Preventing water crises
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Preventing water crises

Summertime at Lake Balaton, the Hungarian Sea

Lively crowds have always characterised Lake Balaton and its region. The spa life and tourism started to develop in the 18th century but first it was not based on the water of the lake but on the sparkling springs of the shore. First the turn of the 19th – 20th century, and later the years following World War II have brought a significant growth in tourism.

A number of Hungarian historical figures and artists had been inspired over the years at the shores of the lake. Accordingly, at the beginning of the 19th century, in the Reform Era, which was the most successful era in the history of Hungary, Lake Balaton had become the centre of social life. Dominant personalities, like Lajos Kossuth, István Széchenyi, Miklós Wesselényi and Ferenc Deák turned up at the lake, just like a number of great artists of the Hungarian literature, among them Ferenc Kazinczy, Dániel Berzsenyi, Mihály Csokonai Vitéz and Mihály Vörösmarty. They mostly visited Balatonfüred, which has become the first important bath, and many of these personalities had decided to settle down there, among them one of the greatest of the Hungarian romantic literature Mór Jókai, who bought a villa in Balatonfüred. Resorts have been developing one after the other and first the construction of
Budapest – Nagykanizsa railway in 1861.

View of Balatonfüred Photo: Shutterstock

Lake Balaton had witnessed a number of events of paramount importance, for example it is tied to the emergence of the world famous Hungarian swimming sports.

The Hungarian swimming sport was born exactly on the 29th of August, 1880 when Kálmán Szekrényessy swam the 14 km distance between Siófok and Balatonfüred in 6 hours and 40 minutes. This performance was amazing at that time and it brought not only recognition in and outside Hungary but also made swimming popular in Hungary. The success of the new sport can be demonstrated with the fact that the following year the first international swimming competition was organised in Hungary, on the Danube between Vác and Pest.

His achievement is best characterized by the fact that no one except him could repeat it for 16 years
as during that period he swam again four times across the lake. To increase the popularity of the swim across the lake and also the number of participants, the distance had been later gradually decreased. Balaton cross-swimming has become a popular event attracting masses, it is organised annually between Révfülöp and Balatonboglár, i.e. a distance of 5,200 meters. Participants complete this distance on an average of under three hours.

In the history of Balaton cross-swimming, only one participant managed to swim across the lake in one hour, covering a 5.2 km distance Photo: MTI/Lajos Nagy

The first important momentum of the history of shipping on Balaton was the appearance of sailing vessels, the first having been built by the Hungarian noble family, family Festetics at the end of the 18th century. The biggest of their sailboats was Főnix (meaning in Hungarian 'phoenix') which was launched on the 15th of July, 1797. The boat was 16 fathom long, 3 fathom wide with 16 rowers. As its speciality, it was not only used for freight service but also carried passengers, moreover different celebrations and festivities were also held on board.

But the real breakthrough in organised passenger shipping was the foundation of the Balaton Steamship Company initiated by Earl István Széchenyi and its first paddle boat, the Kisfaludy steamboat. Following that passenger shipping has boomed and by 1910 four steamboats carried the passengers on the lake.

Kálmán Szekrényessy in addition regularly organised swimming competitions, kayak races and regattas on the Hungarian sea, and these had become ever more popular. In 1933 the European sailing championship was also organised on the lake. Balaton became the locale of the most prestigious
first-class sailing regatta, the Blue Ribbon Regatta, which was first organised in 1934. The length of the route covering Balatonfüred – Balatonkenese – Tihany – Keszthely – Balatonfüred is 160 km. Today there is every year an enormous interest in the regatta, and while only 21 boats participated in the first regatta, nowadays it is really impressive to see how the crew – numbering a few thousand – of the more than 500 sailing boats strives for victory.

The 50th Blue Ribbon Anniversary Regatta at Lake Balaton took place in 2018 Photo: MTI/Gergely Jánossy

The healing waters of Northern Hungary: Eger and Mezőkövesd

The Eger Spa, with a history of over 500 years, offers radon-bearing medicinal water and leisure pools, while the Mezőkövesd outdoor spa has thermal water high in sulphur and a slide park for those seeking therapy or leisure.

Secrets of the Hortobágy, the great Hungarian puszta

Covering almost two thousand square kilometres, the Hortobágy steppe is a special place. It is also Hungary’s first and largest national park. It is the largest alkaline steppe in Europe, and a World Heritage sight full of wonders.

The ’blooming’ of the River Tisza – a wonderful natural phenomenon

Mayflies, also known in Hungary as ‘Tisza flowers’ swarm for a brief period of their lives out of the water, offering a unique natural spectacle along Hungary’s second largest river, the Tisza, and a few sunny sections of its tributaries.

Breathtaking nature film about Lake Balaton

Three years, 150 days of shooting, four seasons: the end result is an enchanting 65-minute nature documentary about the largest shallow lake in Central Europe, Lake Balaton. Entitled Wild Balaton, it presents the fauna and flora living in and around the lake with spectacular cinematography.

The unique hot-water lake of Hévíz

Hungary is the country of spas and medicinal waters. Hévíz, one of the world’s largest biologically active thermal lakes, which offers healing and recreation on a surface area of almost 50 hectares is living proof of that.

Gellért Spa and Bath – An Art Nouveau Spa Hotel in Budapest

Gellért Spa and Bath is one of the leading natural hot spring spa baths in Budapest, Hungary. Gellért Hotel and Spa opened up shop in 1918. It was later expanded with an artificial wave pool and a bubble bath. The original artificial wave machine, first put to use in 1927, is still operational and is a special treat of the spa.

Spectacular drone photography of Lake Balaton

Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, has been an inspiration for many artists, and recently it has provided an award-winning theme for a new genre, drone photography. The professional jury at the 2018 Hungarian Drone Photo Awards, where more than 1000 submissions were received, gave the Grand Price to the extraordinary image that Bulcsú Böröczky has captured from the air.

The Lukács Thermal Bath – one of Budapest’s oldest spas

The Lukács Thermal Bath whose operation dates back to the Turkish era, was the favourite bath of Mustafa pasha. It is said to have one of the most effective medicinal waters of Budapest.

Margaret Island, a healing island in Budapest

Due to its charming beauty, Margaret Island – the green heart of Budapest – had from the very start been a favourite residence of royals. Its landscaping was initiated in 1790 by the Palatine of Hungary, Archduke Alexander Leopold of Austria and after his death the works were continued by his hugely popular younger brother, Archduke Joseph of Austria, Palatine of Hungary.

Beautiful aerial photography of Hungary’s waters

A special series of photos of Hungary’s lakes and rivers has been produced to mark World Water Day in March 2019. The aerial photographs highlight the great variety of the country’s natural waters.