Summer has arrived and is here to stay. Here’s where to go, what to see and what to do around Lake Balaton.
There are plenty of farmers’ markets to be found around Lake Balaton. The biggest of these are the ones at Fonyód on the south shore and at Káptalantóti and Tihany on the north. These markets have the best artisanal products, from cheeses, homemade sausages, home-grown vegetables to various specialty items such as pumpkin seeds spread, grape seed oil or wild-boar pâté, all available straight from the person who made it.
BalatonBor wines are all part of a unified Balaton brand that represents a reliable quality. HegyBor wines, part of the same family, are top-quality with terroir characteristics, all made from Olaszriesling grapes. You can taste these special items at cellars and estates, and at certain restaurants and wine shops this summer.
Sitting down with friends for a glass of wine and a natter is one of the best things about summer. The perfect location for these kinds of gatherings is somewhere with a nice view, and Balaton has plenty of them, from the pier at Balatonfenyves to the lovely picnic spots around the Balaton Uplands or the Human Comedy Group of Statues in Káli-medence.
Balaton has ice cream in spades, the top places being Szigliget's Várkávézó and its all-natural ingredients, Bringatanya, with an international award under its belt, the Bergmann confectioneries with their family traditions in Balatonfüred, and the reliable Florida Ice Cream Parlour in Balatonmáriafürdő. One thing is for sure: nothing beats a cold scoop on a hot summer day, so it's good to know where to find it.
New restaurants open when the season starts, and it’s always exciting to discover a beach buffet, confectionery or wine terrace that wasn't there before. For example, there’s a bistro in Aszófő with fish as the focus, while Szent György-hegy is that little bit richer thanks to a new wine bar. Meanwhile, the iconic building of Hableány in Badacsony will soon open its gates, too.
Balaton is blessed with a treasure that could become hugely popular: zander. These are among the pricier items at fish grills (about 4,000 forints a kilo), but there’s a reason for that: it has white meat, few bones and little fat. With a fishing ban in effect, these beauties come from farms near the lake, but the quality keeps getting better and better.
Beach Food of the Year rewards beach buffets that make quick and quality dishes using locally sourced ingredients. There are more and more applicants every year, signalling the end of oily fried fish and not-so-stellar hamburgers. Kalóz in Balatonfövenyes, Paletta in Balatonboglár and A Konyhám in Balatonfenyves all won the award in previous years. The latter produced the so-called gofcsi – a cross between a waffle and a latkes potato pancake, topped with multiple kinds of cheese, dried tomatoes, a dollop of sour-cream mousse, sprinkled with sausage crumbs and duck crackling.
Balaton mornings can be magical, so it’s definitely worth waking up a little earlier one morning and climbing one of the region’s many hills to watch the sunrise. Tóti-hegy is especially recommended, as it’s relatively easy to climb and has a stellar view. Make sure to take a headlamp and some food with you. Visiting on Sunday would also mean that you can check out the Káptalantóti market before the crowds arrive.
Although SUP boards are becoming more fashionable and windsurfing still rules on Lake Balaton, classic activities are always a good idea. Try renting a kayak or canoe and row along the shoreline. Getting into the reeds is a special experience as there you can watch nature close up. Be careful, as the reeds are very important habitats so don’t disturb or damage them, and be sure to follow only the wide water paths.
The renovation of the Balaton Bike Ring started in 2019 and it will probably continue until 2021, but you can already see the results. Parts of the Balatonlelle-Balatonalmádi section already have new asphalt, fresh paint and new signs. The routes were also changed at certain parts.
It’s a joy to relax on the beach or go paddle boating, but there are other possibilities to explore on Lake Balaton’s north and south shores. More and more spots have SUP boards for rent, but you can also learn to surf or try wakeboarding or water-skiing.
Sometimes driving is the quickest and most practical way of getting around – in which case, why not choose the most beautiful route available? Balaton has plenty of panoramic roads that are worth a detour.
Balaton has more and more festivals and unique concerts every year, but the MOL Nagyon Balaton ferry concerts are still some of the most special. Two ships leave Szántód and Tihany at the same time, and they are linked when they meet in the middle, with a stage being set up on one of them. Places are limited, so it’s hard to get tickets. The 2019 line-up includes such well-known Hungarian acts as Magdi Rúzsa and Majka.
Balaton’s biggest festivals bring world-famous musicians to its shores. Just to mention a few names appearing this year: Caro Emerald, Katie Melua (VeszprémFest), Rick Astley, The Jacksons (Paloznak Jazz Picnic), Bastille, John Newman (Strand Festival), DJ Snake, Future, Sean Paul, Rudimental (Balaton Sound), Amelie Lens, Sven Väth (B.my.Lake) – and that’s just a taste of what Balaton has in store this summer.
Besides Balaton Sound, Strand and the Valley of Arts, Balaton also hosts smaller festivals too, quieter and more intimate. DJ in the Vineyard by the Homola Winery, Bohém Légyott by the Gilvesy Winery and Salföldi Dalföld, an ethno-jazz gathering held from July 5 to 7, are all worth investigating.
Some of Balaton’s cosiest concerts aren’t advertised – it’s best to keep an eye on Blaja Lujza utca in Balatonfüred, as the spots there (Kredenc, Kedves, Morzsa) often host random live music. Members of Punnany Massif regularly visit Káli-Kapocs for a low-key performance. Another exciting place is the Hullám Hostel in Révfülöp, with various ethno-folk musicians stopping by to play in summer.
Balaton is the perfect place to meditate in complete tranquillity. On the north shore, the Árpád-era church ruins are the best spot for this kind of exercise, especially the ruins of Taliándörögd. Szamárkő, a sacred destination in Zamárdi on the south shore, is another great option.
This summer you can take an authentic horse-drawn carriage to explore Keszthely and its surroundings. Four routes have been set up, including shorter ones within the city and longer ones that will take passengers to Kis-Balaton or the Zalaszántó Stupa Buddhist temple.
The peaceful environment of Lake Balaton has always been attractive to artists. This is illustrated by the many temporary and permanent exhibitions: you can learn more about the lives of writer Mór Jókai in Balatonfüred, composer Imre Kálmán in Siófok, poet Sándor Kisfaludy in Sümeg or actor Zoltán Latinovits in Balatonszemes. You can also see photographs of authors enjoying their summer holiday at Lake Balaton during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s at Vaszary Gallery until July 14.