Biking through Hungary

Herdsmen show off their long-horned cattle.

by Jim Hendrickson, Bellingham, WA

Herdsmen show off their horse-riding skills.

In late July and early August ’06, I took a one-week bicycle tour of the puszta (great plain) in eastern Hungary. Called “Spa Route Through the Puszta,” it included seven nights in mostly 3-star hotels; delicious buffet breakfasts and Hungarian dinners daily; the rental of a 21-speed bicycle; two English-speaking tour leaders; entrance to thermal springs and spas, and ground transportation for me, my luggage and the bicycle, all for $900. (The rate in 2007 is $920 plus $166 single supplement.)

One of the hotels on our tour.

I booked the trip online with Velo-Touring (Elöpatak u. 1, H-1118 Budapest, Hungary; phone +36 1 319 0571,

My group consisted of eight other persons, who hailed from the United States, England, Scotland, Germany and Belgium. Only the Belgian fellow and I were experienced long-distance cyclists, but most of our group members easily cycled the, on average, 30 miles per day over very flat terrain. (Velo lists this as their easiest bike tour.)

The ride begins

Lunch break and rest time.

Our tour began in Budapest, riding not by bicycle but in a minivan out of the busy Hungarian capital and across the flood plains of the Tisza River.

After crossing the Tisza by traditional rope ferry, we cycled through peaceful villages to the town of Kunhegyes. We celebrated our accomplishment by soaking our tired muscles in the village spa before dinner. Ah, what a sweet life!

Bathers and sun worshipers relax in the thermal waters in Hajdúszoboszló.

The next day we pedaled through beautiful scenery toward Abádszalók at Lake Tisza, the second-largest lake in Hungary. During this entire tour, we stopped every hour or so to rest and partake of various refreshments: Gatorade, lemonade, orangeade and chocolate chip cookies.

After lunch we continued on to Tiszaörs-fürdö, where we soaked in a pool fed by wonderful thermal springs. I felt pampered; in other words, I was ecstatically happy.

Things to see and do

Our mini-van and trailer  “pose” before a village church.

We continued on our 2-wheeled adventure by cycling toward the bird reserve of Lake Tisza, which we toured by boat. We saw a variety of herons, harriers and falcons.

Then we once again mounted our steel horses and pedaled to Máta, a center for stud farms and horseback riding.

In the morning, our group was treated to a ride on a “puszta taxi,” a wooden wagon pulled by a horse. We saw wool pigs, spiral-horned sheep, water buffaloes and large Hungarian gray cattle. By special arrangement, we observed the skills of local herdsmen who had trained their horses to perform many intricate maneuvers.

 Some areas of the puszta look like the Western prairie of the United States.

That evening we stayed in a romantic hunting lodge where we were the only guests. Dinner was served in the King’s Room, where I certainly felt like royalty.

A family of storks welcomes us to their village.

On the second-to-the-last day of our bicycle tour, we set off for Hajdúszoboszló, the location of the largest open-air thermal spa in Hungary. The temperature of the water in the different pools varied from warm to hot to very, very hot. I didn’t complain, however, because I had found heaven on Earth.

Near the village of Nádudvar we visited a master potter whose black pottery is world renowned.

We returned by minivan to Budapest, where we took an included sightseeing tour. We also had plenty of free time to stroll around the city and shop for souvenirs and gifts. Our tour ended with a delicious farewell dinner during which we toasted our excellent leaders.

I heartily recommend this bicycle tour to both novice and experienced cyclists who want a very leisurely tour of eastern Hungary. The camaraderie of the group members coupled with the expertise and friendliness of our tour leaders made the event particularly special.