Strand Festival and moved in together, a dozen high-quality, new wave restaurants were launched, and several beach food stands revamped the boring palette of lángos and hamburger. As of this season, Balaton has vegan ice cream and a paleo cake shop, and this year Kapolcs saw the emergence of its own miniature Provence. A beautiful album was published about the Káli Basin, and an enthusiastic lady put together a booklet with all the venues and events in the Balaton Uplands region. This past Balaton summer was as exciting as can be, and we’ll tell you what we think contributed to it.

Zamárdi became a festival capital

In the spring we couldn’t yet imagine what the chansons of Quimby and the beats of Richie Hawtin would sound like side by side. Luckily, the organizers were sure that, headquartered in Balatonaliga for the previous two years, and Strand Festival, already tailored for Zamárdi, would be able to co-exist in harmony.

And they were right because despite the two festivals being quite close to each other, none of the concerts were ruined by the sounds of another one coming from a neighbouring stage. We were a bit heartbroken about the Aliga forest, but Zamárdi had its own special features, so could actually maintain the usual, mysterious and somewhat edgy atmosphere. Even so, Strand Festival did not have its audience drained away – Hungarian bands were particularly popular there this year.

Balaton was happening

We kept a close eye on the Nagyon Balaton festival series: we wrote about countless events organized all over the lake from Köveskál through Balatonfüred to Siófok, and a total of more than 400,000 of you had visited these festivals by the time the Valley of Arts rolled around. Strand Festival and came after, so actually more than half a million visitors found these events worth popping down to Balaton for. To name but a few highlights: we had some exceptional food at Köveskál’s Kálibuli, we fought a host of mosquitoes at ARTplacc, we slided down the zip line in front of the Strand Main Stage, we talked to a philosophising rapper at Balaton Sound, we watched Balaton Method over and over, we celebrated the 10th birthday of Kultkikötő, we brought Los Angeles to the lake with Yacht Balaton, and Veszprém’s two festivals proved that the town should not be overlooked when it comes to entertaining Balaton activities.

Not to mention how many of you entered the joint prize contest of Nagyon Balaton and We Love Balaton – we’ve already revealed the participants in 2nd and 3rd place, and today we’ll announce the winner as well.

The best spot to watch the meteor shower

Last year, we showed you eight locations you should definitely check out Balaton from. This year we scrapped the waiters, the beach umbrellas and dinner, and checked out what it’s like to lie in the grass with a bottle of wine and gaze at the stars. We were not the only ones who chose Balatonakarattya’s high shore to watch the late August meteor shower; lots of holidaymakers joined us to stare at the stunning Balaton panorama from 400 metres above the lake. From this strategic vantage point, you can see the entire eastern basin perfectly, and at night even Siófok’s Ferris wheel was visible despite the 20-km distance.

The most positive changes

This summer has brought lots of new things in terms of gastronomy. Offering refined bistro cuisine, Márga Bistro opened in Csopak at the venue where Szent Donát used to be; in Paloznak, Homola Winery launched Sáfránkert Restaurant with a menu dominated by reinterpreted Hungarian creations; every weekend, Lakatos Food Workshop moved to Tihany PIAC Marketplace where their stylist/cook fried one sausage after the other for the marketgoers; and Badacsony’s once legendary Kishableány Terrace rose from its ashes, serving Laposa wines and Bezerics burgers.

At Szigliget’s Várkávézó we tried some kick-ass fruit ice cream, which had 2 kg fruit to every 4 kg of ice cream, and we went in search of the best hamburgers as well. The burger we had at Bistro Classico in Keszthely came in a home-made bun, and the wild boar patty was spiced up with whisky sauce. We also munched on a great vegan burger at Füred’s Matróz, which had a beetroot-infused home-made bun, grilled goat cheese and fried celery. Zamárdi’s Chef Beach, which opened a month ago, served us túrós csusza with pasta made from ten eggs, fried bacon and baked vegetables.

This summer saw a food stand revolution

Several food stands at Balaton seem to be moving away from the traditional lángos-hamburger-hot-dog axis. Opened at the beginning of the summer, Zánka’s Neked Főztem managed to draw attention in just under a month to the fact that it’s worth rethinking the concept of Balaton beach food stands. Orsi thought she’d branch out from the family enterprise, opening a tiny food stand at the entrance of Zánka Beach with the aim of creating tasty dishes with a new wave twist, made from Balaton ingredients.

Fövenyes’ Kalóz experiments with the same kind of gastronomy, banishing oily lángos and giving their menu a boost with fresh, home-made savoury pancakes filled with spinach and cottage cheese or sausages. We loved the pancakes, but it was their fish and chips that won an award at the Beach Food of the Year competition held by Balatoni Kör and We Love Balaton. The goal of the initiative was to urge brave and revolutionary Balaton food stands to mix up their selection, and to introduce new flavours beside lángos, pizza and gyros. Eight contestants joined the race, with Kalóz eventually being awarded the prize of Balatoni Kör. The award for contestants associated with Balatoni Kör went to the waterdog, the new creation of Dani Bezerics (Fröccsterasz, Paletta, Kishableány). Reminiscent of hot dog, this new breed of dog cannot swim, but there’s fish sausage made from catfish in the bun, as well as a wasabi-red cabbage sauce and cucumbers.

The most underrated spot

Awarding this title is easy: it has to go to Málnás Fruit Bar, the recently opened, teeny-weeny cake shop on Siófok’s main square. This cake haven sells home-made paleo and gluten-free cakes, such as sumptuous paleo apple cake with a walnut base and gluten-free lavender-chocolate cake, but their cherry and lemon cheesecake was our absolute favourite. Why is it underrated? Because holidaymakers are not yet flocking in huge numbers to this new, special spot in Siófok, which is a big surprise, seeing as their prices are low compared to the confectioneries nearby, not to mention Budapest’s paleo food bars. In any case, we hope they persist, as next summer could bring a lot more customers to their door.

Málnás Fruit Bar (closed)
Address: 8600, Siófok, 4 Fő Square

Balaton's face of the summer

We couldn’t think of many people who are capable of roaming the Balaton Uplands for ten months on their own to check out all the service providers in every township in order to publish everything they have found in a booklet called Balaton Felvidék Neked. Csilla Fehér, the mastermind behind the event and travel guide Balaton Felvidék Neked, is one such fanatic – she is absolutely devoted to spreading awareness about the values of the Balaton Uplands region. She’s also created a map of the Káli Basin.

The 300-page, trilingual publication was released in the middle of August, and it appears from the initial feedback that it does in fact come in handy when you’re a tourist in the area. Csilla is already thinking about next summer: in autumn and winter, she’ll continue visiting Balaton restaurants, wineries, hotels and local farmers to make sure that she can publish next year’s issue about the cream of the Balaton Uplands much earlier, somewhere around springtime.

The prettiest book about Balaton

Nagy Káli-könyv is the result of eight years Iván András Bojár and photographer György Darabos spent exploring the Káli Basin. 500 pages of short, subjective descriptions about the hidden buildings, spots and faces of the Káli Basin, made complete with 780 stunning photos. If you flick through the book, you can glimpse inside the region’s oldest and most beautiful houses, and learn about the personal stories of the owners. The authors suggest that readers should skim the album first, marvelling at the fantastic pictures, and only read the short texts that go with the images the second time around. This is a perfect gift for Christmas for those who spend much of their summer at Balaton and those who only wish they could be there.

The biggest surprise of the summer

Literally – the 700-metre Ferris wheel set up on the Main Beach of Siófok caused quite a stir, prompting people to queue all summer long and snap a selfie or two. Making its debut at the Hanover World Fair, the travelling Ferris wheel found a temporary home in Siófok from the end of June to the beginning of August, and special ships were scheduled to run between Balatonfüred and Siófok, allowing passengers to get a better view of the massive attraction. We went for a ride as well, and we can confirm that Balaton is visible in its entirety from the top.

The most creative guest house

The guest house Hazai Provence in Kapolcs opened at the same time as the Valley of Arts, and, as the name suggests, it is meant to be a miniature model of the far-famed French region. There is a clawfoot tub in the bedroom, and a field of lavenders in the garden. Every detail of every room was carefully thought out, and owner Barbi Cziráki bought and renovated every piece of furniture herself. In a previous article we showed you how it all came together, while Barbi has her own blog where she documented every step of turning the 100-year-old loam-walled house into a Provence estate.

The coolest pictures of Balaton

One of our photographers, featured in our talented photographers series, shot a gallery of how going to the beach is typically done in Hungary, while a Brazilian guy captured Siófok in a way nobody has done before. We also put together galleries to show you why you should go to Kishegy to unwind and escape the bustle of everyday life, and what perfect photos of Balaton fishermen look like. Finally, we ventured into abandoned and haunted Balaton locations, taking a peek inside a once flourishing Siófok hotel and the former Soviet barracks of Szentkirályszabadja.