10 Days in Hungary
I love to sit by the window in the plane so I can look at the country from above – mountains, how the fields are formed, and how the cities are built – trying to understand what to expect but having no idea. Nowadays, it is easy because you can see pictures that give you an understanding of the country, but they never give you the same feeling as visiting and no country is complete if you visit just the capital.
We landed in Budapest airport and compared to what Budapest and the country have to offer, it does the city no justice. With some “leftovers” from the Soviet era, it looks sad. On the contrary, Budapest is nothing like you expect, even if you have seen thousands of photos and heard tens of stories. With Art Nouveau buildings on literally every corner, beautiful streets, and the wild Danube River, Budapest is grand. No wonder it was an empire, and no wonder people love to come here to spending the last of their yearly budget for travel. Budapest is a pearl amongst other worlds cities, a real gem, discovered and yet undiscovered, sometimes making you think you are walking on the streets of Paris, then London, and suddenly Berlin.
There’s no secret that Budapest wouldn’t be the same without its glorious thermal baths (there are many worth trying but after asking locals which one to choose, Gellert Thermal Bath built in 1918 was the winner we went for). The baths are so different offering pools outside, inside, and both and in many different sizes and shapes. You need to take some time there – around three to four hours to fully enjoy it.
Be prepared to look up when passing the fantastic and extraordinary Parliament building, which always makes me wonder how it was built when almost nothing was available. It looks beautiful no matter which side you come from – Margaret Bridge, Old Town, or Bory Castle on the other side. The Baroque-style mixes with elements of the Renaissance with a touch (if you can call it that) of 40 kg of 22/23 karat gold: that is just a tiny part of the majestic feeling the building has to offer.
Next to that is Buda Castle, Fishermen’s Bastion, Matthias Church, and St. Stephan’s Basilica to visit and a rest in between in Margaret Park is a moment to enjoy. After, before, and while visiting monuments and looking up to see the tops of buildings, don't forget to look around for a great coffee place, a fantastic local wine bar, a bistro where foie gras is served in many variations, and a bakery that makes your heart sing.
As I said, I believe, beauty lies not only in the city but outside it too, and Hungary is no exception. You must visit places in the countryside that are not only beautiful but also tasty and inspiring. So here is my little plan of Hungary in 10 days
If there is one place you should stay a while in Budapest and start with on your trip to Hungary, it is the fantastic and unique Four Seasons Gresham Palace hotel. Time stops the moment you enter, and you can easily get lost in those high ceilings, long corridors, beautiful rooms, and soft beds. Just 20 minutes away from the city center, the place we stopped first is an incredible local 5th-generation family owned place called Schieszl Vendéglő és Borház: locally-made bread, cheese, and wine paired with many local products and sincere generosity of the owners.
After a day in Budapest, breakfast at Four Seasons, and a walk around the city, the sweetest thing to do is to stop for the classics – Dobos and Esterhazy Torte – and there is no better or more authentic place than Gerbeaud. Only then is it time for a beautiful drive to Tokaj to visit one of the most celebrated wineries Patricius and stay in the region for a night to have dinner and even breakfast at Első Mádi Borház and head to a thermal bath later on.
On your way to Eger, where the most legendary winery is located, you have to stop at the Miskolctapolca thermal bath – even an hour in the thermal waters will rejuvenate you. Then you should travel to Gal Tibor for a glass of wine and a tasty lunch or just a local meat and cheese plate to continue the journey to Székesfehérvár, the oldest city in Hungary, for a walk in town and a burger at the famous Patent coffee and …
… a cup of coffee in the morning at Tele Èlettel Caffeeand Brew Bar and then slowly walk to the stunning Bory Castle, searching for the red and white winding stairs leading up to the tower. Later on, you have to stop by the beautiful Etyeki Kuria winery for some amazing architecture and fabulous wines (if you have a chance, try the orange wine too) as it will inspire you to drive three hours through Slovenia for a view that will make you smile – to Hatura Hill Zebegeny. Dinner there made with local Slow Food produce is a must and complemented with local wines, a treasure.
Waking up Hatura Hill is as beautiful as going to bed with all the windows facing the winding Danube and majestic mountains. Breakfast with local granola, jam from a farm 50 km away, and eggs served with Mangalica pork sausages is a simple way to say goodbye (if your schedule is tight) or start another day with a hike and tours. On your drive to Kreinabcher Estate in Somlo, you should stop byLek-Var-Lak where they make 80 different types of jam. Arriving at Kreinbacher Estate is a true joy, especially after a three-hour drive, so starting lunch with a glass of their signature gold-winning sparkling wine is pure pleasure. Their lunch and dinner menus are different, so leave room to try both – go for a walk up the hill after lunch to see how the vineyards look from above.
As times stops at this place, a lazy breakfast and a slow morning in this beautiful hotel is something you must plan for, only then heading off to Lake Balaton. You can sunbathe there, weather permitting, or walk around to enjoy the lake. A good idea is to do like the locals do and have Lake Balaton staple street food – langos – that will keep you satisfied until the evening when you are back in Budapest and settled in Brody House: this is a place to stay for more than just one night.
… is excellent to start with a lazy breakfast at Brody House and then walk around the city, visiting the near-by Grand Central Market (the fermented food market on the ground floor is very local) and then Butter Brothers for coffee and Szalamibolt to buy some local sausages, smoked paprika, and cheese to take home. It is all about walking in Budapest: the more you walk, the more you see. There is no other place like the Veritas wine bar that offers a very local wine selection, not only in bottles but also by the glass; for wine lovers, it is the ultimate place to discover something new. Dinner at Bock Bistro after a glass of wine will be a very traditional way to end the day.
PS. The famous New York Cafe is just on the way and worth visiting to see the interior.
After breakfast at Brody, have a coffee break at Budapest Baristas and head to Gellert Thermal Spa to enjoy 4 hours of relaxation, rewarded afterward with one more cup of coffee at Kontakt and Szimply Food Cafe next door. If changing hotels, choose Pest Buda up the hill as it will take you closer to Buda Castle, Fishermen’s Bastion, and the fantastic view over Budapest every time you are there. Dinner at Borze Restaurant down the hill is a perfect choice, considering that you will have to get back up the hill and after all the great food and local wine, that is the best thing to do.
Just a 5-minute walk away is another excellent hotel we stayed at – Baltazár. The Feny Street Market, where you’ll find the amazing Langos Land stand with their freshly fried Langos, is close as is Margaret Island and Bridge. On your way to Parliament is the most famous coffee place - Espresso Embassy. Artizan bakery is very close when looking for a freshly baked croissant and cardamom bun and is just next to the well-hidden and truly inspiring Bistro Stand 25 that was a great and tasty end to the dinners, tastings and wine glasses we tried during our trip.
Waking up on a Saturday just before the city does, especially after Friday parties, is one thing everyone should do as Budapest is so relaxed in the morning, more so than during the day. The quiet streets are dotted up with a few people looking for peace, and it is a simple excuse to visit the charming Alma Nomad Bakery: the coffee there is delightful and the pastries buttery. If flying home straight away, it might be an excellent idea to take some with you to reheat the next morning and remember that slow walk in Budapest. After that, you can either head to the Feny Market for some local food or just head home. If you happen to go to the market, look for A Sajtos if you want some local cheese and A Sonkas for local meat, paprika powder, and sausages.
Traveling to Hungary in cooperation with Embassy of Hungary to Latvia
Story and pictures: Signe Meirane
Camera: Sony Alpha 7s