Zalaszabar, Hungary, again

First-time visitors are easy. For them, everything is new. Repeat visitors are a tad more problematic. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to see different faces and talk about different things, especially in these COVID times. But it’s a pain trying to remember what we did with them last time they were here. Sometimes visitors come prepared. They’ve done their homework. They know where they want to go and what they want to do. Other times, their idea of a break is not having to decide anything. We’re blessed to live in a wonderful part of south-western Hungary, in a county that in 2010 voted for the seven wonders (Zala megye 7 csodája) of both its built and the natural worlds. Himself has had more reason to explore the locale that I have. He discovered Zalaszabar when sourcing a distillery to process his mush into palinka. He dragged me (almost kicking and screaming) to the top of one of the hills behind that village to see the views of the Balaton and admittedly, I was impressed. He’d also gone back, without me, to check out the wines at the Kányaváry Borbirtok and came home full of enthusiasm…about the views at least.

We took our latest visitors on a tour of the spa town of Zalakaros, making the required stop at fab Szilágyi Cukrásda for dessert. It’s the town’s first confectionary, founded by István Szilágyi and his wife Iréke in 1977. István, originally from Békés, moved to Budapest to learn his craft from master confectioner Lajos Klöpfler in the famous Vörösmarty confectionery. After he met Iréke while on holiday at the Balaton one year, the pair married and set up shop in Zalakaros. The confectionary has gone from strength to strength and is popular year-round. In 2009, the year he died, István received the Golden Wreath Master Confectioner Award. Today, his two daughters, Mónika and Judit, run the place and have opened a second in Nagykanizsa (one I must check out). It’s a must-stop spot for new and returning visitors alike.

Onwards then to the hills behind Zalaszabar in search of a view. A better view, himself assured me. With some wine thrown in for good measure. What was not to like? I was blown away. We all were. It was one of those sunny autumnal days that hold the promise of better times. As I looked down over the Kis-Balaton, I found a whole new appreciation for where we live. Yes, I’ve posted drone footage and I’ve my favourite places to look out at the lake at various times during the day, but I’d never seen it from on high – the whole of it.

We walked and talked and took phone numbers from For Sale signs. We peeked in the windows of press houses and did the maths. For a blissful couple of hours, all four of us rejected reality and fantasized about living the view. We all had our favourite finds. Mine, dubbed Shrek’s House, didn’t appear to be for sale. And with parcel numbers rather than street addresses, it’ll take me a while to find the owner.

Himself was more concerned with vineyards. And if and when our lotto numbers come up and we have a cool 12 million HUF (€33k / $40k) he’s picked out this one. The house (unphotographed) is small – 50 sq m – and in need of a LOT of work. I’m sure I spotted an outhouse. But the deck has a fantastic view, one that rivals mine.

Photo S. Jacobs

Kányaváry Borbirtok was pretty full with people enjoying wine tastings and cold cuts. Perhaps I made the wrong choice but I wasn’t raving about the riesling I tried, curiously name Imposztor. That said, no one else seemed to be having any difficulties downing their lot. They also run a small panzio, so if you’re looking for a weekend away, check them out. Make a note of the summer Bor. Zene.Zala festival scheduled for August 2021. And they’ve cleverly teamed up with the local adventure park for a tasting/adventure combo. Great to see such forward-thinking.

We drove on, over the ridge, down the other side, stopping to call some phone numbers and find what sort of prices we were looking at. And while in theory, it’s all doable, the reality is another story. We’ve to finish the current project before we can take on any more. But it was nice to dream.

On the way back, we popped into Zalavár (home of the Bale Bunnies) to see what the village had done for Harvest. And they didn’t disappoint.

It’s hard to pass the Kis-Balaton around sunset and not drive in to see what’s happening. We missed the actual setting by a few minutes but it was still amazing. The only noise we heard was the sound of geese on their way home. The only people there were ourselves. A magical end to a magical day. And all in our backyard. Perhaps COVID has a silver lining after all.

Photo S. Jacobs




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