187km (117 miles) SW of Budapest
Keszthely (pronounced Kest-hay), which sits at the western edge of Lake Balaton, is one of the largest towns on the lake, and is easily reached by rail from both Budapest and other lake towns. Although Keszthely was largely destroyed during the Turkish wars, the town was rebuilt in the 18th century by the Festetics, an aristocratic family that made Keszthely their home during World War II. The town's main sites all date from the days of the wealthy Festetics clan.
Getting There -- Eleven daily trains depart Budapest's Déli Station and 10 from Keleti Station for Keszthely; additional InterCity (IC) trains also make the journey daily, but are much longer. If the only city you plan to visit on Lake Balaton is Keszthely, take the IC. They are no longer as quick as in the past, but they are air-conditioned and cleaner (trip time: 3 1/2 hours). A reserved seat is required at the time of booking. The trip costs 3,650 Ft to 4,760 Ft, depending on time of day and the train. Other trains can take up to 5 hours.
If you're heading to Keszthely station out of Szigliget, you can hop on any of the 12 daily trains in normal hours or others in the wee hours. Make sure, however, to consult a timetable before leaving, as there's no direct service and where you choose to transfer can seriously affect your journey time from a very reasonable 47 minutes to a ridiculous 2 1/2 hours. Tickets cost 560 Ft.
The train station is on the southeastern edge of the town, but it's a scenic walk that takes about 10 minutes. You can also take a taxi from the main square to the station for less than 900 Ft.
Visitor Information -- For information, stop in at Tourinform, at Kossuth u. 28 (tel./fax 83/331-4144; www.keszthely.hu), in the city's former town hall. From the train station, walk up Mártírok utca, then turn right onto Kossuth utca, and walk north until you get to the city's main square (Fo tér). It's open daily from July 1 to August 31 from 9am to 7pm. The rest of the year, its scheduled hours of Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm are at the discretion of the employees after determining the need during any particular week.
Badacsony is 160km (99 miles) SW of Budapest.
Nestled in one of the most picturesque corners of Lake Balaton is Badacsony, an area that includes four villages noted for their beautiful vistas and some of the best wines of Hungary. The Badacsony area is dotted with wine cellars, and the tradition of viticulture and winegrowing dates back to the Celtic and Roman times. Other than wine tasting, Badacsony boasts walking trails where you can study the diverse basalt forms and the former quarry walls. You'll also find a 4km (2.5 mile) long circular trail, starting from the Kisfaludy House on the southern side of Badacsony Hill. Contact Botanikai tanösvény Badacsony (tel. 87/555-260; www.bfnpi.hu) for guided tours.
One of the better-known vintners in Hungary is Huba Szeremley, founder of the Pannonian Wine Guild and whose Badacsony wines won one-third of the 2001 international competitions awarded to Hungarian wines. The best way to find out about Szeremley's regular wine tastings is to visit his restaurant, Szent Orbán Borház és Étterem, Badacsonytomaj, Kisfaludy S. u. 5 (tel. 87/431-382; www.szeremley.com). It is open Friday to Sunday from noon to 10pm.
The Borbarátok Panzió, Badacsonytomaj, Római út 78 (tel. 87/471-000; www.borbaratok.hu), is a family-owned and -operated restaurant and hotel. It serves traditional Hungarian fare and also offers a wide variety of programs including wine tasting, harvest, fishing, and walking tours. During the summer months, different music programs are offered each night of the week. Main courses at the restaurant run from 1,040 Ft to 3,400 Ft. The restaurant is open daily 11:30am to 11pm in high season, and daily 11:30am to 10pm in low season. Room rates are based on per person, per night. Two beds 6,000 Ft, one double 8,500 Ft, extra bed 4,000 Ft. The Nepun apartment for four people is 19,500 Ft per day. Taxes are included.
Szigliget is 175km (108 miles) SW of Budapest.
Getting There -- Five daily trains that require at least one change of train along the way leave from Veszprém's rail station getting you to Badacsonytördemic-Szigliget Station. The trip can take as little as 3 1/2 hours or as much as 4 1/2 hours depending on the train you catch and how many connections you need to make (there is no direct train service). InterCity trains (you must make a reservation!) are available for at least part of the route, but, in this case, won't get you to Szigliget any faster than some of the gyors trains because you have to make a number of connections.
It is a 20-minute bus ride to Szigliget from the train station. Each arriving train is met by a bus, which stops on the platform right outside the station building. The destination of the buses is Tapolca, and you get off the bus at the stop near the beach in Szigliget village center (the village itself is tiny and easily traversed on foot).
Visitor Information -- Natur Tourist 97 Bt. (tel. 87/461-197), in the village on Strand 1, will assist in booking private rooms. They are open daily from 9:30am to 6pm. There are also ZIMMER FREI signs along the roads.
Lake Balaton's Southern Shore
If you're in that youthful energy category of spending long days in the sand and surf and then want to follow it up by spending long nights being the party animal, then the town of Siófok at the southern shore of Lake Balaton is where it is at. After all, a million Hungarian students can't be wrong. Or could they?
Siófok, located at the lake's southeastern end, is known as the capital of Lake Balaton; it is also the largest resort town on the lake. Siófok's railway station was completed in 1863, thus 1863 is considered to be the year of Siófok's birth as a holiday resort, with Budapest now connected by rail to the resort town. In 1865, Siófok, a settlement of not more than 200 houses with 1,500 inhabitants was permitted to attain the status of market-town. As the saying goes, the rest is history. It started to become overrun with holiday-makers during the summer season.
Siófok is the star attraction for the young, active crowd of mostly students and teenagers who flood the town's beaches from sunrise to sunset and then move en masse to the town's discos until the sun rises yet again. Large, modern, expensive hotels line the shore and more are being developed. If you are looking for a quiet beach experience, you will not find it here, but you will find windsurfing, tennis, and boating. English will be at a premium; although many younger Hungarians may speak English to some degree, they are not as tempted to indulge when surrounded by their fellow native speakers. Some older people may speak some German, learned in the communist times. This could be an isolating experience and difficult within the town itself once you leave the hotel.
While this city is no cultural capital, the architecture of some of the older buildings is impressive. Note the old railway station, and the many villas around the Gold Coast (Aranypart). You will also find some important contemporary buildings, notably the Evangelical Church, designed by one of Hungary's most appreciated architects, Imre Makovecz -- who is known for his use of wood and light in his structures that dot the country. Most of the wood used for the building was imported from Finland.
Siófok has also partaken in the major marketing campaign that includes all of the popular resorts of Lake Balaton. It is trying to bring back the throngs of visitors that have abandoned the lake for the rediscovered beaches along Croatia's coastline. Due to the development of tourism infrastructure, the prices have made this destination less of a bargain during high season, but the weakening global economy and the fact that "wellness centers" have been popping up like unwanted gophers in a well-groomed yard, has put a noose around their neck, so look for bargains if you go to this area. Remember that their published rates are at an unrealistically high level. Ironically, Siófok is being rejuvenated by constructing new wellness centers that cater to rejuvenation procedures, and by the allure of the warm-water springs of Hungarian fame. These facilities will be 365-day operations in an attempt to stimulate the economy of the region as an all-year-round attraction.
For more information on the southern shore, contact Tourinform (tel./fax 84/315-355; www.siofokportal.com) or pick up the Balaton Funzine free at any Tourinform office.
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.