There is so much beauty all around us here in Hungary. The following are nearby hilltop hikes, many leading to castle ruins, all within an hour or less from us here in Pápa! We are so lucky to be able to explore these lovely locations. See below for pics and descriptions.
Ság Mountain, Celldömölk
Ság mountain is one of the many volcanic hills in western Hungary that can be parked at and climbed up for free. There is a large parking area called Ság-hegyi Tanösvény Parkoló, and trails lead up from there. A few places (as seen below) are steep, depending on which trail you choose, but with proper footwear it’s fine for all ages. There are several paths – not well marked – with varying terrain and a 360º view of the Hungarian countryside. There is a small restaurant with a decent view near the parking area but I can’t vouch for the food. Otherwise there are no facilities – plan accordingly!
Szarvaskő Castle Ruins, Döbrönte
Döbrönte, just 20 minuites outside of Pápa, is a popular place for this community. Climbing up to the ruins is a right of passage, and it is a fun place to go for sledding in the winter whenever there’s enough snow! It’s a common backdrop for family photos, and you can’t beat the sunset views on a clear evening. Parking is free but limited, along the road by the small playground; through the playground is a wooden railed set of stairs that leads up to the hill. It is an easy hike – and the entire area has over 5km of trails to explore, too! Watch out for stinging nettles around the ruins and mind the horseback riders! Also, there are no rest rooms or facilities here. Tip: The nearby Hasik Hotel is a lovely place to stay if guests want a change of pace from the options in Pápa.
This one is by far my favorite – but not just because of the beautiful, well intact ruins atop the hill. It also boasts the best gelato nearby, Villa Kabala (my favorite restaurant in Hungary), and Szászi, a biodynamic wine shop all on one little volcanic hill! It’s amazing. There is a well marked and ample parking lot up a steep, narrow road (yes, you can drive up!) that is free. At the base of the hill there is a building with rest rooms and usually some little trinkets for sale. Follow the umbrellas to the BEST gelato around (they’re known for the salted pistachio flavor but I think the coffee is to die for!) and then take your cone up the hill further – it is steep – to the entrance of the castle ruins. There is a small fee to enter and then the exploring begins. The steps are steep and they seem to go on forever – but the views are so worth it. A 360º view that includes a stunning, hilly, vineyard-covered view over lake Balaton is the reward for all that climbing. It can get quite busy in the summer, so I recommend going early in the morning or in the shoulder seasons. A lovely lake view awaits at the nearby Villa Kabala (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) which tops my restaurant reviews of the region. Don’t forget to try the wine at Szászi and grab a couple of bio bottles before you leave!
Somló Castle Ruins
Somlo, about 30 minutes outside of Pápa, is a lovely destination for an afternoon drive and hike. It is true that this little volcanic hill has the potential to be the most frustrating ascent as the trails are not well labeled and the limited parking areas are anything but intuitive. Follow the narrow, steep road up the hill and park next to Szent Margit Kápolna. Everything is free! From there it is possible to hike up trails to the castle ruins. Some areas are steep and tricky, but for the most part the whole family can enjoy what’s left of the old castle and take in the views over the vineyards and beyond. Note that there are no facilities here. See if you can notice the crater of the old volcano – and then after, if you’re feeling like a splurge, check out Kreinbacher restaurant. This modern dining room boasts a regularly changing menu with wine pairings from their own winery! It is a bit pricey for a regular menu meal, so I recommend trying the tasting menu, which is very reasonable and delicious. Date night? Definitely! Tip: If you drink too much you can always stay! Kreinbacher is also a lovely hotel.
(4) Photos above are from google images
Sümeg is about an hour away from Pápa towards the west side of Lake Balaton. The town is crowned with an impressive, well-preserved castle atop another volcanic hill. There is plenty of free parking at the bottom of Sümeg hill, but the castle itself has hours of operation and a small entry fee. Of all “hikes” featured here, this one leads to the most comprehensive, impressive castle complex. It is often a destination for school field trips. It has rest rooms and interactive displays as well as, apparently, medieval shows and events. Nearby is the town of Heviz, which boasts the largest thermal lake in this part of the world. After visiting the castle, check out Terazza Bistro-Bar in town, which comes highly recommended by fellow expats. I can’t vouch for it personally, as it is closed Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and I have never timed my visits right.
Of all the hikes mentioned here, this one has the most hiking and the least dead volcanoes. Drive to Bakonybél and take a right onto Petofi utca just past the monastery in town. There, just after the road turns to dirt, is a lovely, large parking area across from a quaint little reverent park with a pond (google calls it a museum). It is easy to find the trail labels from this spot, and they will take you up a steep hill through a forest, past a large fenced pasture to a dirt road that, once you cross, has a little hill to climb with a beautiful view from the top. It is a perfect picnic spot. Use google maps to follow the rocky road back to the main road past a big cow pasture, through little neighborhoods and into town for a nice walk back to the parking area. Children of all ages can handle this length and terrain. Again there are no facilities, except for along the road to where you park, so bring a lunch and plenty of water!
In a similar direction to Bakony but just a bit further lies Csesznek. Nestled in the hills is a unique castle with great views. There is limited parking at the base of the hill near a couple of pop up stands (lemonade, souvenirs), across the street from a buffet restaurant, but there is more ample parking down the road. There are opening hours and fees for entry, and good facilities as well as a small room that serves as a mini museum. I found this castle somewhat haunting – it is built right into the rock, and the bridge between towers, although closed to the public, reminded me of Game of Thrones! Another buffet restaurant – Szerpentin Büfé may not look like much (we didn’t stay to eat, so I have no idea) but the view of the castle from there is lovely! Take route 82 south as you leave the castle to pass this spot, especially if heading to Veszprem!
Csóbanc is a great family hike in the cluster of hills near Lake Balaton boasting beautiful views of the surrounding hillside vineyards and lake. Unlike Szigliget, Csobánc is free to visit. Park in the car park just west of the hill and walk up the “road” past a couple of old vineyards to the start of the trail. It is also possible to park at vineyard closest to the trail head but parking is limited and the road requires a sturdy vehicle. Once at the top, the views are perfect. They are among the region’s best! This is a popular spot for para-gliders, and on a sunny day with light wind you just might get lucky! The ruins are just that – ruined – similar to Somló, Döbrönte and Csesznek. The trails are not labeled well but are easy to follow. It is dog friendly, but no facilities are available – you’ll have to “go in the woods” like our kiddos did!
Badacsony Hill (Kisfaludy)
Badacsony is a terrific hill with lots of trails and hiking options overlooking Lake Balaton. A great parking lot (Rózsakő parkoló) near Kisfaludy Haz restaurant is located at the trail head and costs 400 HUF/hour, ($1.25/hr) a good deal for such a prime location. As the restaurant isn’t open right now we couldn’t review that, but the hike was among our favorites in all of the post-volcanic hills near the lake. Just over an hour’s drive from Pápa, this hike is rewarding, with many overlooks in all directions around the hilltop. The trails are very well kept, with some areas built into stair cases and paths with rock walls to prevent rock slides. The kids loved the varying terrain, lookout tower (Kisfaludy Observation Deck) and the lizards and snakes! Parents appreciated the amazing panoramic views from “Kőkapu” lookout area and the shaded trails – just under 4 miles worth that we were able to traverse in a leisurely 2.5 hours. Next time we look forward to trying out Kisfaludy Haz Étterem as it is popular and we have heard good things about it! We didn’t see any restroom facilities, so plan accordingly!
Sea of Stones (Szentbékkálla)
We had been meaning to explore the “Sea of Stones” in Szentbékkálla for a while and finally had the chance to check it out. It did not disappoint! This rocky area nestled in the hills surrounding Lake Balaton was better than we expected! The giant monolith rocks were nature’s playground for the kids. There was a small area to park at the base of the trail and the hike wasn’t very long, but that wasn’t the fun of it for the kids this time. They had the best time just climbing and frolicking around the rock formations all over the hillside. There was so much to explore! We ended up following the trails to a little ruin and then the hilltop church nearby, but the main attraction is all the piles of stones everywhere. Worth the visit for sure! The easiest way to reach the Sea of Stones is from the
Still to come: Szent György-hegy and Haláp.