When the Magyar tribe rode their horses from the Ural mountains west to the Carpathian basin in 986 AD, to establish what has become modern Hungary, they were occupying a land which already had a strong spa tradition.
In Budapest alone there are more than 130 thermal springs. Thirty of which are tapped for Spas. The Romans laid the foundations of a Hungarian spa culture - the ruins of their aqueducts and baths can still be seen in Obuda, the old part of Buda. Later the Turks, during the time of the Ottoman empire, built imposing bathhouses, four of which are still operating today.
The transition from communist rule in Hungary ten years ago was less dramatic than that of neighbouring European countries; nobody was killed, there were hardly any demonstrations and the world’s press showed little interest.
In any event, the Hungarians never made good communists. Today it is almost as if the regime which ruled the country for forty years never existed. The only remnant is the ubiquitous Trabant motor car - and there are even few of those - coughing and spluttering their two-stroke way along the modern high roads.
At the dawn of time, the region was covered by the Pannon Sea. When the land mass lifted, due to the movement of the geological plates which created the Alps, the Carpathian Basin was created.
The remains of this sea can now be seen as Lake Balaton, the largest fresh water lake in Europe, over 50 miles long and up to 5 miles wide covering an area of 230 square miles - larger even than Lake Geneva.
This Balaton region benefits from “the pannonian climate” with nearly 2000 hours of sunshine each year. In summer the temperature is frequently over 30¡C with little humidity.
The drive to earn foreign currency fuels the development of the tourist industry. This, in turn, is driving the development of modern spa hotels, the best examples of which are at the traditional health resort of Heviz.
Heviz is about 120 kms from the Austrian border and 8 kms from the western end of Lake Balaton. It has Europe’s largest thermal lake. Covering an area of 11 acres and fed from underground springs at a rate of 23 million gallons per day, the water temperature in the lake almost never falls below 30¡C, even in mid-winter.
Rather like the spas of the Roman era, people of all kinds and nationalities (those fortunate enough to have heard of it) flock here. It is really attractive with floating lilies and Lotus blossoms; and spa goers relax in its shallow waters chatting to total strangers.