Riding down the secluded bike path connecting Balatonalmádi and Veszprém, the last thing you’d expect to come across is a small, yet funky service shack offering bread and dripping, local syrups, and wines made by Söptei Winery. However, that’s exactly what awaits tucked away in the Balaton countryside: ditch soda and the outside world, and visit the peaceful jungle surrounding A Zöld!
Herbie was taking us down seemingly abandoned dirt paths, and from the windows we could occasionally spot the asphalt paving of the nearby meandering bike trail. In the distance dark, unfriendly clouds were gathering at the bottom of the sky, the valley stretching out before us in silence without a single living creature around. If we squinted our eyes, we almost felt like we were somewhere in the south of Siberia, amid a deserted countryside field, waiting for a random bear or Russian hermit to appear out of the forest. Yet, after a few more minutes we spotted the Hungarian tricolor, which immediately filled us with relief, and proved that we were still somewhere between Szentkirályszabadja and Balatonalmádi.
A Zöld is one of the truly special places around Balaton in terms of seclusion and intimacy. We visited with Herbie in tow, but the rest stop has actually been designed to cater to bikers, and judging by the routes leading here, we’d say this location is probably easiest to access on two wheels anyway. Rásky Gábor and his family fell in love with the serene, lush field in the valley, and when he’d had it for a year, it suddenly struck him: he needed to open a bike rest station. His property is located by a picturesque, yet lesser known bike trail between Veszprém and Almádi, which doesn’t run parallel to any main road, but winds among the gently undulating slopes totally independently.
So Rásky had a field by the bike road, and after a year he noticed something. His property was strategically located: bikers riding up the hill from the direction of Almádi often stopped here to take a break after the arduous trek. He realized that the plot had immense potential as an ideal spot for some kind of a shelter. The family started building the little gazebo used as a buffet for serving visitors, bought wooden outdoor furniture (though the simple setup of cushions on logs and barrels used as tables worked fine as well), and they even had downhill tracks created for bikers at the top of the narrow plot. If you walk out the gate behind the tracks, you can explore the forest, and check out the “love tree”, a unique tree formation (which you can see in the first photo).
“People often call this the island of peace,” Rásky said proudly as soft Indian music was playing in the background. Retro-style music is also part of the repertoire. We especially loved the cool little detail of one of the loudspeakers being stuck inside a disheveled, old radio. The owner doesn’t advertise A Zöld anywhere because he’s the only one standing behind the counter, so he can’t serve an endless number of visitors. Even so, the place is packed most weekends, which means about 50 guests.
It’s worth taking a good look around because every tiny detail has its own history. For example, we found a pile of rocks we wouldn’t have thought much of if the owner hadn’t told us it was a shrine to the Virgin Mary. A few years ago Rásky went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina where he picked up a statue of Mary. That’s also where the big, old cash register is from; he placed it on a log and planted it full of flowers. The field in the front features a colorful display of the name “A Zöld” (meaning “The Green” in Hungarian) built from hay bales as well as a bicycle, which the owner found by the entrance one morning. The bike is in relatively good condition, but the brakes don’t work, so it’s now become a symbol of the venue, attracting visitors coming down the road toward the vale.
A Zöld is not about providing the best gastronomical experience of your life: it serves the kind of grub weary bikers with an average budget need. Bread lángos baked in the oven, thick, savory pancakes, and Hungarian “pizza” all cost about 1,000 forints, while the bread and dripping with goose fat and tons of veggies is priced at a friendly 390 forints. The syrups are made by a producer in the village of Szentkirályszabadja, and Söptei wines as well as major beer brands are also available. They have their own herb garden where they not only grow rosemary, mint, lemon balm, and chives, but also vegetables like tomato, pepper, zucchini, and eggplant.
We’re not even surprised how kid friendly A Zöld is: there’s a play corner, and a miniature foosball table for the Kleinheislers of the future, but the entire place is essentially a massive field for the little ones to run wild on. The DH tracks are hardly ever used, so a terrace with zero gravity chairs has been set up at the end of the advanced track. The rest stop is open until September between 3pm and 8pm on weekdays and 10am and 9pm on weekends.