Out of 29 European participants, Tihany was elected the winner of the European Village Renewal Award 2014. At the prestigious European contest, the city of echo defeated even a Swiss ski resort. We looked into the secret of Tihany and found two towers, a genial marketplace, a thought-out concept, and a suffocating amount of lavender. We did not forget to ask whether Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt really did buy a villa here.

The victory of Tihany is an unparalleled achievement since no other Hungarian settlement has ever triumphed at this prestigious European competition. In the last 20 years, North Italian, Dutch, Swiss and Austrian had won the European Village Renewal Award. As a comparison: Tihany overtook even Mals, despite the fact that the South Tyrolean town plays at an entirely different level, nwith an annual local business tax of 100 million EUR.

The Balatonside settlement believed in success so strong that the Tihany local government entered the competition at its own cost. It had to do so if it wanted to compete, for last year's preliminaries were won by Komlóska and the state only compensated for the entry fee of the top seeded township. The Munich-based jury also wanted to honour the development course of the settlement from behind the one-time Iron Curtain.

Three-year plan

Mayor Imre Tósoki talked to us about the years of hard work preceding the award. Tihany was in need of a radical change of direction primarily due to the rapidly decreasing number of nights spent.  Since Tihany is part of the Balaton Uplands National Park, and it has numerous protected historical buildings in its centre, the only viable course for the settlement was tourism.

But this key industry produced deteriorating results in the last decade. While year 2000 saw 200 000 nights spent, this number dropped back to 95 000 by 2010. There were no major reconstructions since the 1960ies, in spite of the fact that the competition for foreign guests has been growing since the systems change. The one-time East German guests stopped finding the retro side of Lake Balaton attractive and switched to other destinations. On top of this, the hotels of Tihany were dilapidating and they were closed one after the other. Earlier, the formerly state-owned  Garda Hotel and the leading party's summer resort, Park Hotel (once the Archduke Joseph's summer home) could accommodate cca. 10 000 people annually.

Tihany's re-branding

Something had to be done towards the renewal of the Tihany brand. From 2004, EU development subsidies were also available, but the comprehensive concept was missing on the part of Tihany. The mayor remembers the years between 2006 and 2009 as some of the most productive: these were spent elaborating the development schedules.

The town management formed work groups with the inclusion of the heads of civil organisations, Ybl Award-winning architects and locals. The weekly negotiations were also aided by mediators. Each workgroup had a different theme to work with, such as retaining local youth, event planning and building renovations. All the groups concentrated on their idea of the ideal settlement in 15-20 years time.

A legend under construction

After three years of negotiations, development and renovation works could finally begin. One of the first steps was the construction of the Tihany bike path, because the Balaton Bike Ring simply passed Tihany by along main road 71.

Then, in the frame of the Tihany legend project, the Borsos Miklós tér was renewed, the Mádl Ferenc tér was born and the Pisky-sétány connecting the Tihany Abbey and the Visszhang-domb (Echo Hill) was also restored. The historical centre was re-classified as a recreational zone, and the parking lots were moved to the edge of town.

Lavender with lavender

Tihany's image continued to be focused around lavender. The Levendula Ház Visitor Centre has been a fundamental part of this concept. The interactive exhibition of the visitor centre set up by the Balaton Uplands National Park introduces the flora and fauna of the Tihanyi Pensinsula. The centre of Tihany is brimming with lavender houses selling artisan ice cream, lavander syrup,  lavender soaps as well as various artisan and applied art objects:

Future plans include the planting of new lavender fields and a herb distillery built in cooperation with the Tihany Abbey.

According to the mayor, the above infrastructural developments helped to inspire tourist service providers to additional investments and renovation projects. the 4-star Echo Residence Hotel, and the Karolina Fűszerkertje restaurant inside (run by the owners of Karolina Café) belong to the luxurious side of Tihany. For a gastronomical adventure, the nearby Ferenc Pince Csárda is also ideal. The wonderful Balaton panorama is guaranteed at both spots, and the Rege Confectionery by the Tihany Abbey is also well-endowed in this respect.

The Tihany boat stop was recently renovated from EU support, while the former bazaar behind was renewed thanks to private investment. The passenger boat stop received new tiling, wood surfaces and a rain cover. The renewal of the Szántód-Tihany ferry is also among the 10-year plans.

Beyond the two towers

Tihany's cultural image was for a long period of time one with the building of the Tihany Abbey. For decades, this emblematic building adorned every postcard and tourist leaflet of Tihany.

Last year, the Abbey's complex was expanded with a new tourist reception building, the Porta Pacis by the Csokonay Park.

The goal of KOGART Tihany (opened in 2013) is to make visitors remember more of Tihany than just the Abbey. The resident exhibition here is the Miklós Borsos collection, but the gallery brings in big bangs (like this year's Munkácsy exhibition) for the summer.

The new exhibition of 20th century European avant-garde graphic art opens on 5 October. The greatest challenge, according to the head of the gallery, Krisztina Dallos is to lure in locals. The KOGART House also participates at local festivals and plan to offer museum education programmes to school and kindergarten groups in the future.

Out at the Placc

Tihany has also laid emphasis on contemporary arts with the summer ARTplacc Festival of Contemporary Art since 2011. For the time of the festival several Budapest-based galleries and art projects move to Tihany, and the square by the ferry is  transformed into a venue for concerts and contemporary literary discussions. Beside ARTplacc,  the popular theatre and music festival, the Tihany Open-air Festival also manages to attract masses every year.

Connected to ARTplacc - both physically and spiritually - is the PIAC Placc. The farmers' market offers food, drinks, and quality artisan products for sale on Saturdays  all-year-round, and it has grown to be one of the largest markets of the north shore.

We noticed that the healthy eating trends started by the PIAC Placc have also reached the centre.The Levendula Ice Cream Parlour fits well into the lavender theme. Since this summer, you can also enjoy one of the best breakfasts of the area at the gem of the centre, Tündérsziget. They serve various home-made jams, delicious home-made cheeses, the fruits of the season, creams and gluten-free cakes.

My neighbour is Brad Pitt

Denial is futile: luxury is an integral part of Tihany, just like Riesling is part of Csopak. It is enough to glance up the row of expensive villas in the hillside. However, the recent boom of the Tihany premium real estate market needed a small push from a rumour that has still not been clarified.