By the time I got to Kozeg I was obsessed with getting home and could only think about finishing the walk. My pre-occupation with the end of trip inevitably meant that I rushed at things through Hungary and missed some of the local colour. Still I enjoyed I enjoyed the last two weeks, had lots of adventures and came away with some wonderful memories.
I knew less about Hungary than any of the countries I had visited. I had been to Budapest a couple of times before, and loved it, but had never left the City boundary and didn't really know what to expect. More than any stage of the trip the last part of the walk felt like a real journey into the unknown.
|The Countrywide Blue Route|
What I found was a revelation. The walking, to be honest, was nice rather than spectacular and the predominant impression left is one of long forest trails with huge deciduous trees - oak, ash and beech - and closed rather than open views. The villages also lacked the ancient stone splendour of their cousins in Spain and France. What I did find, however, was a country that was really easy to walk in. The route was clear and a pleasure to follow, food and accommodation was generally plentiful, good and excellent value, and above all the people were friendly and helpful. I had been "rescued" many times along the E4 but in Hungary the rescues came thick and fast and have left me with a particularly fond memory of all things Hungarian.
|Fantastic Hungarian Waymarking|
The E4 in Hungary follows the route of the Countrywide Blue Tour which can claim to the first long distance hiking trail in Europe and is without doubt the most important walk in Hungary. It does takes a incredibly indirect route however and meanders through hilly/rolling countryside all the way to Budapest (doesn't got into the city centre) before continuing (without me!) to Hungary's eastern border.
There is an amazing amount of information on the Blue Tour. When researching the route I had found two outstanding sites available in English and both called Countrywide Blue Tour, one maintained by Peter Istvan Papics and the other by Horpolin and Son, and used these to develop my itinerary. I somehow managed to miss the best site however - which I think is a sort of open map initiative - the turistuatak site. This has everything you need to plan a walk through Hungary, downloadable maps, routes, and information on places to stay and eat.
Although I hadn't found the amazing turitstuatak site before arriving in Hungary I felt pretty well prepared. In particular I had downloaded a GPS trail for the route and was confident I could find my way. In practice however I hardly needed the GPS because the waymarking, with a white and blue sign every 20 metres or so, was brilliant. Help with accommodation also flooded in via the blog with lists of places to stay and even an occasional booking service. Kind Hungarians would contact me and then ring ahead and make the reservations.
|Huge scale Hungarian agriculture|
The different feel to the countryside made it interesting and I was particularly lucky to be joined for a couple of days by Hungarians who helped to interpret some of what I saw. However I'm still left with more questions than answers which I guess is a good reason to return.
The first day's walk to Szeleste was a long one, 35 kilometres and, after a month of indifferent weather, the heat of Hungary came as a bit of shock. Fortunately the route was sheltered in a sliver of forest in what is otherwise open countryside with huge fields characteristic of Hungary's large scale agriculture. Szeleste is big village and the Castle Hotel was one of the more upmarket places I stayed in in Hungary.
Another long day through flat countryside with the same mix of open and forest walking with the route visiting a number of typical Hungarian villages (Gerce and Kald) although the heat seemed to be driving everyone indoors. I had my first Hungarian rescue when I man in Hosszupereszteg persuaded a bus driver to take me to the local hotel (the Hotel Patyi) which I was struggling to find.
Next day was a huge 45 kilometre walk, very hot, still through trees but for the first time hilly. For the only time in Hungary I lost the route just south of the Sumeg and only found it again after a bit of bushwacking. The hilly countryside seemed to usher in a different sort of agriculture with fruit trees and vines becoming pre-eminent. Keszthely is a famous resort on the side of Lake Balaton and a big draw for visitors from across Europe and really I should have stayed there but Budapest and home beckoned. Lots of accommodation but just a bit more expensive.
|Mill pond in central Talpolca|
As the crow flies it's probably about 10 kilometres to Szentbekkalla but the meandering blue route turns this into 35. This, however, was one of the best days of the Hungarian section of the E4 and although the hot weather made for a hazy light the scenery was wonderful with the gentle rolling countryside, the fruit trees and the vines, providing a feel which reminded me of holidays in Tuscany. Lots to see on this section, great views of Lake Balaton and a chance to visit the castle at Szigliget. I also shared the day with four Hungarians who, bit by bit, were walking the whole of the blue route. Stayed at a lovely guest house which had been booked for me by a blog commentator.
|Views back to Lake Balaton|
The next days walk was a nice short one to Zirc, only 18 kilometres, so plenty of time to rest up. A good walk which included the gentle climb up to Koris-Hegy which at 709 metres is, I think, the highest point on the E4 in Hungary. Zirc is a pretty town centred around a spectacular baroque Cistercian abbey. Stayed at the Jesko guesthouse, excellent value but unfortunately, when I was there, no food.
Next day's walk was huge, 50 kilometres to Fehervarcsurgo but was rewarded at the end with some splendid accommodation in a castle. The route visits a series of fairly substantial villages, Bakonynana (the southern edge), Jasd, Tes, Bakonykuti, and a variety of landscapes. The dense woodland opens up completely towards the end into open heath before closing up again as it drops down to the lake at Fehervarcsurgo. Stayed at the Karolyi Kastely which was absolutely splendid.
Another circa 50 kilometre walk next day and a walk with three distinct parts. A pleasant starter, around the lake and along a very pretty gorge; a rather plain main course, across a wide open valley with a lot of road walking, and a splendid dessert meandering through a forested national park before arriving late at the village of Vargesztes. The hotel I was hoping to stay in was shut but some locals in a bar found me some accommodation and I had a really pleasant evening sharing a meal with them.
|Castle at Csókakő|
It was a lovely morning next day, a little bit of a mist which created some amazing sunbeams through the trees. The mist cleared however and by the middle of the day and the trip across the valley and through Szárliget it was hot. Stayed at Tatabanya, a Hungarian new town of the route, the only place I could find accommodation, which, like new towns in the UK, is not necessarily a place you would choose to visit.
The Blue Route is definitely not a straight one, having visted Lake Balaton twice the route takes another detour north into the Danube valley before finally heading east to Budapest. Next day, a 28 kilometre walk, took me close to but not to the top of the Gerecse valley and then down along a pretty trail to Mogyorosbanya where I stayed at the very pleasant Club Leonardo. A good walk which was getting busier as I got closer to Budapest.
For the walk into Budapest I was joined by Csaba Almási, ex-Hungarian Long Jump champion and a really nice guy. To be honest I can't remember much about the walk itself. We stopped for lunch at the home of one of Csaba's relatives, had some beer, crossed the City boundary, drank some Hungarian champagne and some more beer, caught tram into the City centre and of course had some more beer. I was interviewed by the media man from Hungarian Olympic Committee and, after all those beers, provided a very cogent explanation why I did the walk and what I found out about myself - it was sensibly dubbed so unless your Hungarian the mystery remains intact.
Sunday 21st August Koszeg to Szeleste
Monday 22nd Szeleste to Sarvar
Tuesday 23rd August Sarvar to Hosszupereszteg
Wednesday August 24th Hosszuperreszteg to Sumeg
Thursday 25th August Sumeg to Keszthely
Friday 26th of August Keszthely to Tapolca
Saturday 27th August Tapolca to Szentbekkalla
Sunday 28th Szentbekkalla to Nagyvazsony
Monday 29th August Nagyvazsony to Bakonybel
Tuesday 30th August Bakonybel to Zirc
Wednesday 31st August Zirc to Fehervarcsurgo
Thursday 1st September Fehervarcsurgo to Vargesztes
Friday September 2nd Vargesztes to Tatabanya
Saturday 3rd September Tatabanya to Mogyorosbanya
Sunday 4th of September Mogyorosbanya to Piliscsev
Monday 5th September Piliscsev to Budapest