All About Hungary
By the ninth century AD, the Magyar culture—which traces its lineage back 6,000 years to the Ural Mountains, and speaks a unique language that is a distant cousin to Finnish and Estonian (and nothing else)—had turned the Carpathian Basin the Kingdom of Hungary. Like many of its Southeastern European neighbors, Hungary’s heritage mixes that native core with Teutonic Austrian, regional Slavic, and Ottoman Turkish elements from the nation’s convoluted history and and five centuries under various empires and immigration influxes.
This goulasch of influences is what gives Hungary its distinctive flavor and spice—and we’re not just talking about the paprika. Its why the most famous feature of Budapest—beyond the rambling hilltop castle, and the bespired bulk of Parliament by the Danube that is featured on every “cruise Europe” brochure and commercial—are the city’s elaborate spas, ranging from echoing and elegant Art Nouveau pools to massive and modern hotel treatment centers to the dim, atmospheric public baths modeled after Turkish hammams.
Lulled by such pleasures, few visitors venture beyond Budapest—unless it’s on a day trip to stroll the galleries of the medieval village–turned–art colony Szentendre, gateway to the north’s impossibly pretty Danube Bend region, where the river is guarded by Romantically ruined hilltop citadels. Even fewer discover the lively medieval university town of Pécs (where a medieval church was rebuilt as a 16th century mosque which was transformed into the 18th century into a church), or soak in the baroque splendors of the small cities of Gyor or Eger, or relax on a beach by the “Hungarian Sea” of Lake Balaton sipping sweet Tokaj wines and pálinka brandies.
When to Go to Hungary: Hungary is at its best in spring and fall, full of festivals and fine weather. Winters can get too cold and gloomy, and summers too sultry (especially in humid Budapest) to appreciate the spas.