Hungary is a quite unique country in Europe, with about 92% of the population being direct descendants of the Magyars, an ancient race coming from central Asia who settled here already around the end of the 9th century. However, were the Romans to bring the first civilization establishing the town of Aquincum (near modern-day Budapest). They referred to this area as Pannonia, named after the first inhabitants of this region, the Pannonii. After the arrival of the Hunsin the early 5th century, the Romans were forced to withdraw leaving the battlefield to the rivalry of Goths, Longobards and other barbarian tribes after the death of Attila the Hun. Hungary underwent a series of radical changes after the settlements of the Magyars. After numerous invasions by the Turkish since the 15th century, the country had a period of rapid development under the reign of Franz Joseph I who created the Dual Monarchy of Austro-Hungary in1867. The Habsburg Empire was dismantled though following the defeat from WWI and it was actually to regain the lost territories that Hungary decided to back Germany in WWII. The Russians occupied Budapest, the capital, and imposed the Communist rule from which it was possible to get out just after the free elections of 1989 with the victory of the democratic opposition.
Modern Hungary is a developed country which puts strong emphasis on touristic activities development. Tourism, especially the one linked to thermal spa, is today the major source of income. Budapest alone attracts more than 5 million tourists every year. Historically, it was founded in 1873 after the unification of three separate towns (Buda and Obuda on the west bank of the river Danube and Pest on the east bank). The city has many museums, theatres and opera houses but the main attractions are definitely the thermal baths. Budapest lies on a geological fault that separates the Buda hills from plains. The healing powers of the hot spring waters have been exploited since Roman times, even if the most famous of Budapest’s spas were built in the 19th century. Other points of interest are the Castle in Buda, the Parliament, the City Park, the Hungarian National Gallery and the Matthias Church.
Lake Balaton is the largest fresh-water lake in Europe and attracts an average of more than 2 million vacationers every summer. The southern shore is the more developed, featuring modern facilities and a wide choice of tourist accommodations. The area is characterised by lively bars and restaurants and by a noisy nightlife. Common daytime activities are kitesurfing, windsurfing, sailing and cruising. The most popular destination on Balaton’s northern shore is the spa town of Balatonfüred with mineral springs exploited since Roman times for curative purposes. With a 20 min drive from the west side of the lake it is possible to reach Hévíz, a characteristic spa resort which is home to the second largest thermal lake (after the one in Waimungu Thermal Valley, New Zealand). The lake is a magical place where the biological stability is ensure by the temperature of the water, which has not changed for years. Even during the coldest winter days the water temperature does not fall below 25 °C. During summer, the temperature can reach 37-38 °C.
The country is also very well known in the world for its distinctive cuisine, which incorporates a wide range of wines and meat-based dishes, such as goulash, rigorously all spiced with paprika (ground red peppers). Desserts include the popular Dobos cake and strudels filled with apples and other fruits. Very famous is also the wine Tokaji, produced in homonym region of Tokaj (eastern Hungary). According to the anecdote, Francis Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania, gave King Louis XIV of France some Tokaji wine from his reserve as a gift. The Tokaji wine was then served at the French Royal court at Versailles, where it became known as Tokay. Delighted by the delicious beverage, Louis XIV offered a glass of the wine to Madame de Pompadour, referring to it in Latin as “Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum” (“Wine of Kings, King of Wines”). This famous line is still used today in the marketing of Tokaji wines. Another very popular beverage is the Unicum, a bitter dark liqueur made with a blend of 40 different Hungarian herbs which are great to help digestion. A shot of it will definitely be of great help after a large spicy bowl of goulash soup!