Throwback 2021: Giro d’Ungheria-Press Trip

As a follow-up to the “Study Tours” a few years back, in association the National Tourism Association Foundation the team was able to organize another event showcasing our country for the international media. The topic of the program was the upcoming 2022 Giro d’Italia Grande Partenza, visiting all the regions along the route of the planned bike race.

In the course of the event foreign journalists were able to preview the most important spots for each of the regions, including scenic cycling roads and complementary cultural and gastronomic programs. The Press Trip touched upon the major sights, while enjoying the famous dishes and wines, sailing and even sightseeing in a hot air balloon.

As well as promoting some of Hungary’s famous touristic sights, the event from the 6th to the 12th of September helped to spread the word of the 2022 Giro d’Italia starting in the capital of Hungary. In the course of the 6-day program seven journalist from Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania gathered to experience what the upcoming bike event has in store.

We designed the course based on the Giro stages. First day the group travelled from Budapest to the Pilis and Visegrád mountain region, followed by a transfer from the country’s religious capital, Esztergom to Balatonfüred (finishing town of stage 3), located on the shores of Europe largest sweet water lake. Tracking the route of stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia, the event traversed the Balaton Highlands all the way to Zalakaros, at the western edge of the lake. Merely one start destination, Kaposvár was omitted from the Press Trip, as we strived to limit the daily distance for us mere mortals, not World Tour racers.

In previous Study Tours participants were provided road bikes, on this occasion electrically assisted eMTB were chosen to aid participants to conquer the quiet, scenic unpaved roads along the route. This type of bike also allowed riders of varied endurance to travel comfortably in one group. Sightseeing of the Hungarian capital was made thanks to brand new “Bubi” bike share, provided by the Budapest Transport Center.

Tracking next year’s Giro Grande Partenza along some unpaved roads proved to be a success. For one, the route hasn’t be completely finalized, and these local roads gave us the opportunity to be closer to the splendors of these regions. We also made our way into the major towns along the Giro’s route, so it was a win-win scenario.

Day 1 began with a sightseeing tour in Budapest on board the aforementioned “Bubi” bikes. Setting out in the mid afternoon from the city center, the group visited the Parliament, crossed the Danube on the Margaret Bridge, up the Royal Castle, passing by the Gellért Spa all the way south to the Kopaszi dam. The welcome dinner was enjoyed in a restaurant called Ponyvaregény (Pulp Fiction), followed by a boat trip on the Danube back to the city center. Champagne was served as we officially began our extensive journey along the route of the 2022 Grand Partenza.

Day 2 began not in Budapest, but in the close-by village of Szentendre, renowned for its artistic traditions. A fleet of Scott full suspension eMTB bikes awaited the group in the center of this old, enchanting community. We then set out along the Bükkös creek into the mountains, first riding through Pilisszentlászló, all the way up to Prédikálószék, from where the journalist enjoyed a breathtaking view over the Danube Bend. This route allowed us to tackle some of the most scenic paved and unpaved bike trails in the region. We then descended into Visegrad, the “capital” of the Danube Bend, where some of the Hungarian kings once resided. In the afternoon the group visited Fellegvár, the ancient royal castle. (Stage 1 of the Giro will finish here.) In the spirit of the location, we celebrated the completion of the first epic stage with a majestic feast in the Reneszánsz Étterem (Renaissance Restaurant).

Day 3 was deemed to be a long and busy as we headed out through the Visegrád Mountains to the religious capital, Esztergom. The well-deseved lunch was enjoyed in the Vaskapu Étterem (Iron Gate Restaurant), then the group visited the Esztergom Basilica. We then boarded our bus to be able to witness the sunset aboard some SUP paddle boards on the shores of Balaton. This was the first time some of us tried this new type of vessel, so the experience proved to be a just as special as the sight of Tihany Peninsula from the lake. In the evening we took the opportunity to have a meal in one of the most famous fine-dining restaurants of the Balaton Region, the Bistro Sparhelt in Balatonfüred. The culinary experience was second to none, accompanied by excellent wine from the vineyards of the Highlands.

On day 4 the journalist cycled back from Balatonfüred to the Tihany Peninsula where we visited the Lavender Visitor Center, getting acquainted with the different uses of this particular plant which embodies the Peninsula. From there we set out into the Balaton Highlands, descending into the Káli Basin to witness Hegyestű, the region’s famous basalt towers. We could not miss rising up to the top of the ancient basalt mines to glance over the Lake. Our copious lunch was consumed in the Mi a Kő Étterem (“What Stone” Restaurant) in Köveskál, where participants had the chance to try out how locals enjoy their wine: mixed with local mineral water in the form of a “Hungarian Fröccs”.

Like it or not, a few more hills had to be conquered as we headed out to the west corner of the lake. After such a lavish meal the electrical assistance offered by the bikes were more than welcome. The route took the group along the Tanúhegy chain of basalt hills (Witness Mountains) mostly on local unpaved trails, as we finally reached the populated lake shore in Szigliget. We ended the day’s journey with a fine ice cream in the Vár Coffee shop in the town center. A very special program awaited that evening: a sunset sailing trip in Lake Balaton along the Badacsony Basalt Mountains. After such an eventful day, the group dined in the Szőlőhegy Bisztro on the lakeshore. Then we took a transfer to our hotel in Hévíz, next to the world-famous lake spa, which was to be our base for the two days to come.

Day 5 saw more biking along some local trails, from Hévíz over the Keszthely Hills. This took us from the Castle of Rezi through Vállus to the lookout tower on Padkő. These are sights that are hard to reach sequentially on paved roads, just like the other viewpoint in Balatongyörök where we had a picnic, followed by an ice cream at the Bringatanya (Bike Farm) in Gyenesdiás. We then headed back a new bike path through the town Keszthely all way to Hévíz on. We didn’t miss the opportunity to visit the Festetics Castle in the “capital” of South Balaton.

We were in hurry to arrive in time as another exclusive program awaited: a hot air balloon journey over the Keszthely Region and Lake Balaton. Following brief instruction concerning hot air ballooning we quickly ascended some 2000 meters (6000 feet) where the panorama was second to none. We saw the entire lake, which measures almost 100km (60 mi) in length. The landing at dusk was somewhat amusing as waved to the children in the backyards while our balloons terrified all the dogs in all of Rezi. Dinner was enjoyed in one of the most famous restaurants in Hévíz, the Római Pince (Roman Cave).

The last day began with a visit to the world heritage open air lake spa in Hévíz. Then we hopped on our bikes and headed to the Zala Hills, riding along the vineyards on some quiet, scenic minor roads. However even the motor road was easy to navigate which took us to the Buffalo Farm in Kápolnapuszta. From there we rode to the visitor center of the Small Balaton region on the Kányavár Island. We learned quite a lot about the rich population of migrating birds, which select this swampland next to Lake Balaton for their breeding period. One of the most enchanting bike lanes in Hungary took us to the vineyards overlooking Zalaszabar. At the top of the hill we visited “Uncle” Béla to enjoy a truly authentic midday meal.

On the bus heading back to Budapest most of the participants quickly fell asleep, aided by the lunch that no restaurant could match. Most woke to shock of the traffic jam caused by the Pope’s visit, making it effectively impossible to reach our destination in the capital. We chose to get off, taking the 120 year old subway line to the hotel. We could say that this was the last – although unplanned – adventure for our guests. The farewell dinner was had in the Bestia Étterem (Beastly Restaurant) where we recollected all the exploits of the previous 6 days.

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