We left Tarcal with the GPS navigating us to the Hortobágy National Park Visitor Center. When I’d checked Google maps the drive would take about 1 hour 45 minutes through Tokaj on Route 38, but our Garmin Nuvi GPS had a different plan.
We followed the GPS down to the little town of Tiszatardos and to the end of a road at the Tisza river where the Garmin said “Get on the Ferry”. We looked at each other, really? OK! We boarded for a fun and unexpected boat ride across the river. On the other side the GPS said “Get off the ferry”. The Garmin has taken us some surprising routes before but this one topped them all. Loved it!
On the other side of the river the town of Tiszalök has an amazing amount of stork nests on top of the electrical posts. We’d seen a stork nest and a pair of storks on the chimney of the museum in Tokaj, but in this town there were wire platforms built on top of the poles for the birds to nest on. Just about every post had a nest and a pair of storks. Interesting to watch the noisy bill-clacking courting behavior high in their perch.
The Tourinform in Hortobágy
A quick stop at the Tourist Information (good restrooms!) and a talk with the one English speaking rep for info on what to see in the area. We got the info we needed for the following day and headed to our hotel in Tiszafüred.
- Relaxing in our 1 bedroom suite #205 in the Tisza Balneum Thermal Hotel
- Mata Stud Farm Carriage Ride Tour
Relaxing around Lake Tisza in Tiszafüred
Tisza Balneum Hotel, 3 nights in a view room, buffet breakfast & dinner included (half board)
I’d booked a room with a view of the lake through Booking.com, and it was a nice enough room but the farthest away from the lake that you get and still call it a view room. Not my idea of a nice 3 night stay. The manager said he could show us a suite, but it would be $17 per night per person extra. We took a look, looked at each other, and said “WE’LL TAKE IT”! Great decision – I loved our stay here due to this beautiful 1 bedroom suite with the killer wraparound view. Quiet mornings gazing at the lake with just me and the fishermen up, and front and center for sunset evenings relaxing on the balcony.
We had plenty of time to take a walk and ended up at Albatrosz Kikoto, a marina and camping place on the lake, and had a beer break before hitting the spa at the hotel and that great sunset on our balcony.
The spa at Andrássy Rezidencia spoiled us. The Tisza Balneum hotel has a steam room and sauna, a thermal pool indoors with a center bubbling pool, and an outdoor pool (chilly). The hot pool area was more functional than beautiful but our suite made up for that!
Tip: Don’t expect to watch any TV – there aren’t any English channels. We didn’t miss it.
The Puszta – the Name Means “Big Nothing”
Hortobágy – the Mata Stud Farm
A 30 minute drive from the hotel, the horse show at the Mata Stud Farm and seeing the Puszta was the reason we were in the area. The horse demonstration is part of the 1.5 hour carriage ride tour of typical animals that were raised here, the Hungarian grey cattle, water buffalo, Racka sheep, and cute curly red-haired Mangalitsa pigs. Herdsmen and horsemen in their traditional costume complete the scene. Sure it’s staged but it’s interesting and fun.
Too bad for us, the one cowboy who could perform the top horse demonstration was out for the week. That trick riding would have been something to see – galloping while standing on the back of 2 horses with 3 more horses lashed together in the front – but the horse show was still fascinating. Three cowboys perform the routine in unison. The demonstration has roots in outlaw history, cracking the whip over the head of the horses gets them used to the sound of gunshots, training the horses to lie down in the grass makes them disappear from pursuers, and the saddle doesn’t have a cinch tying it onto the horse, easier to make a quick getaway.
You can visit some of the horses in their stables after the tour. This breed is called Nonius and is a very BIG horse, tall and heavy with a Roman nose, and really sweet tempered. No problem letting tourists pet them. The Mata Stud farm’s main goal is to preserve the Nonius breed which, in the deprivations of WWII, were slaughtered for meat.
Hortobágy – the Wild Animal Park
There’s more activities than we had time and energy for. We looked around the Herder’s Museum and got on the shuttle bus to spend an hour or so at the Wild Animal Park to see some of the typical animals. Cuter than anything foxes.
More Walks – this one on Robin Adventure Island
Across the lake from the Tisza Balneum hotel is a little privately owned island called Robin Adventure Island (Kaland Sziget in Hungarian). To get there you take a boat. As this was obviously the off-season we had a private service. To get back we were supposed to hail the boat on the opposite shore from the island, but our boat guy wasn’t in sight so a couple of helpful employees left their duties (there weren’t any other guests on the island) and ran us over in their skiff.
There are different prices for entry and use of the island, a walking ticket which is all we wanted, and one where you can climb around on ropes or use the climbing wall and other features of the fun center. With a picnic lunch it was a relaxing break. It’s small so we walked around the perimeter once and then up and back through the middle path.
Tip: Get your ticket at a discount from the Tisza Balneum hotel.
Our 3 night stay at the Tisza Balneum Thermal hotel was the perfect end to our country break – with half-board (breakfast and dinner included) we didn’t have to leave the hotel. The only decision we had to make was what to choose from the buffet! So how much did our lovely suite end up costing us? 135,162 Forints or $502 USD for 3 nights, an average of $167 per night. Hungary is a good value.
After Tiszafüred our relaxing 8 night country break was over. It was back to beautiful Budapest for 3 more nights before heading to the next destination – Vienna
Travel: Drive from Tiszafüred to Avis downtown Budapest – 1.5+ hours.
Lake Tisza and Hortobágy Handy Resource List
- Hortobagy National Park
- Máta stud farm horse show – April through October — 10.00 AM, 12.00 noon, 2.00 PM, 4.00 PM
- Hortobágy (steppe) UNESCO site.
- Tiszafured attractions