Brian reports from Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton : cycling and tourism

This story is part of our youReport series.

Here is Brian, straight-in: I heard Hungary is second only to Denmark in the share of population relying on the bike as their main mode of transport… back in August, I saw Davva’s report on cycling culture in Budapest, and it made me think – how do other parts of Hungary compare? I was keen to find out when we visited Lake Balaton in September on a holiday.

Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe, and is often referred to as the ‘Hungarian Sea’. In years gone by, it played host to thousands of East German and Austrian holiday makers on their annual hols, and it’s still a popular destination for central Europeans.

The lake’s well set up for cycle tourism, with a well-signed path – known as the Korut – running all the way round, mostly parallel to roads or railway lines. The path is narrow, but relatively well-maintained, though there are some parts where tree roots have turned it into a bumpy ride. Users seem to be mainly tourists – a mix of families using it to reach nearby beaches or attractions, and more serious cyclists doing the whole circuit. At weekends, the ring is packed, as those from further afield are joined by Hungarians down for the weekend.

Many of the weekend visitors arrive by train, and one thing that really impressed me about Hungary was the level of integration with the railway. There’s an entire carriage for bikes on many of the express trains from Budapest to Balaton, and local trains also make provision. You pay something like 1/3 of a single ticket to take your bike along for the ride. Even on a tiny narrow-gauge rural line, one third of the single carriage was devoted to bikes, with nine hooks to hold bikes vertically.

Shops, hotels and atrractions around the lake all have bike racks outside, and the MOL petrol station chain provides air and basic bike tools at its service stations. Some hotels provide bike hire, and there are plenty of other places hiring bikes to the rest of us. I’d recommend Brin Garazs in Szigliget – good, well-maintained bikes from a guy who clearly knows his stuff.

All in all, I’d highly recommend Balaton for a bike-based holiday. The only snag is getting there from Newcastle. It’s a long way away.

Korut through Balatonfured
Photo 1 – the Korut through Balatonfured

Photo 2 – typical stretch of Korut on the north shore, here running alongside the Highway 71 between Balatongyorok and Balatonederics

Korut signage
Photo 3 – signage is good, both on the Korkut itself, and to the Korkut from surrounding villages

narrow gauge
Photo 4 – this picture gives you an idea of the proportion of space on board the tiny train devoted to bikes

narrow gauge on board
Photo 5 – there was space to carry nine bikes on the narrow gauge train. Bikes are held vertically using these hooks and hinged brackets