Our amazing friends from Charleston visited last year and we all took a trip to Lake Balaton for the first time. I’m actually pretty ashamed that I haven’t been to Balaton (although we had a trip scheduled before I caught the flu during my birthday) but it was great to experience Central Europe’s largest lake with them.
Where are we?
Szigliget (Hungarian for “island park” ) is a village located on Balaton, about an hour (and crazy-bumpy) drive away. Balaton is a freshwater lake and its name stems from the Czech word meaning “sinkhole, deep end of a lake.” A huge tourist destination for Hungary, Balaton has a ton of different towns and villages dotting the coast. Because the average temperature of the water is 77 degrees F in the summer, most visitors either swim, paddleboard, or hang out on one of the beaches.
Balaton is a shallow lake and runs across the Bakony Mountains. While one large lake today, Balaton was originally five smaller lakes that formed together over time. During the third century, the area experienced a great deal of volcanic activity, which helped shape the landscape of now-Szigliget and Badacsony Mountain. In 1954, mining was halted at the mountain and a national park was established to protect the unique landscape, wildlife, and vegetation that makes up this portion of Balaton.
The village of Szigliget is located on the northern side of Balaton, near Badacsony. Built on and between volcanic hills, the village has beautiful views of the lake, an adorable center of town, and has an old fortress/castle that is easy to tour. Originally an island that was connected to Balaton in 1822, the first settlers occupied this area during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. While the lake was much deeper during this time–making uncovering artifacts more difficult–archeologists have found a number of tools that can be attributed to the first people that lived near Szigliget.
Originally built as a fortress, Szigleget Castle was transitioned to an official castle after the king fell in love with the design and location in 1262. Over time “the Castle of Balaton” exchanged hands, was added to and torn apart, and even was used for its original purpose as a fortress. After the Turkish occupation of Hungary, the castle lost its importance and due to lack of care and erosion, fell into disarray. In the 1600s, the castle nearly burnt completely down after catching fire from a lightning bolt; due to its loss as a primary military tool, Kaiser Lipot I had Szigleget Castle demolished (and many of the villagers used the debris to build their homes) to most of the ruins that can be seen today. Many parts of the castle (now owned by the village Szigliget) were rebuilt and the area was turned into a park that celebrated its 755 year anniversary in 2015.
The hike up to the castle is pretty easy, with a ton of markers detailing the wildlife and vegetation native to the area.
Szigleget is a small village (less than 3,500 people) and is one of the quieter and more authentic stops on Balaton. They also have the best ice cream ever! As is custom with traveling with Heather, we have to eat ice cream in every town.
Várkávézó Szigliget is an absolute must-stop ice cream stop, no matter if you just happen to find yourself casually driving past Balaton or intentionally are visiting the area. The pistachio flavor was on point. Their flavors change with the seasons, but they are really diverse and unique. I love this Yelp review of the shop:
We live in Szekesfehervar, which is about an hour and a half away. Living in Hungary, we, like nearly everyone else, has an ice cream, on average…. every day of the year. I swear. If you took away beer or ice cream, Hungary would stop working at all. With that said, as you might imagine, Hungarians are experts on ice cream and are all aficionados. We are no exception.
These guys imported Italian machinery and use only in season fresh fruits, nuts and sweets to create their ice cream. It’s so good that twice, we’ve driven the hour and half, each way, just for the ice cream when there are at least 10 ice cream places within walking distance from our house. Seriously. No joke.