Most people wouldn’t think that life at Lake Balaton can be just as exciting in winter as it is in summer. Sure, the days around the water are slower this time of year, but Zala, Veszprém, and Somogy Counties all show a side of theirs that is definitely worth putting on some more layers and brave the cold. Hikes, culture, skating, wine, and beigli, the inevitable sweet treat of Christmas in Hungary – these are only a few of the things no one should miss at Lake Balaton in winter.
Skate and sauna on the beach
Szigliget now has a brand new ice rink for the winter. One of the beach buffets, Három Platán took on the task to stay open in winter and the town’s council rented a 30x17 meters large ice rink next to them. We can go to the sauna after skating (2 hours cost 1,000 forints), and we can jump in to the ice cold water of Lake Balaton after heating up. We won’t be surprised if Három Platán would have to prepare a Finnish menu for the winter season next year.
Fortunately we can do the same thing on the south shore as well, as Balatonlelle’s BL Yachtclub has their ice rink up and they also have saunas.
Spend New Year’s Eve in a stylish guesthouse
New Year’s Eve in a big city, like Budapest for example, can be a bit overwhelming with the wasted horsemen of the apocalypse trashing the streets with firecrackers and broken beer bottles. Those who seek to spend this holiday a bit differently can escape to a guesthouse around Lake Balaton (and, fortunately, there are more and more of them that we can barely leave once we are there). However, there’s also more demand now, so it’s best to make a reservation in time.
Row on the warm water of Hévíz Channel
Why would someone go on a canoe trip in the middle of winter? Well, what if the water is still 15 Celsius degrees warm? We can glide for about 10 kilometers on the steaming water of Hévíz Channel with tropic fish and lilies for company. The tours are organized by the Balaton Uplands National Park from November to March (because the fauna shouldn’t be disturbed any other time) so don’t hesitate to grab an oar while the weather is cold.
Ask Balaton-winemakers about the best mulled wine recipe
A good mulled wine is like a good fröccs: simple yet some places serve a disappointing version. Sometimes there aren’t enough bubbles, sometimes it’s not cold enough, so it’s best to make our own. Of course it’s always best to ask the professionals for advice about the perfect recipe first, plus the winemakers can not only give us tips, but suitable ingredients as well.
Slide across Lake Balaton if it freezes
Sliding across Lake Balaton is January was just as popular as swimming across it is in summer: thousands swarmed the beaches of Badacsony and Fonyód to take the more than 5 kilometers long tour – some used sports equipment, some simply slid on the soles of their shoes. The activity was captured by drones resulting in some impressive clips; we think it would be too bad not to be among the people who smile and wave happily to the cameras from the middle of the endless whiteness despite the cold.
Explore the brilliant reds of the region
Summer is for white, while winter is for red wine, and that’s how it should be. The exquisite wine regions of Lake Balaton provide us with plenty of scrumptious reds suitable for lunches, dinners, or some friendly chats by the fire. What could be better than exploring the region through its flavors?
Climb Kopasz-hegy to look down on the winter wonderland of Káli-medence
Kopasz-hegy (Kopasz Hill) might not be the most popular tourist destination of Káli-medence (Kális Basin), and there’re certainly fewer tourists around here in winter than at Szent György-hegy (Szent György Hill) for example, which is definitely more hip these days. This is good news for those who seek a little silence and alone-time, or for those who are simply curious about how Káli Basin looks like in its winter clothes.
Taste local ingredients at great restaurants
The sturgeon of Keszthely and the beans of Töreki were voted the ingredients of the year by 12 well-known restaurant owners of the region (last year the winners were the Angus beef of Fenyves and the cheese of Vászoly). 25 great restaurants pay special attention to these ingredients during the month of December. Pay attention to daily offers to make sure that you won’t miss them!
Buy Christmas gifts from the area
If you are already in the area, why not get some Christmas gifts for loved ones from the region? Folly Arboretum has a so-called Advent Craft Fair between December 9 and 23, where, besides their handcrafted items, we can also buy Christmas trees. Cheeses, chocolates, wooden toys, and a free entry to the Arboretum – this is what they have to offer this month. Plus some chimney cake and mulled wine, of course.
See what the animals do in winter at the Wildlife Park of Koloska-völgy
There’s a 2.2 hectares large park hidden deep in the forest next to Balatonfüred where deer, mouflon, does, and various birds live. They are there in winter as well, just like the nearby Road of the Golden Man Study Trail, and the Jókai Lookout Tower that are also worth a trip.
See the holiday lights of Füred and warm up with a hot coffee
If we are already near Balatonfüred, we shouldn’t skip visiting the town: the Advent in Füred event series will have many exciting programs until the 20th of December. If looking around made us feel tired, we can end the day with a new wave latte at Pazar, Karolina, Bergmann, or Kredenc.
Although the streets of many towns around Balaton are empty these days, Veszprém is still buzzing. The penguins and seals of the zoo are in their elements in winter, the theater season is in full swing, the museums of the castle districts are open, and Chianti Restaurant, a renowned spot of the area just reopened under a new name and with a new concept: now it's called Gusto13 and instead of the former elegant style, now they embraced a lighter, bistro-vibe, with a fusion of Mediterranean and Hungarian cuisine. Meanwhile the duo of Hangvilla and Expresszó have great concerts all through the winter. And these are only a few ideas for what to do in Veszprém.
See the Duray-exhibition of Vaszary Gallery
Tibor Duray was an excitingly versatile artist of Hungary in the 20th century: a painter, graphic artist, medalist, who sometimes worked on a piece for years without being commissioned to do it. What motivated him? Maybe something human, all too human. Titled after Nietzsche, the exhibition will be open at Vaszary Gallery until January 7, 2018.
Buy some beigli
The traditional Christmas dessert of Hungary is tricky to make at home, and the store-bought versions are usually disappointing – so why not get it at Lake Balaton? First try the best confectioneries of the area, then visit the “dwarf bakery” of Orsi Zeliska in Balatonfüred. Those who order some in time can get beigli at Szent György-hegy’s Búzalelke Bakery as well.
Have an abundant breakfast at a guesthouse
There’s nothing better than a slow breakfast on a winter morning, when we aren’t in a hurry and we don’t have to be anywhere on time. The breakfast of Fügekert in Zánka made a lasting impression this summer, but back then it was only available for those who stayed in the guesthouse. Now anyone can start their days with delicious cheeses, hams, cottage cheese, cordials, and sparkling wines – even if they think breakfast is best consumed at four in the afternoon. We can get a similarly serious breakfast at Káli Art Inn in Köveskál, or at Villa Medici in Veszprém, but most of the guesthouses we rounded up during the past years also come with abundant breakfasts – just make sure to ask about it before you book your stay.
Taste wines and chat with a winemaker
There’s always something to do in the cellars, and because there are no wine festivals in winter, there's more chance that we will find the winemakers at their cellars. This is good, because it means we can ask all our burning wine-related questions straight from the makers. Talking to a winemaker is a great opportunity to navigate the confusing waters of wine-related terms and find out what makes a wine a good one.
Close the year with a walk in Somló
With its castle and many wineries, exploring Somló in winter can be really exciting. Walking around on the last days of the year can be sort of like a walking meditation – here we can enjoy the scenery and reflect on the year behind us.
Greet the New Year with a splash in Szigliget
Splashing in Szigliget on the first day of the year is not only a good cure for hangover, but it’s also a tradition. According to information shared on the internet, there will be a “paddle boat race of well-known people near the shore” 10 minutes after noon, while there will be an extreme swimsuit competition from 1:30pm, which also sounds like a sobering experience.
end theGo skiing in Eplény
Many people are still surprised to hear that we can go skiing only half an hour away from Lake Balaton even if we aren’t surrounded by meters-tall snow piles. The ski arena of Eplény uses snow cannons to aid the cold of winter a bit, which results in a landscape similar to the summits of the Alps. The temperatures have to go a little lower for them to be able to open, but we are sure that we can put out ski-gears to good use in January and February.
Translated by Emma Póli