Do you want to know how a foreigner sees our region? We mashed up three articles into one, made them into a written collection of Debrecen – Hajdúszoboszló – Pálinka – Hortobágy – Tokaj.
Hungary has much more to offer than a quick city break to Budapest – beyond the big-city rush, there are quaint towns lined with cobblestone streets, national parks, vineyards, as well as thermal spas. Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city, which was once isolated from Budapest, is now easily accessible to reach from the UK (thanks to Wizz Air). The new terminal at Debrecen airport, although very small, has been completely restored, ready for the expected influx of tourism.
Debrecen is also known for its Calvinist heritage and the celebrated church, Nagytemplom, is impressive, although quite plain. We found that it is certainly worth climbing the 61m tall tower to see the Rákóczi bell, the largest in Hungary, and to sample the excellent views. These include the main street, Piac Utca, with its many restaurants and cafes, and the scattered small museums devoted to folklore traditions and national artists. Debrecen’s frequent special days and festivities, includes the famous annual flower festival, starting on the 15th August and lasting for 5 days.
To the north is Nagyerdö Park – meaning great forest – where the country’s oldest nature conservation area can be found, as well as a zoo, skating rink and the Aquaticum. This comprises a water park, pool, hotel, and restaurant, all based on the beneficial effect of the city’s spa water. It’s recommended to use the place as a gateway to the surrounding plain and the hills beyond.
There are over 1000 spas all over Hungary, 200 in this region and no less than 120 in Budapest alone. Hungarospa in Hajdúszoboszló is the place to bathe in thermal waters. The development of Hajdúszoboszló was stimulated by the wonderful medicinal water found 86 years ago by the searching activity of geologist dr. Ferenc Pávai Vajna. The thermal water is rich in mineral deposits which are a throwback to the Triassic Age when this whole area was covered by sea. During the past eight decades the spa has become world famous. With the significant developments of the last years, there have been making serious efforts to raise their facilities on European niveau, they can even give the sick people their joy for life back, furthermore: they can provide unforgettable relaxation for more families in the spa and entertaining water centre.
A major selling point of this part of the world, it turns out, is the food and drink. Half an hour from Debrecen you can discover the Zsindelyes Palinka Distillery. Palinka is a kind a brandy made from fruit. It can only be called Palinka if the fruit is from Hungary. After a tour of the distillery, we sat down for dinner and a tasting. They offer several sweet and rich flavours, including, plum, strawberry, white pear, sour cherry and even a honey and cinnamon. At the Hortobágyi Inn, while an energetic gypsy orchestra plays, we eat hearty platefuls of beef and paprika stew with Hungarian gnocchi (made of flour, water and potatoes) topped with sour cream, followed by a wild-cherry sponge dessert.
One and a half hour’s drive from Debrecen there is UNESCO World Heritage site of Hortobágy, which is both the name of the village and also that of the national park, rich with folklore and cultural history. You can switch to safari jeep and head off to Hortobágy Great Fishponds and Narrow Gauge Railway. Hortobágy-Halastó is the greatest bird habitat in Central Europe and you can explore the area with a narrow gauge railway and a nature trail with information about the avifauna, life of the fishermen hides and watchtowers. You can visit also Máta Stud and there is the possibility to try out a horse drawn carriage. One of its most popular programs, the country carriage ride in the puszta (the great plains), allows visitors to observe the Nonius breed horses, the Hungarian grey cattle, the water buffalos, the Racka sheep, and the Mangalitsa swine in their natural habitat, and meet the csikos (herdsmen) and the gulyas (cattlemen). Nowadays you can take a horse-drawn cart out on to the “puszta”, as the wild plain is called, to watch modern versions of these horsemen ride five animals at once.
For a final stop we recommend to visit the Tokaji wine region, which consists of 28 named villages and 7,000 hectares of classified vineyards, of which an estimated 5,000 are currently planted. Tokaj has been declared a World Heritage Site. However, its fame long predated this distinction because it is the origin of Tokaji aszú wine, the world’s oldest botrytized wine. Tokaj-Hegyalja is a historical wine region located in northeastern Hungary and southeastern Slovakia. Hegyalja means “foothills” in Hungarian, and this was the original name of the region.