Exploring Northern Hungary in a Campervan

Hungary 2013 Visegrad 005
The view over the Danube from Visegrad Castle

Some years ago we travelled to Hungary, equipped with a guide book, a couple of maps and a postcard with useful phrases in Hungary’s difficult language, such as, ‘Can we camp here?’  This was kindly written by my Hungarian friend who sympathised with how difficult Hungarian is for English people to learn.  ‘It will be hot,’ my cold-loving Hungarian friend had assured me; she often told me how unbearably hot a Hungarian summer is and so we took shorts and t-shirts.  As it turned out it was a particularly wet late May and early June and our most worn clothing was our waterproofs!

All the same we had an amazing time exploring this interesting country, although due to time constraints [and work] we only saw a small chunk, we did explore areas less often the haunt of sun-loving travellers.  We toured around the north of the country, driving into Hungary from Austria and leaving via Slovakia.  Our first stop was the charming town of Kőszeg that is full of beauty and surrounded by hills and trees; in the rain we had it to ourselves.  Known as the ‘Jewel Box of Hungary,’ with cobbled streets and colourful buildings it is certainly worth stopping here to explore the lovely square and the castle.

Our first Hungarian campsite was near the large thermal spa at Buk.  The receptionist didn’t speak English but did speak German and so we muddled along and I didn’t need the postcard of useful phrases.  Taking an evening walk through the many baths and tourist shops we were amazed how popular taking to the water here is.

Driving through fields and vineyards towards the Danube, we stopped at the lovely town of Tata that has a ruined castle picturesquely set by a lake.  An event was being held and local people, young and old, were dressed as ancient Magyars and practising with bows and arrows.   Here we had our first Hungarian soft ice-cream on a cornet, the ice-cream dipped into melted chocolate creating a crisp chocolate layer to bite through to the sweet ice-cream.

On the River Danube we found the slightly down-at-heel campsite run by the Hotel Honti in Visegrad and settled in for a day or two.  Exploring the town on a Sunday morning we came across a procession along a colourful flower-strewn path to the church.  Another walk took us up the hillside to the stunningly-positioned castle.  There are ferries on the wide river here, including to Budapest.

Mátra Kemping Sástó was a newly refurbished campsite at the time of our visit and had the best facilities we encountered in Hungary.  The large well-organised site on the hillside above Gyöngyös has bungalows, a hotel as well as camping pitches.

The Mátra mountain range has Hungary’s highest peak Kékestető (1014 m).  From the campsite we walked through beautiful beech woodland on well-marked paths, stopping at a roadside stall for sweet tea with lemon before heading up the steep section.  You can drive to the top of Kékestető and the tree-covered summit gives you no view to reward your effort unless you climb the look-out tower.  We returned on a different footpath which gave us wide open views down to the plain below and was a wonderful walk, even though we missed the path back to the campsite and ended up in the lower village and had to walk back up the hillside.

We had a beautiful drive around the northern valley of the Mátra to the city of Eger the next day, through attractive villages and vineyards where the grapes for Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood of Eger) are grown.  After stocking up in the supermarket and buying our favourite calorie-laden lángos [deep fried flat bread smothered in garlic] for lunch we explored Eger.  This city is packed with stunning buildings, narrow streets and pretty courtyards.  Most interesting was the one minaret that remains of the ten built here in the Ottoman era.  This and the Baroque mansions, the wide plaza and the castle make the city an interesting mixture of styles.  Hungary understands how to create a welcoming cafe and there are plenty in Eger; despite the lángos we found space for good cake with coffee.

Nearby is the Bükk National Park and here we sought out the Beehive Stones near Szomolya.  The rural roads were so heavily potholed we had to weave along the road and we almost gave up but we were glad we persisted and found somewhere to park.  Szomolya has a cherry festival in July and is another wine-growing area.  On our walk we passed many cave houses, some of which are now used as wineries.  The Beehive Stones are a feature of this area and are unusual stones of tufa rock with oblong recesses or niches cut into them.  Although there are various theories, it is thought these may have been for keeping bees, hence the name.

We had hoped to camp at Thermal Spa Bogács that evening but after the unseasonable weather the grassy field was sodden and in heavy rain we moved on to the campsite at Mezokovesd that has since closed.

Heading further east, we meandered towards Tokaj, following the River Tisza.  Tokaj is the home of delicious, golden and sweet wine that is valued far and wide.  The town is attractive, surrounded by hillsides covered in vineyards, nesting storks on the rooftops and old buildings.  There are no shortage of independent producers and shops selling the wine and there are plenty of opportunities for wine tours.

Our final night was spent on the edge of Sárospatak; any further east and we would be in Ukraine.  Once again the campsite had a hostel for school groups, as well as the camping pitches.  The next day we crossed the border into Slovakia and began our return west.  We enjoyed exploring some of the natural areas and off-the-beaten-tracks parts of Hungary but realise that we had only dipped our toes into this wonderful country.

Travel Cook Eat have an informative post about travelling in a motorhome in Hungary.

Campsites we stayed at:

Romantik Camping, Buk The facilities were faded but the showers were very hot and roomy and all water hot, no marked pitches, near to large spa resort.
Kek Duna Camping, Hotel Honti Panzio, Visegrad A small site behind a snack bar and next to hotel, grassy with some trees.  There was a five minute wait for hot water, showers clean, toilets dated.
Matra Kemping Sasto, Matrafured Newly refurbished site, with marked grassy pitches in trees, new facilities with hot water, by a small lake and walking
Zsory Camping kft, Mezokovesd Marked pitches in a spa complex, shabby reception and facilities but hot water and very good showers.  This campsite has now closed.
Camping Tengerszem, Sarospatak Grassy, marked pitches, some trees, facilities shabby and water only lukewarm

Author: memorialbenchstories

I am interested in the stories behind the people commemorated in memorial benches. I come across these benches in different places and they always make me wonder. Do get in touch if you have any stories.

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