easily accessible too, you can reach it in under 15 minutes: turn right up toward the hilltop just before you get to Hegymagas. The road is paved all the way, and parking is not a challenge at all. You can grab lunch nearby, as there are plenty of newly opened restaurant offering a splendid panorama. Lengyel Chapel is more of a church due to its size.
The construction of the church was commissioned by the Lengyel family of Lengyeltóti, the then owners of Hegymagas, in 1760 on the plot of the former Szent György Chapel, which doesn’t date back much further and was already mentioned in records from 1414. This is not a solitary building: the baroque Tarányi press house stands opposite the church, and a few metres away you can drink genuine, fresh spring water from the lion-headed well. The view from here is pretty much as good as it gets: if you look around, you can see Badacsony, Szigliget and the others as they dip their feet into Lake Balaton.
If you feel like walking and seeing something special, proceed a little further on the hill, passing by beautifully maintained vineyards, press houses and cellars, to reach a chapel that is something else.
It has never been in church ownership, and it wasn’t even built that long ago, but its history is quite unique. It was erected in the 1950s by Roman Catholic priest Lajos Ify, the former pastor of Fonyód, who retreated here after the war, and funded the entire construction of the church on his own. The building bears the inscription EMMAUS on the façade, which was apparently a message for pilgrims.
There are several buildings in the garden, which was well kept ten years ago, but is now full of weeds: the inscription on one of the hermitages has peeled off in places and the houses are all in a sorry state. Once, the owner repaired watches in his self-imposed exile, and had a precious harmonium, which until a couple of years ago was exhibited in the church.
You can follow the yellow blaze to get here, but as the dilapidated building is in private ownership, you’ll have a fence to climb, which, of course, is prohibited. Soon visitors will have nothing to risk the climb for because the building is not far from falling into ruin completely. It would be a shame if it came to that.