Leaving the wine cellars and treehouses of Noszvaj behind, we set off reasonably early for the resort town of Lillafüred. On a hike recently in Zala, himself had heard someone mention it and talk about a castle. The castle turned out to be the Hotel Palota, now at the top of the list of places I want to stay in Hungary. We crossed the Bükk Mountains to get to it and enjoyed some fabulous driving. I love driving a stick-shift up and down winding roads with little by way of traffic other than the odd car or tractor. The leaves were turning. The sun was shining. The air was brisk. Close to perfect conditions in my book.
It was shorts and T-shirt weather for me. I was holding out till the last. Others were wrapped up in jeans and jackets with scarves and a few hats thrown in. Oh, the joy of being of a certain age and female. I was practising pronouncing változás kora but no one commented.
About 12 kilometres from the city of Miskolc, Lillafüred is a tourist resort, albeit it a small one. The terraced hanging gardens of the magnificent Hotel Palota, the lovely Lake Hámori, and Hungary’s tallest waterfall all make it a rather special place…offseason. Too many people would ruin it.
Back in the late 1800s, then Minister for Agriculture Count András Bethlen discovered the area while out hunting and thought Lake Hámori, the small lake at the confluence of the Szinva and Garadna, was the perfect place to build a resort which he called after his niece Erzsébet, aka Lilla. Some sites say the lake is natural, others say it was caused by the damming of the Garadna to provide water for the local ironworks. Today it’s like a mini Lake Bled, without the island and the church but with the boats and the views.
After our caving experiences in Georgia, we weren’t remotely curious about the Szeleta cave, even if it is one of the most important archaeological sites in Hungary. That’s where most of the people we met were heading, those who were holidaying late. Instead, we enjoyed a coffee at the Hotel Tókert soaking up the last of the sun and watching a lone boatman navigate the waters below.
Back in 1997, Ferenc Szabó saw the potential of the ruined Weidlich villa. He bought the premises at auction and over the next few years set about renovating it. He built a three-star family business that now involves himself, his son Zoltán, and his son-in-law Gábor. It’s lovely to see enterprises like this do well.
But back to the 1920s, then Prime Minister Count István Bethlen wanted somewhere he could ‘cultivate international relations’ and host receptions. ‘Twas a time though when money, even government money, was hard fought for and his ambitious plans met with some resistance. Eventually, Bethlen had his way and commissioned Kálmán Lux (the man in charge of my favourite church in Budapest, the Church in the Rock at the Gellert) to draw up the plans. Think Renaissance. Think style. Think glamour.
It opened for business in 1930 and soon started to attract high society and celebrities. In 1933, the Congress of Writers gathered there and Attila József was inspired to write his poem Ode. Operated for the state, it was no surprise that it ceased being a hotel and turned into a military hospital for Russian soldiers during World War II. After the war, the Bükk Medical Bath Company took it over before passing the baton to the National Council of Trade Unions who kept it up as a place where those with special vouchers could come on holiday. Post-Communism, it was acquired by the Hunguest Hotel chain who put money into updating it to the point that, in 2015, it was registered as a Hungaricum – a national asset.
I believe the stained glass windows in the dining room are spectacular and I’ve little trouble imagining that the spa and such are equally grand. Yep – as I said, it’s at the top of my list of hotels to try.