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Lake Balaton surprisingly empty despite appeals to support domestic tourism

Budapest, Hungary – With the streets of Budapest boiling under Hungary’s blazing sun, we decided to get some rest and ventured to Lake Balaton – Hungary’s most popular holiday and tourism destination.

While planning our trip to the lake, I spoke to my Czech grandmother. She said that she used to come there often. It’s a “muddy” and “crowded” lake, she told me, adding that the name Balaton is actually derived from the Slavic word mud, Blato.

After a slight confusion at the Déli train station and a quick pogácsa purchase, we finally found our train and got on our way to the “Hungarian sea.” lake balaton tourism

Leaving the Buda hills behind, it soon became crystal clear that Hungary is in fact a very flat country. After a two-hour train ride, we stopped in the first town along the lake. From there, our train slowed down and almost felt like public transportation as it rode through small towns along the shore – offering a stunning view on the azure blue water.

Our destination was Balatonfüred – one of the largest and oldest towns on the northern side of Lake Balaton. Throughout the years, Füred has been a traditional holiday destination.

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Balatonfüred is one of the largest and oldest towns on the northern side of Lake Balaton.

During the so-called reform era of the 19th century, Hungarian nobility and artists met there. Later during socialism, Lake Balaton and the city of Füred became one of the most popular holiday resorts not just for Hungarians but also for citizens from other Soviet satellites.

Under General Secretary János Kádár, Hungary had introduced a series of reforms, resulting in the establishment of the so-called “Goulash Communism.” The reforms introduced elements of regulated market economics and lifted the most draconian measures imposed on the freedom of speech and movement. lake balaton tourism

Because both East and West Germans were allowed to travel to Hungary, Balaton became the meeting place for families tragically separated by the Berlin Wall.

Balaton’s popularity stayed strong even after 1989. After the fall of communism, it also soon became evident that lake tourism presented a good business opportunity and acquiring assets along the lake presents a good investment, leading to the steep climb of housing prices.

To add to this, in the last couple of years, the Hungarian government has been pumping money into some towns in the region. Füred included.

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We were expecting the lake to be swamped with tourists, but contrary to our expectations, we found the lake surprisingly empty.

Lake Tourism amid Pandemic

In the wake of the pandemic, tourism in Hungary came to a standstill, leading Viktor Orbán to appeal to Hungarians to support the domestic tourism industry. Among the places he explicitly mentioned was Lake Balaton – Hungary’s prime tourist destination.

With Hungarians staying home rather than travelling abroad, we were expecting the lake to be swamped with tourists.

But contrary to our expectations, we found the lake surprisingly empty. There were no crowds on the beaches. No queues in front of the stands for fried hekk or lángos.

Tihany-2
After the fall of communism, it also soon became evident that lake tourism presented a good business opportunity and acquiring assets along the lake presents a good investment

It seemed as if there were mostly locals walking on the Füred promenade, leading one of my Hungarian friends to observe that she had never seen the Lake this empty – especially at the start of the summer holidays.

On the next day, we travelled to Tihany – a village on the Tihany peninsula – one of the longest inhabited places in the country. Located in the middle of the lake, Tihany is home to a wildlife reserve and a still functioning Benedictine abbey. The abbey was founded in 1055 and its founding charter is the oldest record of the Hungarian language.

Most restaurants were quite empty, waiting for the tourists to come. We decided to have dinner in a pizzeria overlooking the lake on the peninsula. A couple of minutes later, a small group of Hungarian teenagers sat down at a table close to us. They seemed to come to the place often.

On the next day, we took a train back. The ride was calm and there were many free seats to choose from. The train was almost empty.

By Matej Voda 

Matej Voda writes about democratic backsliding, popular culture, and disinformation. He is based in Prague. Feel free to check out more of his articles right here! You can also find him on Twitter.

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