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Balatonfüred – A cultural and sports capital at lake Balaton

2014.11.16.

Balatonfüred is a magnificent old town on the northern shore of Lake Balaton, the largest fresh water lake in Europe, located in western Hungary. Füred, as the locals call it, is the third largest town around the lake, after the brash party town of Siófok on the southern shore and the city-like elegant Keszthely at the tip of the western end of the lake. Balatonfüred’s baroque elegance and traditional old town feel keep it from becoming too commercialized. Its beautiful promenades, tree-lined avenues, excellent lakeside services and stunning views of the Tihany peninsula make this town the leading destination point around the lake.

Balatonfüred, although its name is rooted in “quail” (fürjes) rather than the Hungarian word for bath (fürdő), is a town where the Balaton bathing culture was created in the 17th century. The first Kisfaludy steam locomotive was built and launched here in 1846; later, the first magnificent wooden sailing yachts were constructed here, and the first stone-built theatre opened here with performances in Hungarian language. Balatonfüred began to prosper in the 18th century, during the so-called Reform-age era. It became a favourite meeting place for progressive politicians and artists and the first „Anna” Ball was held here in the Horváth mansion in 1825.

A walk around Füred should begin at Health Square in front of the country’s most famous heart institute, reminiscent of the time of the reformation era. In the upper half of the square is the famous Kossuth Spring, where anyone can fill up a bottle free of charge with one of the most invigorating, mineral-rich savory spring water to be found here. Walking through the century-old park and then along the Tagore Promenade situated along the lakeshore, we will be led to the beautiful harbor area. The „Round Church” nearby is a popular attraction for visitors, not only because of its peculiar shape but for its murals and paintings created by renowned artists as well. Only a few minutes’ walk from here is the Jókay house, where Mór Jókay, one of the most prolific Hungarian epic novelists wrote hundreds of his works. The house is a museum from the top of which a stunning view of Tihany Abbey opens up. Right across from the Jókay house is the Vaszary Villa, which has been recently restored into a museum with a gift shop and an elegant cafe. A resident author of Balaton legends Gábor Lipták said it best: Füred is a quaint town with a worldly atmosphere.

Although Balatonfüred is indeed a small town of circa 14 thousand residents, during the Summer months of July and August, this number swells to 50,000 or more, when visitors flock to this lakeshore resort. What draws them here is a combination of factors: the divine location of the town surrounded by gently sloping hills, the pleasant fresh water lake offering various activities, culture and history, elegant cafes and nice restaurants, and last but not least, the superb local wine culture. The town and the surrounding region was inhabited by the Romans 2 thousand years ago who may have introduced wine to this area, so no wonder the town attained the title „International Town of Grapes and Wine” in 1987.  Balatonfüred is also known for its special climate, which resembles a sort of Mediterranean climate.

Aside from culture and history, sailing is one of the most popular leisure time activities here.  There are a number of yacht clubs around Balatonfüred and the sailing competitors trained here have consistently reached spectacular results at various yachting events worldwide. Despite modern technology using plastic and carbon materials for boat hulls, the older mahagony wooden boats continue to shine. One of the prime example of such a boat is a fabulous slender designed scharenkreuzer with a 40 sq meter sail area called Addio, which was originally built and owned by famous orthopedic surgeon Boldizsár Horváth. The stunning looking sailboat won several regattas organized at Lake Balaton. It has been renamed Il Gattopardo since, but its appearance continues to amaze spectators, just like other classic wooden boats, such as Nemere, Kishamis, Sirocco and Tramontana. To preserve tradition and style in boatbuilding technology, perhaps the Government should introduce a special use tax levied on plastic boats, while allowing full tax exemption for classic boats.

Both residents and visitors alike who have had an opportunity to live or stay here, encourage all to come and visit Balatonfüred, declaring: „you will not regret it!”

 

Adam Topolansky

photo: Adam Topolansky