Hungary at its best: Down to Debrecen
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The terrain is changing now from the city of Budapest through to Eger and the spas and vineyards. The man-made lake at Tisza is a great expanse of water that is managed for bird and wildlife habitats and is beautiful in its tranquillity. The new Visitor Centre has information on the lake, its flora and fauna, the fishing or bird-watching activities as well as boating and walking in the area. It was feeding time for the otters when we arrived, so it was fascinating to see how they reacted so positively with their keeper and the food he brought. Their website is full of photographs and information, but for the Silver Traveller who is interested in the natural habitats of wildlife, you could easily spend a few days here at one of the many small Bed & Breakfast houses near the centre.
It was an hour by boat to get to our hotel on the other side of the lake, the Tisza Balneum Thermal Hotel – that’s me in the middle with Nicola and Qing. An idyllic spot, it was a very comfortable room with a magical view from the balcony in the morning. It has a buffet restaurant with a fairly limited choice of hot food for dinner but a wider choice at breakfast. They have one disabled-friendly room, but most rooms have a bath with overhead shower so not too easy to use. Unfortunately, it is very close to a railway line so depending on the room you have, there is some noise during the night.
Hortobagy National Park is the largest expanse of grassland in Europe, vast wind-swept plains where water buffalo, Hungarian grey cattle and curly-haired pigs are farmed. Horses and oxen were traditionally working animals, so tourists are treated to displays of horsemanship and the four-ox-chariots. The term chariot is used loosely here to translate as farm wagon. We were treated (?) to a horse-drawn chariot ride across the plains – very bumpy and windy but interesting to see how things used to be here. Intriguing to know that the four water pump arms can be placed to pass messages on to workers at a distance – for example (we were told by the very knowledgeable guide) if the husband is home for lunch and they don’t want to be disturbed!
In April there is a Food Festival featuring their curly-haired pigs, and October/November sees the spectacle of the migrating cranes landing here. We finished our visit with a traditional Hungarian lunch of beef stew/goulash and small pasta shapes fried – the taste was great but the meat a bit fatty for British tastes.
On to our final stop at Hotel Lycium in Debrecen, a modern building with business and spa facilities, comfortable and clean although the bar closed at 10pm and there was no food room service after the restaurant closed at 9pm. Debrecen itself is an old town with strong Calvinist tradition rather than Catholic. It is full of beautifully kept buildings, old cobbled streets and many quaint shop fronts reminiscent of Bavaria. Excellent choice of street cafes and bars to relax in and enjoy the evening sunshine, and a ‘ruin pub’ packed with old rubbish bits and pieces plus a fine row of cheese graters as lamp shades. Quirky but a fun way to make use of buildings that are past their best.
Hotel visits in Debrecen included Hotel Divinus, a beautifully ornate hotel with style and a sense of old splendour. The facilities are exceptional (they also have two rooms especially for those with physical disabilities) and the lobby area is welcoming – definitely one to experience. The Aquatum Hotel, is newly refurbished though the entrance is still to be completed, so the initial impression is of an old communist building. However, inside it is beautifully furnished, comfortable, and geared particularly to health and wellbeing treatments in the spa area. They are very keen to encourage our Silver Travellers to experience their facilities, so they will certainly be welcoming. Some of the rooms have spectacular round baths – very luxurious!
The last day of the tour included a mid-morning visit to Patricius “the most beautiful vineyard in Hungary” – and so it was – with a tour and wine tasting. It is volcanic rock in a dry, central area protected from frost by the northern hills but with the moist atmosphere from two rivers in the valley. This is the Tokaj region, known for its sweet dessert wines although Patricius has other dry wines now. Excellent tasting – I even bought a bottle of their award-winning dry white wine. The tour is excellent, in the middle of May they have special tastings, middle of October a Festival, and at harvest time they can arrange special events.
Before lunch we also visited Basilicus Vineyard for another tasting– clearly another sacrifice for us – but this is actually a centre to point tourists to other wine producers and hotels. It offers tours of the area, including visits, tastings and accommodation, plus a whole range of packages to learn about wine. It is a new stone building set in beautiful grounds plus the cellars for visiting tourists.
Our final visit was for lunch and wine tasting at Gusteau restaurant. Another superb meal beautifully presented with special wines selected to accompany each course. This was also one of the few meals where vegetables were a significant part of the dish rather than just the meat and potato or pasta. The neck of lamb melted in the mouth, and the dessert was a perfect combination of soft creamy flavours and the fruit sorbet.
This was the last visit, and although it appears that we did little apart from eat beautiful food and sample a lot of wine – well, yes we did – I was fortunate to see so many places first-hand and be able to judge whether they would really be attractive to, and suitable for, those over 50. It is clearly not at the lower end of the price range, but all the hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions are well worth a visit with more time to really enjoy each one to the full. This is a new area, with direct flights now available between Luton and Debrecen, so I believe there will be tours established in the future based on this visit.
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More about Jacqueline
Jacqueline is a keen observer of surroundings, looking with both an artistic and a questioning eye. Professionally, her work has been as a trainer, course writer and tutor, and management consultant in manufacturing companies with a PhD in health & safety in small firms which is generally a conversation stopper at parties! She is also a textile artist, printmaker and a history of art tutor. At 65 years old, married to husband Leslie for 32 years, Jacqueline is still excited and fascinated by travel. With 5 sons and Leslie’s 2 daughters and son, they were clearly never going to start travelling until later than most people. Jacqueline loves long-distance treks (having done 3 for charity) and she still has many new places to explore.
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