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.
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.
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.
Lake Fertő is an increasingly popular destination for nature-lovers: it has a cycle path all around it, many exciting beauty spots, atmospheric small towns and inviting, beautiful landscapes. Although it lies partly in Hungary and partly in Austria, the open border means that the Fertő Region still forms a single unit.
The Sárvár Medicinal and Wellness Spa, completed in 2002, is the largest bath complex in Western Transdanubia. The spa offers thermal pools, giant slides, kiddie pools, a climbing wall and wellness services to entertain visitors looking for relaxation and recreation.
The small town of Makó in Hungary, famous for its excellent onions, has a veritable thermal bath complex in the town centre. On a plot of 12 thousand square metres, the complex offers 18 different pools, 8 kinds of saunas, a steam cabin as well as leisure, therapeutic and wellness services, offering visitors an unforgettable recreational experience.
Along the with its pools of thermal water for those seeking its therapeutic effects, the unique Miskolctapolca Cave Bath also offers visitors an opportunity to bathe in naturally formed cave passages and chambers.
The most famous sight of the town of Tapolca is hidden underground and may be explored in an extraordinary fashion. The Tapolca cave lake, unique in Hungary, is not famous for its spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, but the underground boating that it offers.
There is a special lake near Oroszlány, Hungary, by the foothills of the Vértes Mountain: meandering wooden piers and boardwalks lead to the small, red, blue and yellow cabins floating on the water. The Bokodi Lake is the artificial lake of the Vértes Power Station, but it offers a living
fairy-tale world for visitors.
Riverbanks with ancient trees, a diverse birdlife, branches arching over the water: amazing backwaters await nature lovers along the Tisza River outside the town of Mártély in Csongrád County.
Thanks to the European Space Agency (ESA), we now have a photograph of Hungary’s favourite lake taken from space.
Hungary’s second most populous city, Debrecen, has its own thermal springs, today surrounded by a large spa complex. Those seeking medical treatment can go to the Thermal Baths, while leisure-seekers can enjoy the Mediterranean Water Park.
Many popular summer excursion destinations are by the water, be it a sunny seaside, a cool lake or a beautiful, winding river. Hungary has no sea shores to offer, but hikers can visit many amazing natural watercourses – one of them is the Ilona Valley waterfall in the Mátra Mountain.