1. It has an inner sea

Not an actual sea, but given that it covers almost 600 square kilometres, it’s no surprise that Lake Balaton acquired the nickname Hungarian Sea. The freshwater lake is an hour southwest of Budapest, and the largest in Central Europe. Visitors can enjoy everything from sailing to a leisurely dip. The hilly region of the northern shore is known both for its historic character and as a major wine region, while the flat southern shore is known for its resort towns. The major resorts are Siófok, Keszthely, and Balatonfüred. Zamárdi, another resort town on the southern shore, has been the site of Balaton Sound, a notable electronic music festival since 2007.

2. Double the alphabet

The 26 letters of the Latin alphabet seem rather measly next to Hungary’s 44, if you include the letters Q, W, X, Y, which can only be found in foreign words and traditional orthography of names. Even more intriguing, some of those 44 letters are actually comprised of letter combinations. For instance, dzs, which is pronounced as j. No wonder it’s a notoriously difficult language to learn…

3. It’s an ancient wine country

The oldest demarcated official wine region in the world is not France’s Provence but Tokaj in eastern Hungary. Experts have found traces of viticulture dating back more than 2000 years, and the French King Louis XIV once declared a Tokaji tipple to be the “wine of kings, king of wines”. One hundred years ago, Hungary was one of the most important wine producers in Europe but the aggressive assault of phylloxera in the 1880s, two world wars and 40 years of communist collectivization did their damage. Now, Hungary’s 22 wine regions are bouncing back..

4. Hungary and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll

What does Elvis Presley have to do with Hungary? Quite a lot, it turns out. In 1957, he paid tribute to the country’s 1956 anti-Soviet Uprising with a performance of “Peace in the Valley” on the “Ed Sullivan Show”, accompanied by an appeal for donations to be sent to Hungary for relief efforts. In 2011, Hungary awarded Elvis posthumous citizenship in recognition of his support all those years ago, and a District II park alongside the Danube near Margaret Bridge was renamed Elvis Presley Park.

5. Strap on your skis

Hungary doesn’t usually spring to mind as a ski break destination but perhaps it should. The country offers a collection of beautiful, lesser-known slopes: Dobogókő Ski Centre is the closest to the capital, and the larger Síaréna Eplény has been dubbed the little Alps.

6. Record-breaker I: Dohány Street Synagogue

Budapest is home to the largest synagogue in Europe and the second-largest in the world, after New York. The rose and gilt façade on the corner of Dohány Street is certainly hard to miss, and its sumptuous interior can seat up to 3000. The magnificent twin-towered building celebrated 150 years of existence in 2009.


7. Record-breaker II: the Budapest caves

Hungary’s capital is well known for its thermal baths but the subterranean labyrinth beneath them is more of a secret. Here lies the world’s largest thermal cave system. Don a helmet and explore the pink-hued Szemlö-hegy, one of the few caves open to the public. The complex of caves and cellars beneath the Castle District served as a shelter and hospital during the Second World War, and now includes the Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum (Sziklakórház Atombunker Múseum).

8. It’s home to a mummified king

Mummies aren’t just for Egypt, you know. Wander over to the Saint Stephen Basilica in the heart of Budapest and you will find something rather unexpected preserved in the chapel. The mummified right hand of King Stephen, the country’s first monarch, 1000-1038, is displayed in an ornate glass case and considered a sacred relic. Once a year, on August 20, it is carried outside in the Holy Right Hand (Szent Jobb) procession.

9. A nation of inventors…

On top of everything else, Hungary has produced a string of home-grown inventors. It was in fact Hungarian engineer Béla Barényi, rather than Ferdinand Porsche, who designed the legendary Volkswagen Beetle. Barényi is credited with having conceived its basic design in 1925, five years before Mr. Porsche claimed to have done his version. Architect Ernö Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube, and László Bíró dreamed up the ballpoint pen.

10. …and masters of the silver screen

Hollywood has Hungary to thank for much of its success. The founders of Paramount Pictures and the Fox Film Corporation, respectively Adolf Zukor and Vilmos Fried, both hailed from this part of the world. Michael Curtiz, director of “Casablanca”, was born Mano Kaminer in Budapest. The Korda brothers – Alexander, Zoltán and Vincent – made an indelible mark on the film industries in their native Hungary, as well as in Austria, Germany, the US, France and, especially, Great Britain.

Adolf Zukor

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