The sun is shining, allowing Hungarians to relish and explore the glorious landscapes of their country. Each summer brings new memories alongside traditional foods, drinks and activities. The largest lake in central Europe, Balaton is a top attraction for locals. The several lively towns and villages surrounding its shores all have a distinct atmosphere.
Personally, I have visited Balatonszéplak, Siófok and Zamárdi. I found all three to be quite tranquil and close enough to Budapest for a feasible day or weekend trip. Once on the waterfront, you can rent an array of water sports equipment like paddleboats and boards. Keep in mind, there is a large music festival near these towns commencing in the first week of July which may provide some unexpected crowds. Besides the traditional beach activities like sunbathing, playing ball or frolicking in the water, Balaton’s northern side is a paradise for wine lovers and those who like a bit of hiking. The abbey of Tihany with its lavender gardens is also a must-see.
There is smaller body of water called Lake Velence located a little over an hour from downtown Budapest. With summertime water temperatures ranging from 26 to 28 °C Lake Velence is one of the warmest in Europe. Just like Lake Balaton, its northern shore has some nice scenery with hills and woods perfect for walking, with charming little villages and towns to discover in between. Additionally, Lake Velence is is also a popular cycling spot with a bike road around its perimeter.
Several Hungarian families own lake houses or flats quite near these beautiful lakes. While staying at a family house near Zamárdi, the first time I saw Balaton was during sunset and I haven’t forgotten its beauty and uniqueness ever since. There is no better program than sitting around with friends and family and listening to the waves crashing onto the shore.
While sunbathing, Hungarians usually enjoy sipping on ‘adult-friendly’ drinks. One of the most popular beverages is fröccs, a wine spritzer made with either rosé or white wine. This chilled, frizzy and bubbly drink is a nice refreshment during hot months. Initially, diluted wine does not sound appealing, however, it is pleasantly refreshing. Depending on how thirsty one is, there are different amounts of wine to be added to the sparkling water. You can have a kisfröccs (small fröccs: 1dl of wine and 1dl soda water) or a nagyfröccs (big fröccs: 2dl wine and 1dl soda water), but there are all kinds of combinations with the most outrageous being the Krúdy fröccs (9dl wine plus 1dl soda water) named after a famous and beloved Hungarian author. I find drinking fröccs while socializing to be stimulating while never tipping one over the edge. Hungarians are also quite fond of drinking beer. While you can find mass-produced, decent lagers at any pub, I would definitely recommend for you to try out some local craft beers as well. The Hungarian craft beer scene has evolved a lot in the past years, resulting in a variation of excellent products. For those who rather prefer non-alcoholic drinks ‘home-made’ lemonade can be a refreshing alternative.
Alongside these delightful beverages, there is also a range of vacation food items you should try. You can usually get these at various places all year long, but why not try the local varieties while spending time by the aforementioned lakes? Firstly, there is lángos a fried savory dough which comes in various thicknesses, sizes, and flavors depending on the region. The most traditional ones have a garlic sauce, sour cream and cheese on top, but depending on the vendor, there are usually several toppings to choose from. Some places also offer ‘stuffed’ lángos where they fold the dough in half.
Secondly, there is corn on the cob which is usually not roasted, but boiled in water together with the leaves of the corn to make it more flavorful. This is on the lighter side and it is quite delicious. I’ve seen a few stands offering a range of seasonings as well.
Still staying on the lighter side, roasted hake is a must try item of ‘beach cuisine’. Accompanied by a bit of lemon juice and a light white garlic sauce, it truly makes any trip to the lake a memorable one. This fish is just so fresh, its meat simply melts in your mouth. Do beware there are heaps of bones within hake, but feel free to ask a local who knows how to remove them with ease. For a sweet treat, kürtőskalács (chimney cake) is just splendid with toppings such as coconut flakes, walnuts, cocoa, cinnamon and nutella. Before they bake it, melted butter is brushed on the dough which results in a crispy exterior and a heavenly, soft interior. Although it is not exactly a traditional way to eat it, keep an eye out for stands who stuff these cakes with either ice cream or whipped cream. It is a variety of kürtőskalács becoming rather popular and sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. Lastly, would be ice cream. There are three top flavors among Hungary: Vanilla, Chocolate, and Lemon. Most commonly ordered is one of these three along with a fruit-based flavor.