Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Europe’s largest thermal lake – Heviz in Hungary

For ardent nature watchers, it is a fine example of the species. The taut skin stretches over the substantial curve, as though it is finely packed in, not a spare inch to be filled out. Fetch the harpoons – we’ve got one.
Either side of the protruding bulge of this most excellent corpulent beast are a pair of miniscule Speedos and a fulsome silver moustache, partly covered in the third ice cream of the day. A stirring sight and, amongst those sprawled along the banks of Gyógy-tó, one that is most definitely not alone. As is often the case with this sort of thing, the biggest wellness retreats act like a magnet to those who would be better off doing some hard laps rather than lounging around in the bubbles.

Europe’s largest thermal lake
Gyógy-tó in Heviz, Hungary, is Europe’s largest thermal lake, and it’s an extraordinary sight. Eating five hectares into the surrounding woodland, it is fed by a deep (and very hyperactive) thermal spring that ensures that the water temperature never dips below 26 degrees. Theoretically, it still makes for a nice warm dip even in the heart of a fierce central European winter, but in the summer it is primed for laziness.

Large pavilion
Right in the middle there is a big pavilion, which is described by just about every guidebook as fin-de-siècle, almost as though the writers have just copied each other, not knowing what it means.
Octopus-like would be a far better phrase. From the central head, tentacles are sprawled all over the lake, leading to sun-bathing platforms, changing rooms and all manner of secretive rooms. These are where the portly tourists have their backs pummelled, their faces doused in gunk and their mountainous guts covered with crisp white towels. Shoes must be removed, showers taken and sun protection cream eschewed – the magical waters of the lake must be protected at all times.
At the centre of the octopus, there is a taster. Deep down below the platforms is a darkened pool, in which a gaggle of sectagenarians hang on to a metal bar, all moving on one position every two minutes. It’s almost as though they’re on a conveyor belt, being fed to the hungry Kraaken at the bottom of the lake that has a penchant for wrinkly Hungarians.

Bond villain lair
Once out of the Bond villain lair, however, the lake is an idyllic watery playground. The woodland provides a soothing backdrop to what essentially is a lot of people who should probably know better floating around in rubber rings.
The vague sulphuric smell isn’t enough to deter these hardy adventurers, splish-splashing away in the warm, enveloping cocoon and wishing violent sunburn upon their shoulders. Some even break into a swim, such as the couple wearing matching swimming caps, patriotically emblazoned with the German flag. Not for long mind – just as far as the next pontoon to cling onto.

Getting to Heviz

Nearest international airport: The nearest is the former military base near Keszthely, known as FlyBalaton airport and used by the occasional budget airline, such as Ryanair. Most will fly into Budapest, however.

Using public transport: Trains go direct to Keszthely from Budapest. From there, take a bus to Heviz – it’s approximately 7km away.

More information

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