8 days ride on the land of spas and fine wine
A unique cycling tour has taken place in the Hungarian mid summer. The event was not primarily about the covering the 600 km (380 mi.) distance: 8 days on the land of spas and fine wine – as the title suggests – was intended to acquaint the cyclists and journalists from all corners of the globe with some of the prime touristic attractions Hungary has to offer:
Traditions, spas and fine wine:
The special cycling event organised by RideHard.hu welcomed participants from Australia, the Czech Republic, France and Turkey – just to name a few -, who were given an introduction into the spa and wine culture of Hungary along with the enjoyment of the special scenery of the countryside. The thermal waters were more than welcomed by the cyclists after a long day of riding, especially the scenic Hévíz lake and the famous Széchenyi spa in Budapest. There are only a few places in the world which pampers the privileged riders more than the hot spas visited in the course of our tour.
In the evaluation of the event, all participants emphasised the country’s gastronomy. We all enjoyed the unmissable “goulash” soup, the home-made strudel, the roasted duck, the deer-steak to name a few of the specialities prepared for the riders in order to replenish the lost calories of the day. Somewhat to our surprise, the less well-known pumpkin dish with meatloaf prepared in Balatonszőlős was also unanimously appraised by the foreign guests.
The fine wines of the Balaton Highlands region were undoubtedly another focal point of the tour. We must mention, that Olivier, our French guest from Top Velo magazine – being a devoted wine connoisseur – was not easy to please in this subject. Nevertheless, we managed to earn his full satisfaction with the wine soup made from Irsai Oliver at the HillTop vinery: its a rare speciality even he never had a chance to experience!
We should also note that despite visiting the best wine producers of the Hévíz region and enjoying the acclaimed deer-stew in Visegrád, the participants unanimously appraised the wine tasting experience on the highest slopes of Zalaszabar. Our host, the affectionate elderly mayor Béla Varga and his wife, offered their best wines topped by a tasty cabbage and cottage cheese stuffed strudel which will long remain in our memories.
As the participants have safely landed at the airport, the tour kicked off in Budapest with the annual “night of museums” program, which included visiting to the Műcsarnok exhibition of fine arts and the House of Terror commemorating the dark era of communism in Hungary. To our surprise, the celebration at the former venue included an informal concert the ethno-jazz pioneer Mihály Borbély, strolling along the corridors improvising on his saxophone. The sound and atmosphere in the exhibition place was second to none. Sunday morning saw a short sight-seeing tour of Budapest, stopping by the Szent István Basilica, the Parliament building, then pedalling over the oldest and most iconic bridge over the Danube, the Lánchíd. We all climbed up to the Castle of Buda by bike, visiting one of the symbols of the city, the famous Matthias Church.
In the afternoon, the group was transferred to Zalakaros, near Lake Balaton, where we all took a refreshing ride in the evening to the aforementioned Zalaszabar vineyards. On Monday morning we set off from Zala county for our 600 km scenic tour through the wine and spa regions of Hungary. The route went from Zalakaros to Lake Balaton, through Börzönce, Sümeg, Hévíz, Keszthely, Szigliget, Hegyestű, Balatonfüred, Tihany, Vászoly, Vöröstó, Balatonszőlős, Tata, Dunaszentmiklós and Esztergom, from there along the Danube bend visiting the old royal “High Castle“ of Visegrád. To test our endurance, we climbed up to Pilis-tető peak, then down to the old scenic village of Szentendre, returning along the Danube to the capital, Budapest. As our journey reached its place of departure, the group of cyclist enjoyed the chance to visit some of the most splendid attractions of North-West Hungary.
Our aim was to present something special for the cyclists at each daily destination. In Hévíz we had absolutely no difficulties: the world-famous spa lake offers an incomparable experience, especially for bicyclists who have spent most of the day in the saddle. The same way the Festetics Castle in Keszthely offers an impressive experience for the lovers of baroque architecture and culture. In Siófok and Keszthely we were able to cheer the participants of the country’s biggest professional road bike event, the Tour de Hongrie, and on the final day we watched the arrival of the international peloton in the Hungarian capital.
The Kali Basin and the Balaton Highland offers numerous spectacular sites, and the recurrent view overlooking Lake Balaton is something all participants will remember. The road infrastructure of the region is improving year by year, and it’s coupled with scarce traffic for those touring by bike.
We managed to find hidden treasures in the tiny villages among the hills and valley of this region, local markets offering home-grown produce and restaurants providing the guests with the finest of dishes. Leaving the Balaton region behind, in the small town of Tata, we all agreed that if we were the king of this country, we would also construct or fortress by such a charming lake.
The participants all agreed that a bicycle tour is one of the best ways to promote the touristic virtues of Hungary. We travelled on the most scenic minor roads of the region, and also at an optimal pace in order to observe all the fine details. We choose routes and daily distances in accordance with this goal, covering 40-100 km (25-60 mi), in order to spare time to relish the cultural programs.
On Saturday morning the group enjoyed a historical seminar in the High Castle of Visegrád (Fellegvár) and the Salamon Tower overlooking the Danube Bend. We also had the opportunity to try out the traditional archery skills of the Hungarians. The route was planned in a way to spend two nights in Zalakaros, Balatonfüred and Visegrád, so if any of the participants became overly tired, he or she could skip the ride to enjoy some rest. Nevertheless our group was so motivated, that none has chosen the “wellness” option…
The representatives the well-renowned international Cyclist magazine, Nick and Gökhan noted that the traffic-free forestry roads around Visegrád offer excellent opportunity for bicycle touring, along with the impressive scenic routes of the Kali Basin and the Balaton Highlands. We were somewhat surprised that the cycling journalist from the most prestigious publications – who have undoubtedly ridden in many parts of the world – highlighted the quality of road in this tour. The route was surely chosen with low traffic and scenery in mind, but it appears the cycling ways of the region offer the road infrastructure that can be appreciated even by such high standards.
Hungary cannot offer the devoted cyclists the experience of riding the high mountains of the Alps and Dolomites, our guests nevertheless agreed that cultural values – demonstrated in the course of our tour by the spas, the fine wines and food specialities – could easily compensate for the deficit. We must hence build on these virtues to provide an enjoyable experience for cyclists visiting Hungary, who will hopefully spread our renown worldwide.