Puszta and Lake Tisza
The Alföld is a place of legends, and legendary sights. The bird nature reserves its two counties contain, the Hortobágy and the Tisza lake, have made it onto the UNESCO world heritage list. Three national parks can be found within its boarders. Other sights include Europe's largest fruit producer, one of the Greek Catholic faith's oldest sites, Central Europe's biggest windmill, the plain's only medieval stone castle, Hungary's oldest railway station, and the world's second largest panorama painting.
There isn't a region in Hungary which has as many events and festivals connected with gastronomy. Baja has its halászlé (fish soup) cooking folk festival, while in Pusztamérges they hold the Szeged district's halászlé cooking competition. In the Szatmár region they hold a plum jam making contest, while in Békéscsaba its salami, Bereg its gulyás, and this is not to mention the many wine tastings and events.
Hortobágy (The Puszta) is one of Europe's largest expanses of protected prairie, where Hungarian grey cattle, stud horses, Racka sheep with spiral-shaped horns and buffalo herds graze on open pastures. A World Heritage site since 1999, the Hortobagy National Park stretches over an area of 200,000 acre.
In this region the sun shines more hours than any other region in the country and abundantly flowing thermal water helps health-seekers to recuperate.
Smooth water, huge bays, backwaters and islands, rich fish and wild stock-this is Lake Tisza. In the middle of the Great Plain, Lake Tisza is the second largest surface of water in the country.
The Lake is situated on what was a flood-plain, and on the flooded territory of the River Tisza. In between water dams, there are sixteen islands and ten water channels. The shallow water areas, which warm up easily, are suitable for bathing. The deeper parts are for water sports such as sailing, water skiing and surfing. Lake Tisza is also the only Lake in Europe where you can speed around by powerboat and jet-ski. Along the riverbank (approximately 50 miles) there are recreation areas, open-air baths, camp-sites and places to hire equipment.
Best known for its tradition of distilling Barackpálinka (apricot brandy) and as the home of Zoltán Kodály, Kecskemét is also a university town and centre for the arts, and one of the Puszta’s most attractive cities. Largely spared during the Turkish occupation, Kecskemét developed into a religious and cultural melting pot, which is reflected in its eclectic architecture today. The central square alone boasts a former synagogue, the Hungarian-style Art Nouveau Cifra Palace (fittingly, “cifra” is Hungarian for “tawdry” or “ornate”) and the impressive Kecskemét Art Gallery.
Kiskunság National Park
Classic Puszta country, the Kiskunság comes complete with traditional shepherds, a rural museum, farm and stables, where csikósok – Hungarian-style cowboys – crack whips and perform bareback stunts in traditional dress. The farmyard animals are not the type you are used to either, grey long-horned cattle and Mangalica pigs are an added attraction. By following one of the marked trails, you can also take in the local wildlife, including water buffalo, that may be hiding in the reedy marshland.
Down by the Serbian border to the south east, the university town of Szeged has a relaxed charm. It originally flourished on the back of the salt trade but was destroyed by the great flood of 1879 and consequently rebuilt in style. The huge square in the city centre, with its even larger cathedral, is the focal point and plays host to the city’s lively summer festival. The city is steeped in history at every turn, but also boasts a recently restored thermal baths --Anna baths-- to rest those tired sightseeing feet. The main square is dominated by the Art Nouveau tower of the City Hall. The monumental Moorish-Art Nouveau New Synagogue is one of the most beautiful Jewish temples of Europe. The majestic atmosphere of its interior is provided by the white-gold-blue ornamentation.
The surrounding area is also famous for its paprika, flora and fauna, inquire at the Tourinform office about bird-watching trips to the Fehér-tó Nature Reserve, horse riding, angling, boating, hiking and cycling.
In the 9th century, the legendary Ópusztaszer in the village of Szer was the place where the conquering Hungarian tribes gathered to hold the first national assembly and adopt the first laws. The statue of their leader Árpád stands in the National History Memorial Park. The greatest attraction here, visited by hundreds of thousands, is the Feszty Panorama, one of the largest paintings in the world, portraying the 'Entry of Hungarians' into the Carpathian Basin. The panorama, created in 1894, depicting approximately 2000 people on 1760 square metres, gives a special experience of space.
Hungary’s second most populous city, Debrecen retains strong Calvinist roots after local leaders brokered a deal with the Turks to keep the Catholics out. The Déri Museum contains folklore exhibits and some of artist Mihály Munkácsy’s finest work. The best time to visit is during one of the city’s festivals, such as the Spring Festival in late March, the flower carnival on the August 20 public holiday, and the four-day Jazzfesztival in mid September.
Flat as a Hortobágyi pancake – a local meat-filled, sauce drenched speciality – the local landscape is famed for its low horizons and occasional mirages. Here Hungarian Grey Cattle, stud horses, the spiral horned Racka sheep and buffalo herds graze on the open pastures. In addition, the Rare Breeds Park showcases the region's unusual domesticated animals and the Szálkahalom Nature Reserve also puts on horse shows and carriage rides for visitors. The area of the Hortobágy National Park became a World Heritage site in 1999.
History has ridden roughshod over Szolnok, situated along the Tisza River. Everyone from the Mongols to the Germans and Soviets has laid waste to the town, but it maintains a proud. laid-back and arty feel and is home to some of the country's finest Art Nouveau buildings. The Gulyás Festival in early September is the highlight on the Szolnok social calendar.
Kalocsa, this pretty town, 120 kilometres south of the capital, is known as Hungary’s paprika capital and for its traditional flowery embroidery and painting. The neighbouring paprika fields become a spectacular sea of red in early September. Kalocsa is a good stopping off point on the way to the Hajós Pincék.
A bus ride from Kalocsa, this is Bacchus’s dream – an entire village devoted to wine cellars. 1260 of them, to be precise. Best of all, no one actually lives here, so you can make as much noise as you want. The local Swabian population has been fermenting their produce here for centuries, and they celebrate the coming harvest on the weekend nearest May 25.
The quiet riverside town of Baja, 41 kilometres south of Kalocsa, comes alive in the second Saturday in July, when the locals cook up 2000 cauldrons of fiery fish soup in the huge market square. Expect more of the same during the Autumn festival in September, with theatre, dancing and concerts added to the mix.