We can admire Balaton in every season while walking among the evergreen trees of Folly Arboretum – a place that was recently awarded with the title of Ecotourism Trail of the Year in 2017. The first exotic plant of the Badacsony-hillside arrived 120 years ago – the cypresses, cedars and various junipers grew a lot since then. Folly Arboretum is a real, and not even hidden, gem on the north shore of Lake Balaton.

We can count those Balaton-arboretums where we can have wine on one hand. Folly Arboretum is one of them, and the owners consciously take advantage of this. We can decide at the entrance whether we just want to take a – day long – walk on the eight hectares of land, half of which is occupied by vineyards, while the other half is the arboretum; or we can decide to do a wine-tasting with either three or five types of wine.

The owners think school-kids are especially relevant, so, following prior consultation, they welcome school groups for free.

We can already feel the tranquility as we step out of the car in the parking lot opposite the entrance. It's all silent, with Lake Balaton, and the vineyards of the hillside below our feet; and behind us, in its evergreen glory, is the arboretum.

We previously talked about the family-run arboretum; now we were interested in how will the award they received from the Hungarian Tourism Agency affect the life of this business – they received the title Ecotourism Trail of the Year in 2017. “It’s really important to us to see that what we are doing gets recognition. The cellar with wine tastings, the arboretum, the study trail, and an eco-playground for the kids – we are the only ones in the country who can provide this,” said Réka as she showed us around.

By the middle of fall they discussed what can they expect in winter when the area doesn’t lure in that many people. “We already started having musical evenings, and we plan to continue in winter as well. We’ll have covered areas where people can stay to warm up with a glass of wine. We are selling poplar trees from the nursery as Christmas trees as well, which is also inviting for visitors. We try to entertain those who stop by around this time of year, around Christmas, with cozy lights, gift ideas, mulled wine, and the live music I just mentioned.”

We pass the old press house as we walk – its basement was busy with the last works of the harvest. “We will refurbish the building and turn it into a conference hall, hopefully by next spring,” says Réka immediately. “This way the arboretum can host conferences, weddings, and maybe small-scale teambuilding events for companies as well.”

The question arises whether all the plants that were originally planted are still visible today. “Plants feel good in the arboretum due to its location. The initial plantings (in 1905 – ed.) brought in completely unknown species, those are mostly still here, but some of these died due to lack of space as they didn’t know what their size would be,” says Réka, then adds that they are constantly shaping the face of the garden, which means new plants and cutting out old ones as well.

We were well into fall when we visited them so we couldn’t hear the sound of crickets and cicadas, but walking among the enormous conifers and junipers with the view of Lake Balaton kind of feels like being in a Mediterranean setting any time of the year. The silence in undisturbed as we walk among 400 species of pines trees, and we can’t wait to go up to the lookout tower that can’t be spotted from below. Before that Réka tells us about her relationship with the plants that are basically part of her life, quite literally.

“It feels really good to sit down under the Atlas cedar on the lower terrace, to recharge and enjoy nature, but each pine has a story here, so they are pretty close to me. It was a great sadness in my grandfather’s life when the redwood tree was hit by lightning. It broke in half, he shed a tear. The plant tried to grow again, and lived for forty years. We ended up cutting it in 2014. Our Himalayan cedar is beautiful even though its tip froze off earlier and we were afraid that we would lose it. The frostbite gave it a great shape and it remains the most beautiful tree of the garden.”

We can still feel the taste of their ginger cordial as we’re climbing the steps of the small lookout tower. The sun is shining on the surface of Lake Balaton, but a dark cloud quickly changes that and the autumn lights are less bright after that.

On the way down we admire the Coulter pine – the pine-cones hang from the branches like pineapples. The nicely kept area is managed with the help of ten employees, which seems like a very small team at first, especially since the Folly-family not-so-secretly hopes that the professional recognition and the expanding of their services will attract new visitors. Their wines already grabbed the attention of many people; we also included them in various top lists. Recently the Folly’s Riesling gained some recognition from the profession, which wasn’t a surprise at all.