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Keszthely

The highlight of a visit to Keszthely is the splendid Festetics Mansion, at Szabadság u. 1 (tel. 83/314-194; www.helikonkastely), in the center of the city, a short walk north of the Tourinform office. The baroque 18th-century mansion (with 19th-century additions) was the home of the Festetics family for generations. Part of the mansion (16 rooms in total) is now open as a museum. The main attraction is the ornate Helikon library featuring magnificent floor-to-ceiling oak bookcases, which were hand carved by a local master, János Kerbl. In a second building, the museum also features hunting gear and trophies of a bygone era. The museum is open July and August daily 9am to 6pm; the rest of the year it is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is 1,800 Ft for adults and 900 Ft for students. A combination ticket for the Festetics Museum, Carriage Museum, and the Museum of Hunting is available for 3,200 Ft for adults and 1,600 Ft for students.

The mansion's opulent concert hall, the Mirror Gallery, is the site of classical music concerts almost every night throughout the summer (just two or three times a month from September to May). Concerts usually start at 8pm; tickets, ranging all the way from 1,000 Ft to 5,000 Ft apiece, are available at the door or earlier in the day at the museum cashier.

Another Keszthely museum worth a visit is the Balaton Museum, on the opposite side of the town center from the Festetics Mansion, at Múzeum u. 2 (tel. 83/331-2351; www.freeweb.hu/bmuseum). This museum features exhibits on the geological, archaeological, and natural history of the Balaton region. It's open from May through October Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm, and November through April, Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm. Admission is 500 Ft, and students pay 250 Ft.

Located down the hill from Fo tér (Main Square), off Bem utca, is Keszthely's open-air market. The major selling days are Wednesday and Saturday. While dawn to 1pm, is the busiest time, some vendors stay open later into the afternoon. You'll find fruit and vegetables, spices, preserves, and honey, as well as household appliances, handmade baskets, and children's clothing.

Side Trip -- If you are staying in either Keszthely or Hévíz and have lots of time, you may want to take an excursion to the small town of Sümeg, a half-hour drive north of Balaton. The main attraction here is the Fortress of Sümeg (tel. 87/550-166; www.sumegvar.hu). Hours change with the season from year to year, so call ahead. Originally constructed in the 13th century, it was subsequently rebuilt 300 years later. The fortress fended off the Turks, but was set ablaze in the 18th century by the Habsburgs. Today, perched high on the hilltop, the fortress hosts performances that take you to the Middle Ages, with horse shows, folk dances, and reenactments of knightly tournaments with period weaponry. At the foot of the hill is the Hotel Kapitány at Tóth Tivadar u. 19 (tel. 87/550-166; www.hotelkapitany.hu), a hotel and wellness center which includes saunas, fitness areas, and massage. The complex also includes a Turkish bath, restaurants, and a conference room. Note that the town is also known for Austrian painter, F. A. Maulbertsch's beautiful 18th-century frescos, located in the baroque Church of the Ascension, at Szent Imre tér.

Getting There -- Some local hotels and travel agencies offer day trips to Sümeg, including a medieval dinner and show, for an average of 10,000 Ft.

Szigliget

Szigliget is marked by the fantastically preserved ruins of the 13th-century Szigliget Castle, which stand above the town on Várhegy (Castle Hill). In the days of the Turkish invasions, the Hungarian Balaton fleet, protected by the high castle, called Szigliget home. You can hike up to the ruins for a splendid view of the lake and the surrounding countryside; look for the path behind the white 18th-century church, which stands on the highest spot in the village.

If you really enjoy hiking, you might take a local bus from Szigliget (the bus station is in the village center) to the nondescript nearby village of Hegymagas, about 4.8km (3 miles) to the north along the Szigliget-Tapolca bus route. The town's name means Tall Hill, and from here you can hike up Szent György-hegy (St. George Hill). This marvelous vineyard-covered hill has several hiking trails, the most strenuous of which goes up and over the rocky summit.

The lively beach at Szigliget provides a striking contrast to the quiet village. In summer, buses from neighboring towns drop off hordes of beachgoers. The beach area is crowded with fried-food and beer stands, ice-cream vendors, a swing set, and a volleyball court.

Szigliget is also home to the Eszterházy Wine Cellar, (tel. 06/20-414-4853 mobile phone only; www.eszterhazypince.hu/en) the largest wine cellar in the region.After a hike in the hills or a day in the sun, a little wine tasting just might be in order. Natur Tourist can provide you with the best directions, as getting here can be a bit confusing. Tours of the cellar are offered only for organized groups; others can drop in and sample the wares. The hours are by prior arrangement. Charges are based on services requested.

An Excursion to the Thermal Lake in Hévíz

If you think the water of Lake Balaton is warm, just wait until you jump into the lake at Hévíz (pronounced Hay-veez), a resort town about 8km (5 miles) northwest of Keszthely. Here, you'll find the largest thermal lake in Europe and the second largest in the world (the largest is in New Zealand), covering 16,723 sq. m (180,005 sq. ft).

The lake's water temperature seldom dips below 85°F (29°C), even in the most bitter spell of winter. Consequently, people swim in the lake year-round. Hévíz has been one of Hungary's leading spa resorts for more than 100 years, and it retains a distinct 19th-century atmosphere.

While the lakeside area is suitable for ambling, no visit to Hévíz would be complete without a swim. An enclosed causeway leads out into the center of the lake where locker rooms and the requisite services, including massage, float rental, and a palacsinta (crepe) bar, are housed. Note: There is no shallow water in the lake, so take care.

Hévíz is an easy 15 minutes by bus from Keszthely (there's no train service), which costs 210 Ft. Buses (labeled "Hévíz") depart every 10 minutes during the day from the bus station adjacent to the train station. The entrance to the lake is just opposite the bus station. You'll see a whimsical wooden facade and the words "tó fürdó" (Bathing Lake). They have a complicated pricing structure, but 2,100 Ft will buy you 3 hours, 2,950 Ft for 5 hours, and 3,700 for all day. Entry includes the use of a locker. You are given a "watch" to keep track of your time. If you exceed your time limit, it is 10 Ft a minute thereafter.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.