Touring Lake Balaton – Part One
It’s 40 years since Freddie Mercury and Queen sang ‘I want to ride my bicycle’ and these lyrics are now coming alive, as people all over the world are taking to two wheels in the new cycling revolution. It’s not just about cycle racing too, with families, commuters, and leisure cyclists joining in the new lifecycle, and through this helping to increase cycling tourism around the globe.
Larisa and I were invited by @ridehard.hu to join them on a cycling tour around the region of Lake Balaton in Hungary, as guests of Hungarian Tourism, to see how cycling is developing for tourists in one of the most historic of European nations, where summer temperatures can reach into the mid and high 30s degrees Celsius. Petra, the G4 chief executive is of course, a former Hungarian National triathlete, and so invited Larisa and Robert from the G4 Ambassador and Communications team onto the tour.
Time then to see how Larisa and Robert got on… and, as Robert was holidaying in the South of France until the 14th of August, global ambassador Larisa was the first to arrive.
Day 1 Larisa
Arriving at the airport, the first thing I saw was a large sign saying #helloHungary. Speaking to Tamas, this is a drive by Hungary to promote tourism, of which cycling is a key part. It was a sign I was to see several times along the way, showing the work that the Hungarian Government is putting into promoting their country as a sports holiday location. The tour we were invited on was the 3rd of a series and we were to cycle in stages around Lake Balaton. I was excited, as Hungary is an amazing country, and cycling around its countryside while staying in great hotels sounded amazing.
Lake Balaton is a significant feature in the landscape here. It has an area of 231 square miles (598 square km) and extends for 48 miles (77 km) along the southern foothills of the Bakony Mountains of Hungary. At it widest point, Lake Balaton measures about 9 miles (14 km) across. Its maximum depth is 37 feet (11 metres). It’s popular for all water sports, and has long cycling paths all around the area.
Having arrived, it was an area with superb views and panoramas that all cyclists could enjoy and discover the vibrant colours of the landscape and varied scenes of Hungary and its rich history. The Tour was planned for a week, and was designed to discover the breath-taking scenery and to enjoy the relaxing spas of Hungary from the saddle! Also on the itinerary was a trip later in the week to a winery, to taste the best local wines of the region.
The ride for day one was a 55km spin along the lake shore, around the Balatonfured, which was a gentle spin out, and by the end of the week was to be my favourite of all the rides It was a easy cycle, making it possible to enjoy the landscapes, and I immediately fell in love with it. I was surprised that the lake was so big, and that it looked like a little sea, placed in the middle of Hungary.
The highlight of the ride were the stops to take photographs for the tourist agency, and where from the high point on the land of Tihany (village), we could see a spectacular view of the lake. We stopped for the local lavender ice creams, which were very tasty, or as Hungarians say ‘nagyon finom’.
The sun was high and my G4 clothing kept me comfortable in the intense heat, and I felt like it was a dreamlike place, where I could quietly take it all in and just relax. The colours of the G4 custom #helloHungary kit matched the colours of my bike and helmet – which if you know me is critical. It was for me a pleasure to ride in this special place with my new riding friends in the fantastic matching kits made by G4!
Once we had showered and eaten, Tamas had arranged a trip for us, sailing on a large boat into the lake. The evenings here in Hungary are warm, with clear skies, making it very magical. I also got to sail the boat, which really added to the experience of this very special first day, setting the scene for the tour.
Day 2 Larisa
Having enjoyed the superb Hungarian hospitality of day one, on day two we were to move hotels, cycling 80km to our next stop and new hotel. The route started from Balatonfured and went to Balatonszarszo, which is on the shores of the lake. We were to follow the lake shore for most of the ride, allowing us to enjoy it’s beauty. We were able to use the bike lane, which was quite long, keeping us safe and away from traffic. Hungary is developing lots of cycling lanes in the area, and it has a vast network already. We also stopped on a high point for pictures, where we could see the magnificent view of the lake once more.
For this day I chose the ‘Simply’ kit from G4, with the sleeveless design to increase my tan lines. Everybody admired my kit and told me how stylish it looked.
While we were cycling to Siófok , we met by chance with the Romanian National Cycling Team, that we’re on the way to the prologue for the Tour de Hongrie. We watched the prologue and I had the opportunity to cheer on my national team, a few of who. I know well. Stopping for coffee and cakes was once again to set the scene of cake eating for the week! Thankfully the cycling was good, so we burnt off the calories! We arrived late at the hotel, at 9pm in Balatonszarszo, and went to the spa for some much needed recovery.
Day 3 Larisa
Today was to be a very tough day for my legs, with a distance of 90km of rolling terrain, with heat and hills and a headwind to add to the difficulty. I found it a bit hard to keep up with the boys, but by the end of the ride I was fine, and had managed to stay with our mini peloton. We took a 70km route along the shoreline to Zalaszabar, stopping for lunch in the countryside, with some elderly local acquaintances of Tamas. This brought back memories for me, because we ate food like that which my grandmother had cooked for me as a child, taking me back in time to a beautiful place full of nostalgia.
After lunch we were lying on the grass, admiring the landscape, and I could see fields full of vines and grapes for the local wines. My batteries shut down temporarily and I had a much needed power nap. Lying in the midday, curled up on the grass was wonderful. Temperatures in Hungary in the summer are in the mid 30s, so the cycling has an added issue to deal with, even if it’s a pleasant one – after all, we all like the sun.
My power nap was wonderful thankfully, and I was ready to enjoy the remainder of the days ride, along the beautiful roads.
Arriving at the hotel, it had been a difficult day riding, and so we visited the spa as a reward and a good recovery. As we were leaving the spa, Robert arrived from his journey from England, and the G4 team was now complete. We then closed the day celebrating the birthday of Tamas, with wine and fun. Tomorrow would be another day, and I would be joined on the ride by Robert, my fellow editor here at Pedalnorth and a great friend. The week was looking exciting and the sun was shining!