My very last Ashlyn Adventure in Hungary was a short trip to the floating houses on the human-created Lake Bokodi. Always at the top of my list of uniquely Hungarian sites-to-see, it was only fitting to stop by before moving to Germany. I recently finished High on the Hog (Netflix — WATCH IT) and was reminded of my afternoon here as I saw the floating village of Ganvie in Benin (located on Lake Nokoué) in the first episode of the series.
Opened in 1961 by the Oroszlány Thermal Plant, the artificial lake is located around 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) west of Budapest and only a 90 minute drive from our house. Visiting the floating houses was a pretty short trip–literally just taking in the landscape of this area–but I would recommend driving up to the Tata Castle, just 30 minutes north of this lake (and also the site of filming of the Witcher series) if you have time. Unfortunately for me, I was on the verge of a panic attack at the realization that YES YOU ARE MOVING and couldn’t stop by Tata or any of the sites of nearby Oroszlány.
You may have seen a few pictures of Lake Bokodi on lists of interesting landscapes in Europe (this and probably the Red Trees of Hungary–stay tuned for an upcoming post on that!) and I’m so thankful it was close enough to see in person because the space is such a combination of allthethings I love–unique story, quirky landscape, a level of trespassing / abandonment, etc.
Where are we?
Lake Bokodi is located west of Budapest and surrounded by two villages–Bokod on the west and Oroszlány to the east. The two miles of “floating houses” are actually small fishing cottages suspended over the lake.
This entirely floating village of roughly 2000 people are connected to the banks through a number of boardwalks.
Rapid industrialization led to the construction of the coal mine and operations in the area. The Által River (a tributary of the Danube) was dammed in order to create a cooling pond for the Oroszlányi Power Company. In the fall of 1960, the dam was completed and the nearby meadow between the two villages began to fill. Lake Bokodi was completed in 1961 and served two purposes: pump cool water into the Vertesi coal-fired power plant and serve as the exit point for the now-warm water from the coal plant’s boilers. Oroszlány became a powerhouse (pun intended) in energy production for Hungary through this coal plant and mine operation.
The lake is essentially cut in in half by an enormous conveyor belt; while in operation, this brought brown coal into the plant from Hungary’s only deep mining operation at the time, the nearby Márkushegy mining facility. You can see this conveyor belt on the following maps:
There are a couple of places I’ll be discussing in this post including Oroszlány (the nearby city that was once vital to Hungary’s energy production), Lake Bokodi (human-made lake created by damming and flooding the Által in the early 1960s), the Vertesi coal power plant (located on Lake Bokodi and can be seen in the pictures here), and the floating village (fishing houses located on the lake).
Unlike other Hungarian lakes, including nearby Balaton (known as the “Hungarian Sea”), Lake Bokodi never completely froze during the harsh winter months due to the continuous circulation of water from the power plant. As a result of this constantly warm water, a small fishing community arose in the area as fish could be caught year-round. During the winter visitors could even see steam rising up from Lake Bokodi.
Lake Bokodi became a “horgászparadicsommá” (fishing paradise) and fishing huts with wooden plank walkways to the coast began popping up along the lake. These homes were mainly used as vacation houses.
The combination of the never-frozen lake and the uniqueness of the houses made the floating village famous. In 2014, a shot of the floating village was featured on the Bing homepage, bringing sightseers to the small town known only until this point as one of the last coal communities in the country, greatly annoying the fishing population here.
Lake Bokodi Today:
While many websites still proclaim Lake Bokodi as “the never-freezing lake”, this is no longer the case as the Vertesi plant completely shut down in 2015. The final coal power plant in Hungary, operations began to phase out in 2010. The government-owned facility and nearby mine received $30 million in annual subsidies to remain afloat, one of the few subsidies allowed by the European Union at the time. Similar to coal communities in Kentucky and West Virginia, this area was highly reliant on the plant as more than 3,000 of Oroszlany’s 20,000 residents worked in coal-related jobs. The New York Times has an interesting slideshow on the closing of the plant and photos of the city. I was unable to find any research into the environmental degradation potentially caused by the dam, the flooding of the meadow, or the impacts of coal on the area–send me the documents if you see any! I’m really interested in the sustainability aspects (both human and environmental) of this area.
Oroszlany includes a number of Soviet-era monuments to coal and its workers in the center of town. One monument includes a mining wagon with the phrase “Jó szerencsét!” (good luck!)–perhaps a testament to the harsh and unsafe working conditions. The space also includes a memorial dedicated to the former labor camp where roughly 1200 people were imprisoned and forced to work in the nearby mine before escaping in 1956; many of the escapees traveled to Budapest to fight in the uprising later that year. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to travel to the city but you can see a few of the monuments here and here.
Recently, Oroszlány, along with three other Hungarian towns and four in Slovakia, opened a cross-border bikeshare program where residents can check out a bike for up to ten hours at a time.
Today, traveling to the floating houses of Lake Bokodi is definitely an off-the-beaten-path experience. It’s important to note that while the coast is owned by the power plant, the houses are privately-owned and people actually live there! A friendly reminder as a visitor to remain respectful of the space and its residents.
The north-eastern side of Lake Bokodi, coming from Oroszlány is the best location to visit (remember the coastline is over two miles!); this area has the prettiest view of the floating village and is reasonably accessible. I traveled from the west so I drove across the lake prior to reaching this particular site.
You can cross over Kecskédi út, a residential street, and take a right toward the direction of the lake. Here, the roads are not paved and are very rough. I ended up parking early and walking through a trail of long marsh-y grass before reaching the coastline.
The coastline included a number of benches and cute signs marking nearby cities. Here is where I saw one of the most unique aspects of this landscape: the locked doors on the wooden walkways leading to the houses.
You’d have to be brave to walk out on these planks. Not my jam.
While wandering down the road to see the other houses on this side of the lake, I was greeted by this lovely dog and goat, who are clearly best friends and in development with Disney to make their own Lake Bokodi BFF adventure series:
This visit truly was one of the best ways I could have ended my four years in Hungary. So much history, story, and uniqueness packed into this place. I wish I could have visited the cities or a few of the nearby (read: ruins) sites, but alas, ran out of time (and sanity–moving during a pandemic is not fun).
However, if you find yourself in the area, here are a couple of places to stop by:
- Ruins of the Vértesszentkereszti Abbey (12th century–absolutely so cool, but may be closed to the public at the moment)
- Várgesztes Castle ruins (also temporarily closed)
- Oroszlány Mining Museum (this just seems like the ultimate post-Soviet coal museum visit)
- Tata Castle and Lake Öreg (gorgeous!)
And if you can’t visit, check out this lovely post of a traveler who recorded incredible drone footage of the area and was embraced by locals (as always, shots of Pálinka were exchanged).
Final pro-tips include packing a lunch, being mindful of the folks who live here, and always err on the side of safety (I know, rich coming from me, but you don’t want to get your car stuck or fall in).
Listening: Slow Burn Season 5 (Slate Podcasts)
Watching: The Queen’s Gambit (HBO)
Reading: The House in the Cerulean Sea (TJ Klune)