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  • Overview

    Lake Balaton is the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe and the most popular vacation region in Hungary. Lining both shores of its 48-mile (77km) stretch are many towns and resorts, and the north and south shores are distinctly different in character, offering something for everyone.

    The south shore is thronged by a string of largely uniform holiday resorts and high-rise buildings where crowds of young people congregate for hedonistic holidays. Besides the pretty beaches and good swimming options, there are numerous land and water-based activities while at night the discos pulse until the early hours. Siófok is the largest and busiest resort and it dominates the southern shore during the summer months, but it is almost completely dead in winter.

    By contrast, the northern shore has limited waterfront development due to its deeper, colder waters and reed beds. Its attractions are more historical and cultural in nature. Although there are resorts here, it is generally a destination embraced by travellers looking for picturesque scenery, interesting towns, and mineral spas, complemented by the fine wines from the nearby hills of Badacsony, rather than a party scene. Many of the villages on the shores of the lake are home to a number of medieval ruins and fortresses to explore.

    Lake Balaton has been a popular recreation area since the Roman times when the aristocracy built villas and set up health spas here. It was also a famous winegrowing region and the graceful rolling hills, cool water, and warm sunshine still provide the perfect setting and climate for both vacations and vineyards.

    Heviz

    Lake Hévíz is the world's largest thermal lake, a most extraordinary sight with its huge milky blue surface covered in water lilies and steam. The warm water wells up from a volcanic crater spring about 40 metres (128ft) below the surface, with the recommended maximum time in the water during any session being one hour. The mud is said to be slightly radioactive and good for various medical conditions, but only in small doses. A pavilion in the centre is reached by a covered bridge, and indoor swimming takes place in an area enclosed with plexiglas. Gaps in the plastic lead to the rest of the lake where swimmers can float among the water lilies and swim between platforms bobbing on the surface. There are also various other spa and health treatments on offer.

    Website: www.heviz.hu/en
    Thermal Lake Thermal Lake Heather Cowper
    Keszthely

    Keszthely is a university town settled during Roman times, enjoying trendy cafes, tree-lined streets and busy market areas. Its most important sight is the Festetics Palace, with the Helikon Palace Museum and Library both in one of its Baroque wings. Varosi Strand is great for travelling families, with its beach and amusement area. It has water slides, a big pool and various play spaces, as well as nice lawns, a beach and loungers. Keszthely likes to describe itself as the capital of Lake Balaton and it's the best town from which to explore the lakeside surroundings, including the thermal lake at Hévíz and the nearby Kis Balaton, a wetland reserve perfect for birdwatching.

    Keszthely town centre Keszthely town centre Alensha
    Balatonfured

    Balatonfüred has been the most fashionable resort on Lake Balaton since the 18th century when the medicinal centre was established, with people still drawn to its healing thermal waters. While the mineral baths are reserved for patients, Balatonfüred remains popular with tourists as there are three good beaches for swimming, sunbathing and yachting, and there is also a number of cycle tracks along the lake and through the surrounding region. A wine tasting festival is held in August annually and the famous Anna Ball takes place on the weekend closest to 26 July (Anna Day) at the Anna Grand Hotel.

    Keszthely, Lake Balaton Keszthely, Lake Balaton Judith Duk

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    English Pronounciation

    Lake Balaton is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Hungary and the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe. The south banks are full of modern beach resorts for those who desire nothing more than fun in the sun and a rollicking nightlife.

    The northern banks still boast some picturesque old villages and historical sites, as well as some great wineries. Although the lake is less sandy and not as good for swimming as in the north, the scenery is arguably more beautiful.

    When it comes to the south, things to see and do in Lake Balaton revolve mainly around water sports and partying. Apart from the popular beach resorts, the southern edges of the lake include the Golden and Silver Shore beaches (Aranypart and Ezüstpart).

    Breaking away from beach life, tourists can take a walk down either the Beszédes or Petõfi promenades. The Lutheran Church in Oulu Park is also a notable attraction. A quick excursion to the nearby town of Zamárdi and a visit to the town's Ethnographic Museum are also worth the time.

    The oldest and most popular spa resort on the scenic northern banks is Balantonfüred, which has an easy-going sophistication and relaxed atmosphere. Jutting out into the lake and almost joining the northern and southern shores is the Tihany Peninsula, which has an old Benedictine Abbey in the quaint town and is surrounded by a nature reserve that many consider to be the most beautiful place on the lake.

    To the west and marking the end of the northern shore is the interesting town of Keszthely with its Baroque Festetics Palace. Close to Keszthely, just removed from the banks of Lake Balaton, is Europe's largest thermal lake, Heviz, which is also a very popular attraction in the area and offers spa treatments as well as swimming in the steam-shrouded lake.

    With over 120 miles (200km) of cycle tracks around the villages and shores of Lake Balaton, cycling is a popular way to get around. Visitors to Balaton between May and September can make use of the Balaton ferry to cross between the lake's southern and northern shores (Tihany and Szántód), while excursion boats cruise between a number of ports along the shores of the lake. Local buses are also available and it is possible to drive between different towns surrounding the lake.

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