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sights & culture

9 Balaton destinations to transport you back in time

While Sándor Petőfi would often visit the winding Tisza to get in the mood for penning world-renowned poetry, it was Lake Balaton that served as the main source of summertime inspiration for artists like Jókai, Jenő Huszka and Pál Szinyei Merse. Some of the most famous pieces of Hungarian art were created on the shore of Balaton, including The Man with the Golden Touch and the operettas Baroness Lili and Lieutenant Mary. Actors, writers, poets and composers spent long and memorable summers in lakeside towns from Fonyód to Tihany - today their visits are commemorated with museums and plaques.


Jókai Villa, Balatonfüred

Mór Jókai visited Balatonfüred for the first time in 1857, at the age of 32. At first he stayed at Klotild-udvar, now part of the town’s cardiac rehabilitation centre, but over the years he grew to love the spa resort so much that ten years later he purchased his own property there. Jókai House, which was completed in 1870, was the renowned author’s summer residence for 20 years. Jókai wasn’t particularly fond of swimming, he usually stayed away from the water and spent much of his time by his desk. He wrote several Balaton themed pieces here, the most popular of them being The Man with the Golden Touch (Az arany ember) – he allegedly heard the story that was the basis of the novel on a Balaton cruise. Even though he sold the villa after his wife’s death, it has been converted to into a memorial museum to commemorate the literary icon.


Szegedy Róza House, Badacsony

The fate of Sándor Kisfaludy, the writer of the so-called Himfy songs, was sealed when he clapped eyes on the beautiful and smart Róza Szegedy at a harvest in Badacsony. The girl came from an affluent family, and her father endowed the young, newly married couple with a press house reminiscent of an elegant mansion. The estate ended up in the best hands, as Kisfaludy himself was said to be a skilled farm manager and viticulturist, and his wife’s vermouth became well known all over the country. During their 32 years of marriage, the Badacsony house was the centre of lively social gatherings – after the poet’s death in 1844 the house became somewhat of a pilgrimage site. Today the building operates as a museum called Szegedy Róza House.


Németh László's house, Sajkod

Kossuth Award-winning author László Németh was connected to Balaton in several ways. At first he went to Balatonkenese in search of inspiration, but he also holidayed with his wife in Balatonföldvár’s former Eliette Villa on more than one occasion. In the end he bought his own house in a third township, Sajkod; that’s where he worked in his late period. The culture centre of Tihany is named after him and a memorial plaque has been placed on the wall of his one-time home in remembrance of his merits.


Fürdő Guest House, Balatonkenese

In the first half of the 20th century, Balatonkenese’s Fürdő utca was often lound with the chatter of a group of youngsters, as János Pilinszky and his friends spent quite a few summers in the family’s cottage there. The carefree beach sessions and summer nights have not been forgotten: Pilinszky’s love for Balaton crops up in many of his poems, among them Bathing at midnight (Éjféli fürdés) and At the marina (Kikötőben). The family cottage is long gone; it has been replaced by a guest house whose wall is adorned with a memorial plaque to honour Pilinszky.  

Address: Balatonkenese, Fürdő utca 2.


Huszka Villa, Fonyód

Jenő Huszka loved the south shore: between 1907 and 1944 he spent almost every summer at his villa in Fonyód-Bélatelep. This period of his career was especially proliferant, as it yielded two classic pieces of Hungarian operetta literature, Baroness Lili (Lili bárónő) and Lieutenant Mary (Mária főhadnagy). The villa in Bartók Béla utca is currently in private ownership and is not open to visitors; nevertheless, a memorial plaque has been mounted on the wall.


Velics Villa, Fonyód

Another house in Fonyód’s Bartók Béla utca was also home to a famous resident: the great painter Pál Szinyei Merse stayed at the Velics (or Wellisch) Villa in the summers of 1916 and 1917, and painted nine pictures of Fonyód and Balaton. This is how the elder grandchild of the painter – also called Pál Szinyei Merse – recalled those times: “One time we were on holiday in Fonyód, and he found a nice spot beyond the Bélatelep beach complex, on the lakeshore, by a small reed field. The next morning he took me and my younger brother Ferkó with him in a boat to paint the scene and by noon we were on our way home with the finished painting.” The building currently houses Fonyód Museum; a plaque in memory of Szinyei can be found on the wall.  

Address: 8640 Fonyód, Bartók Béla u. 3.


Tulipános summer house, Balatonföldvár

The summer house called “Tulipános” (tulipán meaning tulip in Hungarian) at 11 Petőfi Sándor utca in Balatonföldvár was originally owned by the wife of Imre Széchenyi, and was purchased in the 1930s by actress Gizi Bajor, who in the next almost twenty years spent her days off at this peaceful retreat. To honour its former star resident, Balatonföldvár has named a community centre, an outdoor stage and a promenade after Gizi Bajor. The achievements of the prima donna are commemorated with a plaque on the wall of the summer house.


Török Villa, Felsőörs; Honthy Villa, Tihany

Kossuth Award-winning actress and operetta songstress Hanna Honthy was also a familiar face in Balaton society. Török Villa in Felsőörs was rumoured to have been given as a gift to the celebrated diva by one of her admirers. A second Honthy Villa is located in Tihany, another lakeside town (8237 Tihany Felső-Kopaszhegy utca 5.) – this building was also apparently owned by the actress. The former government resort now provides tranquil summertime accommodation for the highest state dignitaries. The story behind the building is shrouded in mystery.


Blaha Lujza Hotel, Balatonfüred

Famous theatre star Lujza Blaha acquired this Balatonfüred villa in 1893 and stayed here every summer for the next 23 years. As a contemporary record reveals: “Mrs. Blaha is basically the last famous permanent guest of Balatonfüred. The old Hungarian lords of the surrounding region, who gave Füred life a patriarchal flavour, have disappeared, Jókai, one of the former main attractions of the summer season, is long gone too, and the figures of Hungarian aristocracy, who used to come regularly, are fewer and fewer as well.” The house was initially an important venue in local social circles, but as the actress grew older, the only company she kept was her sister and granddaughter. Today “the favourite cottage” of Hungary’s nightingale operates as a hotel.

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