David Spoors goes to Hungary

The warm waters of Lake Balaton provide some beautiful scenic images, but it wasn’t this that lured me back here, it was the challenge to see if I could ride a complete circuit of the lake in one day.

 lake balaton

Lake Balaton

 Having planned the route on Strava, I estimated that the 120 miles was just about “do-able” in a day. Closer inspection of the route should that Heviz (with its soothing volcanic waters heated to 38c) was only a short detour off route and would provide an ideal rest point.

Balaton loop

The plan was 133 miles, 140 miles was actually completed.

So now the route topped out at 133 miles. With a break in the middle including floating through water-lilies in the warm medicinal waters, the challenge was still on!

Arriving into Budapest Friday afternoon with luggage and much to the amusement of many, bike boxes, faces clearly wondering what was inside these strange shaped suitcases.

A swift transfer to the base for the weekend - the very well-appointed villa in Balatonfokajar very close to Lake Balaton - was immediately followed by a session of bike re-building. All good to go. 25-mile leg stretch along flat country lanes in the local countryside is how I described it. The section of riding along footpaths across open fields clearly showed my route planning skills need to be perfected.

Muddy track

There’s a road here somewhere!

As for the rest of the route – well the roads were very flat and in reasonable condition, all helped by the warm sunshine that lasted well into the evening. This was followed by dinner at one of the many local eateries. Eating out (and drinking) in Hungary is not only cheap – very cheap, it is also very good. Sitting outside for dinner at 9pm is normal at this time of year out here, not back in the UK!

Saturday was an early start – 07.30, with waking up made easier by a collage of sight and sound provided at 06.00 by bright sunshine, the local church bells peeling and the chorus of bird song. A great day for being on the bike. The route took a clockwise direction and for the first third of the ride, down the shore-line, riding between the lake on the right and the rail line on our left. Great for those who struggle with navigation.

Just about 90% of Lake Balaton has a well-used cycle way that circum-navigates these blue waters. The coffee stop (this was no segment munching, average speed chasing ride) was taken on the shore at 45 miles’ distance at Fonyad with plenty of eateries to choose from.


If Carlsberg did cycle roadways!

Langos a Hungarian speciality, is a non-healthy but delicious snack of freshly made bread, fried, then crowned with various toppings – I recommend it with sour cream, cheese and garlic.

Yum yum

Yum yum

Another 25 miles to go to the spa town of Heviz, just off the shore at Keszthely. The volcanic waters were certainly soothing and aches were soon replaced by calmness and wellness. Added to this was a delicious lunch enjoyed whilst sat out in glorious sunshine. Oops, time melted away rather too quickly. A re-mount of the saddle was required or the challenge would not be met. Back down to the shoreline and more of the cycle way to the vineyards of Badacsony. What I hadn’t taken into account were two issues. 1.) Where there is a cycleway adjacent to a road, cycles are not permitted on the road, meaning you need to take the slower, bumpier cycleway; 2.) The cycleway has many more twists and turns than the road, which dramatically lowers your average speed.

Although still warm, the light was definitely fading, this being highlighted by the exposure light beams becoming ever more pronounced. There was a safety net in place, should it be needed. The bail-out plan was that at almost any point on the route, to use the train that runs around the entire lake and would return bike and rider safely back to the village. But SNCC cyclists are made of sterner stuff that that!

By now it was truly dark and the feeling grew, that perhaps this ride may never end. Village after village was passed, all with the pre-fix of Balaton, yet still the cycle path twisted and turned for a further 65 miles until the town of Balatonkenese was recognised. The home stretch - with mental more than physical tiredness overwhelming and chronic hunger biting the stomach and brain. 5 miles to go, the last climb of the day and time (just) to stop and order a takeaway from a local eatery, before enjoying the last 2 miles of downhill, easy pedal and freewheel. 140 miles in one day, 12 hours of riding time! A new achievement which I’m not sure will ever be surpassed.

The welcome shower and collapse into a soft bed were even more inviting than the Jacuzzi which lay in wait for the return – perhaps tomorrow.


Scenery is just amazing

Could these weary bones really be raised to complete day three of this Hungarian cycling venture? Well with the kaleidoscope of early morning sight and sound being repeated at 06.00 – especially the blazing bright blue sky – you bet they could. Today was all about climbing hills and exploring further away from the lake. A shortened route from the planned 70 to 50 miles was put into the ever fickle Garmin and after a carb loaded bowl of porridge, seeds and dried fruit, it was off to tackle the sort ride to the other side of the village to catch the local train to Zanka on the north shore. On arrival it was decided to load up on the food intake and a quick lunch was taken over-looking the lake. The ride immediately commenced up into a climb that peaked at 12%. It was all (thankfully) road riding today, but with plenty of superb scenery including fields of vibrant flaming red crops and pretty villages each containing nesting Storks. Veszprem soon came into view, a cobbled street market town that offered much needed refreshment of coffee and delicious ice cream. From here it was basically downhill for most of the way back to the village, where a well-earned refreshment was taken at one of the many village bars. Today the Jacuzzi was put to good use to revive weary limbs. 50 miles – no issue after yesterday’s marathon ride.

A great weekend of cycling, enhanced with glorious spring sunshine, fabulous scenery and a fantastic villa to use as a base. A return visit is high on the agenda, as there is so much more cycling to enjoy in this part of Europe.


Nesting storks in all villages

Don’t be put off by flying out here with your bike (boxed properly) or the language barrier – most Hungarians speak some English. The scenery, weather, food and villa will make this a great escape for cycling buddies or families alike.


David Spoors