116km (72 miles) SW of Budapest

Just 16km (10 miles) from Lake Balaton, Veszprém (pronounced Vess-praym) surely ranks as one of Hungary's most charming and vibrant small cities, and it's the ideal starting point for a rail tour of Lake Balaton's northern shore. History and modern living are delightfully combined in this little city. The self-contained and well-preserved 18th-century baroque Castle District spills effortlessly into a typically modern city center, distinguished by lively wide-open, pedestrian-only plazas.

The history of Veszprém, like the scenic Bakony countryside that surrounds it, is full of peaks and valleys. According to local legend, Veszprém was founded on seven hills, like Rome. The seven hills are: Várhegy (Castle Hill), Benedek-hegy (St. Benedict Hill), Jeruzsálem-hegy (Jerusalem Hill), Temetohegy (Cemetery Hill), Gulyadomb (Herd Hill), Kálvária-domb (Calvary Hill), and Cserhát (no translation).

King Stephen (István) I defeated the armies of his chief opponent, Koppány, near Veszprém in an effort to make Hungary a Christian nation. Hence, Veszprém became the seat of the first Episcopal See in 1009. This was the favorite city of King Stephen's queen, Gizella. The city is often called the City of Queens. It was completely destroyed during the course of the long Turkish occupation, the Habsburg-Turkish battles, and the subsequent Hungarian-Austrian independence skirmishes. The reconstruction of Veszprém commenced in the early 18th century, though the castle itself, blown up by the Austrians in 1702, was never rebuilt. The baroque character of that era today attracts thousands of visitors who pass through each year.