Biking Balaton

If you’re like me, you probably have never heard of the place. Few people outside of Hungary have. My lack of familiarity accompanied me through the spring of 2017, until I was walking along an enchanting path across northern Spain, meandering my way to a city I had never seen, and will never forget, Santiago.

I am describing, of course, the intoxicatingly spiritual adventure that is the Camino de Santiago. It’s a path along which pilgrims from around the world find themselves walking together, sharing space, if only for hours, or even minutes. These encounters could be a glance, a conversation, or a budding friendship. In this instance, I came across a particularly friendly guy with an unfamiliar accent, Csabi (“Chubby”) from Hungary. We exchanged introductions. With a bad knee in tow, I mentioned I was giving up jogging for biking. “Ah,” he said, “You must have heard of Balaton.”

Balaton
Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest lake. You’ll find it about 2-hours by train, southwest of Budapest

He described a lake in almost heavenly terms: it was beautiful, he said, large and clean, with unusual blue water, bordered on the northern side by endless vineyards, and lined on its southern shore, in summer, with busy beaches and hotels.

So it went. Sometime in the future, I told myself, I would find my way, accompanied by my folding bike, to the shores of Lake Balaton. I placed it on my proverbial “Bucket-List.”

Fast forward, months, not years. A teaching opportunity ironically took us to Hungary. Balaton beckoned. With Hungary’s Indian summer extending into late October, I grabbed my Brompton, and snuck off for 5-days of solitary biking magic.

IMG_5244
Lake Balaton. Pictured here, the waterfront at Balatonfured

Well-marked and well-maintained bike paths surround the entire lake. While it’s true that latex-clad bikers with a penchant for speed, cycle the 150-mile circumference in a day, my choice was to cycle Balaton over 3 full days, with half-days on each end. I started out in Baldatonalmadi in the northeast, mid-day on a Wednesday, and finished in the same town, the following Sunday afternoon. In my case, 5-days of glorious, carefree biking, stopping wherever, and whenever, a whim would land on my shoulder.

The biking lanes were uncharacteristically empty – after all, even the shoulder of the busy Balaton summer season had reached its end. I was accompanied by colorful, cascading leaves, blessed by biking-friendy temps in the 50s and 60s, and treated to views few see without hordes of tourists.

IMG_5712
Along Balaton’s northern shore. Rolling hills, filled with wine groves, as far as the eye can see. Hungarian wine, if you can get, is a best-kept secret
IMG_5721
A colorful porch, early morning, in Keszthely, on Balaton’s western-most shore

Along Balaton’s northern shore there are rolling hills, filled with wine groves, as far as the eye can see. Hungarian wine, by the way, should you be able to get some, is a best-kept secret. The lake’s south shore alternated between quiet lanes and mostly deserted towns and villages. They are no doubt filled with people and traffic during the late spring and summer months. The hotels alone, when open, would assuredly attract tons of cars and traffic. I was pleased with my decision to bike Balaton outside of Hungary’s vacation seasons.

IMG_5723
Moments after sunrise. Here, a lone fisherman on a pier, in Keszthely, pop. 20,895

Every turn was an introduction to a new scene with a different feel, a new flavor. The palate of colors rotating, the shoreline evolving, the skies overhead changing. My plan was to cover about 35-miles a day, to allow time to observe, reflect, to become familiar, albeit fleetingly, with the places and people I encountered.

IMG_5738
Along Balaton’s southern shore. Here looking north, hills and wine country in the distance. In the foreground, pubic parks, places for small boats and the ubiquitous train tracks

There are times, even in late October, such as a Saturday afternoon, when families fill a park or a square. I found these occasions to be welcoming, after all, they were few and far between.

IMG_5771
Shorefront park in Siofok. Hungarian families meet up with a few of the many swans of Lake Balaton

All good things eventually come to an end. So too, a bike trip around Balaton. My trip began with a conversation along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. It ended with a smile on my face a year later in Baldatonalmadi, Hungary. If you love biking, traveling, exploring, add a loop around Lake Balaton to your list. Balaton beckons you.

IMG_5758
Lake Balaton beckons

4 thoughts on “Biking Balaton

  1. Somehow I did not realize you are now living in Hungary or that you walked the Camino de Santiago. The cycling route you describe sounds like a joy to ride. I too took up cycling a couple years ago due to knee issue. Love it. Hope to get to Hungary some day soon and visit Lake Balaton. Best – Rick

    Like

    1. Rick, biking has been a saving-grace for me. About 8 years ago, I found my way to Brompton folding bikes. The bike folds into a fairly small configuration which allows me to take it wherever my travels take me…We’re here in Budapest for the school year teaching English. Budapest is quite a place and a nice gift to the senses. BTW, I think we first met about 25 years ago at the USM School of Business. Cheers!

      Like

      1. Hope we can hope up again soon, Stephen. My doctor has suggested I take up biking as part of my PT for problems with circulation in my legs, and a consult with you would be most appreciated. Looking forward to catching up. Les

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s