Hungary’s pride: Lake Hévíz

Even though I visited uncountable times this lake in my life, and indeed it’s very popular among locals, as well as very much appreciated by the tourists from neighboring countries, at the same time I have the feeling that it’s still kind of unknown in other parts of Europe, not to mention world-wide.

Lake Hévíz (pronounced ‘hey-wiz’ and literally means ‘hey-water’ in Hungarian ☺️) is the world’s second-largest thermal lake, but biologically the biggest active natural lake. Besides that it is the biggest thermal lake in Europe. Impressive, isn’t it?

Thanks to the lake, Hévíz throughout the years became a vivid spa town, visited all-year-long by tourists. In Hungary, for instance, Hévíz was the second most popular city after Budapest in several years, in terms of the number of nights the guests spent at commercial accommodations.

It’s located in Zala County, in Hungary, about 8 kilometres (5 miles) from Keszthely – the picturesque town, that is also known as the capital of Balaton region.

Hévíz is located just right next to Balaton’s capital: Keszthely
The lake is located within a big greenery, worth to take a stroll around

The history and the properties of the lake

“The lake’s healing properties have been well known for centuries people lived here even at the end of the Stone Age. The foundation of bath culture was laid by the Romans in the 2nd century. Ancient coins found in Lake Hévíz proved that the Romans were probably the first to take advantage of the lake’s healing qualities.”

The city and the bath began developing significantly in the 18th century, related to the Festetics family, who started scientific research about using the water for healing. A wooden bathing house was built, and soon the bath looked more or less as it does today. Hévíz became famous all over the country. At the beginning of the 20th century, hotels and restaurants were built. Treatments based on the healing waters were conducted under the supervision of specialized doctors.

“The first doctor to sign a contract to come here permanently, Dr. Vilmos Schulhof, founded a hospital in 1911 to meet the need for modern physiotherapy. Today, the St. Andrew’s Hospital for Rheumatology and Rehabilitation is a renowned institution.”

Its temperature is affected by the combination of hot and cold spring waters, coming from 38 meters underground. The water breaks out from a spring cave, at approximately 410 liters per second, with a temperature of 40 °C. The biological stability of the lake is shown by the temperature of the water, which has not changed for years and even on the coldest winter days doesn’t drop below 24 °C. That makes bathing possible in the lake year round. In the summer, the water temperature can reach 37 °C.

Not to mention the water’s medical healing effects. It would be really challenging to enumerate all the verified benefits of the lake, and what kind of diseases it is recommended by doctors for – starting from rheumatic musculoskeletal disorders to inflammatory joint and spinal diseases.

The facilities

  • Well, the overall management is not the best, but you can get along!
  • The current spa building is built in the centre of the lake with wings from which you can step down into the water and swim around, or sun decks where you can relax. As you walk through the complex which is pleasantly warm inside, there are plenty of sun loungers with people relaxing although unfortunately, due to the syndrome of reserving a lounger with your towel, there are usually limited places you could find to sit, even though plenty of sun-loungers are unoccupied.
  • The place is quite clean, but the changing rooms are tiny and not separated between men and women and sometimes you need to queue in your wet bathing suit to get a free cabin to change.
  • You will be given a plastic bracelet with microchip that get you through the turnstyles in to the communal changing rooms with lockers. You need to scan your bracelet on a machine to tell you which number locker to use, then find the locker and use the bracelet again to unlock it.
  • You need to have your own slippers (mandatory) as the hallways around the bathing house could be slippery.
  • The staff is not too friendly, but for sure they are sharing the necessary information. Besides Hungarian they usually speak German and Russian – due to the number of tourists coming from these countries, and just then English.
  • It’s easy to park on the opposite side of the road there is a big parking lot, out of season for free of charge.
  • There are two bars inside the bathing house, with some basic snacks and food options, coffee, and mainly non alcoholic drinks, and they accept credit cards, too.
  • You can rent floats too, and it’s highly advised as after a while you can be easily exhausted in the water. Many swimmers of all ages are usually floating with foam or rubber rings, an ingongruous sight that you’d normally only expect to see with children. The lake is large and after a while you’d want to stop swimming to float in the warm water, hence the rubber rings. But for the renting you need to be prepared with cash.
  • There are significant discounts for retired people.
  • There is a great sauna complex, massage center, with different mud treatments.
  • You can swim in and out from the inside part of the bathing house to the outside.
  • There are also water massage equipments established under the water, you just need to follow the queuing people in the water.
The main entrance of the Spa, called Festetics Bathing House

How to get there?

1. From Budapest: Hévíz is about a two-hour drive from Budapest. Highway M7 to Balatonújlak followed by Routes 76 and 71 is the quickest to get there. Trains run from Budapest’s Déli Station. Buses leave from the Népliget bus terminal.

2. From Balaton: I think that’s the most convenient option, if you anyhow spending your vacation around the lake, it’s very easy to jump on a local bus, or by car super easy to reach.

3. From Fly Balaton Airport: There are some direct charter flights from Germany and Russia during the season to this airport, which is only 25 minutes far away from Hévíz.

25 minutes by car from Fly Balaton (Hévíz-Balaton International Airport)

The Hungarians take the concept of wellness very seriously, based on an ideal of health and wellbeing more than beauty. There are so many different thermal baths and spas in Budapest and Hungary, that visiting one at least once during your stay is part of the Hungarian experience also to make you understand how important the tradition of thermal bathing in Hungary is. Lake Hévíz undoubtedly offers a unique experience, that you shouldn’t miss out.

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