Situated in the heart of Transdanubia, Lake Balaton is the most popular holiday resort of Hungary. Every year thousands of tourists - both from Hungary and abroad - choose the "Hungarian sea" as their target holiday scene. The popularity of the Lake and its surroundings lies in its diversity; every season offers something tempting and not only those who love sunbathing can find activities to their mind, but hikers, those interested in culture, sports and gastronomy as well.

The remarkably diverse geographical conditions of the Balaton region have preserved an exceptional number of natural values for us. The "Balaton-Highlands National Park" occupying most of the northern shore of the lake, gives home to many rare plant and animal species. From the 1920's the Kisbalaton has been a strictly guarded nature conservation area and together with the Keszthelyi mountain forms part of the Balaton-Highlands National Park.

Lake Balaton - with a 590 km² water surface - is shallower along the southern shore, which is therefore recommended for large families, while the brave loners are welcome to the northern shore. Those eager to bath are attracted by numerous lidos; the number of spas offering special wellness-services (Hévíz, Zalakaros), and that of the so-called aqua parks is increasing, too (Balatonfüred). One of the most popular beaches is the "Golden Shore" in Siófok, where each year a significant program, the "Coca Cola Beach House" takes place, which lasts for a couple of weeks. The bathers are entertained by concerts and different interesting programs here. Apart from that the Kisfaludy Beach in Balatonfüred and the Wesselényi Beach in Balatonalmádi are well-liked by tourists. Those in favour of active recreation can choose from the numerous sporting activities offered. Besides the traditional branches of sport (sailing, surfing) extreme sports, for example water-skiing or bungee-jumping, are also represented. The "Balaton-swimthrough" competition is gaining increasing popularity year after year, on this occasion everyone can test their physical endurance.

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In winter the water may freeze in for a long time , so lovers of winter sports also visit the Lake with preference. In this time of the year ice-skating attracts a lot of people; much-liked sport of old times was chair-skiing, and ice-sailing is spreading pretty fast nowadays.

Out of the many possibilities to relax fishing is a very popular activity.The most suitable area for fishing is the northern shore of Lake Balaton: the eastern part of the Tihany-penninsula, the Tagore-promenade in Balatonfüred, and the "four-metre-section" of Balatonalmádi. The most famous and probably most delicious fish of the Lake is the zander. The bream- very bony, but delicious -is a typical fish of Lake Balaton, out of those types which are originally not indigenous species the ale is the one that occures in large numbers.

All significant towns look back on a history full of content. From the 18th and 19th centuries the sourroundings of Lake Balaton counted as the centre of social life, the settlements found here have preserved all their cultural values even up to our days.

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Balatonfüred: Situated on the northern shore is the first health resort town of Hungary.It looks back on a 2000-year-old history and was already inhabited in Roman times. In the 19th century the settlement was credited as one of the most significant centres of social and cultural life of the country. The attractiveness of Balatonfüred lies not only in its beautiful location, but the hospitality of the people living here as well. The development of the town is ensured by tourism: thousands of people come to visit it year after year. Many people believe in the healing power of the mineral water that springs near the shore of Lake Balaton, and a vast number of heart patients have recovered in the State Cardiac Hospital, for example Rabindranath Tagore, the famous Hindu poet. In the park nearby the Tagore-promenade, which was named after him, several statues cherish the memory of visits by well-known guests. Balatonfüred hosts a number of cultural and sports events , such as international sailing races, swimming competitions, Wine Weeks, or the famous Anna Ball.The first ball was organized on 26th July, 1825 by a Hungarian noble man in honour of his daughter named Anna Krisztina. The Anna Ball- the main event of which is the beauty contest- has always been known as one of the most elegant balls in the country, where the most eminent artists and politicians met each summer. No nature lover can leave Füred without marvellous experiences either. The "Tamás-hegy" and the "Öreghegy" are mountains ideal for hiking; on the former one the "Jókai lookout tower" can be found , from which there is a fine view over Lake Balaton and the entire town. The Koloska valley and the surroundings of the Koloska spring are ideal places for camping. Balatonfüred is a significant junction of the shipping on Lake Balaton. On board of a pleasure boot we can travel as far as Siófok, which is known as the capital of Lake Balaton, and this is also the easiest and most intimate way of approaching the Tihany-penninsula.

Tihany: The Tihany-penninsula, being not only a "pearl" of the region, but that of Europe as well, devides the lake by reaching far into it. Tihany is made attractive by the beauty of the landscape, the enchanting atmosphere of the village and the historical monuments. The penninsula is of volcanic origin, its surface is made diverse by limestone cones. Both the Inner and Outer Lake are home to rare species of plants and animals. The most well-known sight of Tihany is the Benedictine Abbey, established by Andrew I. in 1055, its deed of foundation is a valuable record of the Hungarian language.The abbey served as the burial-ground of King Andrew. The Gallery of the Benedictine Abbey working here hosts a number of significant exhibitions each summer. The "Echo", mentioned by many literary works, entertains the visitors when it is reflected back from the walls of the abbey. Another place of interest that is worth seeing is the Puppet Museum., the collection of which is made up of porcelain-headed puppets, dressed in old, traditional costumes. Besides these sights Tihany attracts its visitors by many programs and art events as well.The organ concert series in the abbey is famous all around the country. The Harvest Festival is organized in the first half of September, when tourists are entertained by folk dances, harvest processions, fairs, and street dances.

Balatonalmádi: The town of Balatonalmádi, which developed from four earlier settlements- Vörösberény, Almádi, Káptalanfüred, Budatava-, is a spa of picturesque beauty situated on the northern shore of Lake Balaton. The town lies in the northeastern corner of the lake, it is open to the water, surrounded by hills from the west and the north, sheding a pleasant, mediterranean atmosphere. On the hillside the local wine-growers deal with viniculture for centuries and those visiting their cellars get a warm welcome. Numerous beaches of Balatonalmádi offer chances for relaxation and recreation. Wesselényi beach, the biggest and at the same time most popular beach of the town, is kept in evidence as first in its natural endownments. Programmes, concerts, folklore shows for the different age groups are held daily. Those visiting Balatonalmádi can admire the numerous cultural sights as well. The most significant listed building is the "fortress church", which was built in the 11-12th century and bears the characteristics of both the Roman and Gothic style on itself. The Jesuitic cloister, built in the 18th century, today functions as a hotel. In the roman catholic church, which is built together with the cloister and is the same age, the special 18th century frescos of Xavér Bucher can be found. In the granary that belongs to the building complex a wine museum can be found, displaying every kind of bottled wine in the country.

Balatonföldvár: Balatonföldvár lies in the northern part of Somogy county, in a valley that opens onto the lake. The town with 2300 permanent inhabitants is one of the most well-arranged holiday-resorts, which is decorated with parks and flowers. Balatonföldvár, named after a Celtic earthwork that was built in the Iron Age, was protected by a trench from the South, and by the "High Shore" and the lake itself from the North. In the 18-19th century is was indicated on the map as Földvár-puszta, and belonged to the estate of the Széchenyi family. The port is one of the citadels of home sailing. From "Kelta-promenade", running upon the 40-metre-high loess wall, a marvellous view opens onto the opposite Tihany-penninsula, and this is the only place from where one can see both basins of the lake. The remains of the Celtic earthwork are also found here. The 1200-metre-long promenade, encircled by palm-trees, called Kvassay-promenade, was opened in the early 1900s. The latest pride of Balatonföldvár, the Community House, named after Gizi Bajor, was opened in 1944 and serves as the centre of local programmes. In the summer people who come here are entertained by returning cultural and different amusing programmes. At the "middle" weekend of June the Földvár Festival is organized as the opening of the season, it relates to the anniversary of the establishment of the holiday resort. The Balaton Folklore Meeting is held every year (end of July) since 1962. In August the Saint Stephen's Day Festival (Hungarian-Bavarian Meeting) lasts for two days, and at the second weekend of September, on the programmes of the Civil Festival the local clubs revive the deservedly famous harvest and the spirit of fairs.

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Siófok: The town with 23500 inhabitants, built around the mouth of river Sió, running out of Lake Balaton, is- with its 17-km-coastal sector- the longest settlement of the lake. Siófok is often referred to as the "capital" of Lake Balaton, as its population swells to fivefold in the summer. The promenades with groves, the huge free beach, the cultural and gastronomical programmes attract thousands of tourists. The story of the present-day town looks back on old times. We can first read about the name of the little river, running out of Lake Balaton in the earliest written record of the Hungarian language, the Deed of Foundation of the Tihany Abbey (1055). The village "Fok", baptized after it, was first mentioned in an assessment (1137). The foundation of Balaton Steamship Company in 1846 brought a significant change in the life of the settlement. In 1872 Pál Festetics initiated that Siófok is built into a high-standard medicinal bath so that those who wish to take a rest can have a holiday here at home. Siófok was officially declared a spa in 1893. Numerous beaches welcome the bathers along the 17 km coastal sector. Towards the east, at the row of hotels the so called "Golden Beach" begins. As its continuation "Szabadi-fürdő" and "Szabadi-Sóstó" can be found. Heading towards West we get to "Széplak", where the so called "Silver Beach" is situated. The bustling "bath-life" coupled with cultural and sports events as well. A theatre and a racecourse was built, the regular Balaton-swimthroughs and tennis competitions began. In the centre of the town the water tower, the 45-metre-high symbol of Siófok, projects, which was built in 1912. The statue of Kálmán Imre erected in the "Music Pavilion", is part of the "Millenium Park" in front of the station. The "Mineral Museum", which presents the minerals of the Carpathian Basin is the biggest of such exhibitions in Hungary, with its display of 3000 different minerals. Every year the different programmes start with the "Whitsun Season-opening Celebration". It is the port of Siófok where the traffic of boats is the biggest all around the lake. The sluice built together with the port is a point of interest, the river's water level is regulated with it. West of the port, right next to the lake the Meteorological Observatory can be found.

Hévíz: Hévíz is the most significant medicinal-touristic centre of Hungary, situated 6 km from the western coast of Lake Balaton. The importance of the town with a population of 4800 inhabitants is due to the 5-acre-curative lake surrounded by a 50-acre-forest, which is unique all over the world. The "bath-life" in Hévíz developed by the end of the 18th century. The count György Festetics contributed to it. In the life of the spa significant changes appeared in the 20th century: new bath houses and in 1907 the characteristic entrance with two towers were built. The Sanatorium and Thermal Hotel of Hévíz was completed by that time. The curative lake, famous world-wide, is the largest thermal lake in Europe, in which one has the chance for open-air bathing throughout the whole year. Its miraculous effect manifests itself first of all in the curing of rheumatic and locomotor diseases. The speciality of the thermal lake is that it is the only one in Europe where water-lilies bloom throughout the year. With the running of the Hévíz Galery (Deák Square) the town tries to revive cultural customs. In the exhibition chambers seasonal displays can be seen, the atrium covered by a glass dome is home to cultural and entertainment programmes from May till October. Every year at least one wine or beer festival is organized of course with high-standard concomitant programmes. Visitors must see the stone church of the age of the Árpáds, built probably in the 13th century.

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Keszthely: The town with nearly 23000 inhabitants is situated in the northwestern corner of Lake Balaton. It is one of the most populous towns along the coast, a cultural and educational centre rich in traditions. Because of its intimate, patinated townscape, the monuments, museums, outstanding cultural programmes and the proximity of Hévíz, currently it is one of the most popular settlements of Lake Balaton. The prospering town has been a much liked holiday resort since theb first decade of the 20th century and still welcomes visitors with an attractive cultural supply. In the first half of the 18th century the Festetics family became the single owner of the settlement. Keszthely was the centre of the estate where the core of the castle was built in 1745. Today it is the fourth biggest castle of the country. The Helikon Castle Museum was placed in the monument building, the castle park has still been a protected natural value. The Helikon Literary Celebration first organised in 1817, is still a custom today. The determining buildings of the pedestrian precinct heading of the "Main Square" were built in the second half of the previous century. Heading towards the South we get to the Neobaroque building of Balaton Museum, opened in 1928. In the 11 chambers of the mseum one can marvel at the thematic exhibitions that describe the formation of Lake Balaton and its animal-and plant life. In a street near to the Festetics castle special delicacies are displayed at the Marzipan Museum together with cartoon figures, cakes decorated with folk art patterns, and also the marzipan model of the castle itself. One sight of the Puppet Museum in Kossuth Street is the reduced-sized copy of the House of Parliament (8 *2.5 m), which was built from 4.5 million ancient sea snail shell, in 14 years. It was at the end of the 19th century, when Keszthely became a health resort. After the settlement of the Balaton coast belonging to the town, the island bath was put into shape, and the two hotels that still stand today: the Hullám and the Balaton.

Badacsony: Badacsony and its surroundings is one of the most characteristic regions of the Balaton Highlands. With its uncomparable, unforgettable beauty Badacsony is perfectly suitable for summer holidays, bathing, and wine-tasting. Not only are the basalt mountains of Badacsony, Gulács, Csobánc and Szent György mountain uniquely interesting and picturesque geological memories, but also home to numerous rare plant-and animal species. The 440-metre-high Badacsony, which was declared a protected area in 1956 is part of the Balaton-Highlands National Park. On its slopes vine grows, which gives the excellent wines of the Badacsony wine-growing region, while on its sides special geological formations, the so called "basalt organs can be found. The top of Badacsony can be reached easily ba following the footpaths and the 379 steps of the "stairs of exiles". From a hight of 438 m a marvellous view opens onto the Badacsony area, the southern coast of Lake Balaton, the surrounding mountains, and the bay of Szigliget. The town of Badacsony, which lies at the foot of the volcanic mountains is famous for its oenology and its special wine, the Szürkebarát. Mainly such types of vine are grown here which give white wines, for instance: Olaszrizling, Tramini, Kéknyelű, Chardonnay, etc... Badacsony and its surroundings offer a great number of sights for tourists. The most characteristic chuch of the settlement is Saint Emery's Church. One of the most beautiful wine-press houses of the region is that of Róza Szegedy. There are a number of programmes offered, that take place in the summer and autumn. A prominent occasion, the Badacsony Festival and Folklore Art Fair, and the Harvest is organised at the first weekend of August.

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Balatonboglár: The town lies almost in the middle of the southern coast, it can easily be approached by road, railway and even water. By now it has almost been built together with Fonyód and Lelle. Balatonboglár bears the title of International Town of Grapes and Wine", and is centre of the southern wine-growing region. Due to the good accessibility, the shallow, sandy beach bath-life has started early here. In the centre of the city, on the intimate Vörösmarty Square one can see the wonderful fountain, and in the Fischl-House a collection representing the local and industrial history is displayed. Bothn hills of Boglár is built of basalt and sand. From the sphere lookout tower, named after János Xantus, situated on the Castle Hill, a marvellous view opens onto the town. On the Chapel Hill, which is smaller, two famous chapels rise: the Red and the Blue chapel. The summer programmes begin at Whitsun, when on the stage in front of the Red chapel and on Platán beach many premieres take place.

Balatonlelle: In 1979 Lelle was united with Balatonboglár but in 1991 the two settlements separated. The most beautiful part of the town is the Saint Stephen Square, which is of mediterranean spirit, next to the railway station, and the promenade which starts here. In Kossuth Lajos Street a beautifly renovated peasant house, built at the end of the 1700s, can be found, which is also the building of the Kapoli Museum. In the centre of the town the classical castle of the Szalay family can be found, in the park of which the 1200-seater open-air stage was placed. The pools of the new water park (2003) is open from spring till autumn, while its sauna and steam bath welcomes visitors all year. The most popular beauty spot of the environs is Kis Mountain (one-hour-walk from the town), in the vineyards of which Saint Donát Chapel can be found. From among the summer festivals of Balatonlelle the Wineweek Festival of Lelle is the most extraordinary one. Other popular programmes are the Music Nights of Rád, and the Ceasar-evenings.

The conditions of the region are excellent from the aspect of wine-growing as well. The northern shore is probably the most diverse growing land of Hungary. One of the oldest and most well-known historical wine-growing area is the Badacsony region. The main settlements engaged in this activity, besides the name-giving Badacsony, are: Szent György Mountain, Szigliget, Csobánc, and Ábrahám Mountain. The most prominent wines are "Badacsonyi szürkebarát", "Badacsonyi kéknyel.", "Badacsonyi olaszrizling", "Badacsonyi zöldszilváni", "Szentgyörgyhegyi rizling", "Ábrahámhegyi rizling". The significant wine-growing centres on the southern shore are Balatonboglár, Balatonlelle, Sz.l.sgyörök. The most well-known wines are: "Balatonboglári Muskotály", "Balatonboglári Leányka", and the BB champagnes. These wines are fruity, sweet-smelling, soft, and rich in flavours. The Somló wine-growing region is a historical one with a significant past and is the smallest of all. The main settlements are: Somlóvásárhely, Somlósz.l.s, Doba, Somlójen., Kemeneskápolna. Most famous wines are: "Somlói Furmint" and "Somlói Juhfark".

The high-quality wines are worthy of accompanying the typical gastronomical masterpieces of the region. The cuisine preserves food customs that developed within centuries. Due to the proximity of the lake, the vast majority of fish courses can be observed. The fish soup is definately worth a try, along with the zander which is the most delicious fish of the lake.

No matter if we talk about recreation, sport, historical and cultural values, or gastronomy, Lake Balaton and its surroundings is an inexhaustible source of facilities. It is an ideal holiday resort for young and elderly people as well.

Forrás: ohb.hu