Culturally and linguistically distinct from all of its immediate neighbours, Hungary is very much the ‘odd one out’ in Central Europe, but for all the most honourable reasons.
This is a nation whose capital, Budapest, can hold up a mirror to classical Vienna; it’s a world of well-preserved castles, seductively good wines and quiet stoic pride; a landscape of low-lying mountains, oak forests and thermal springs.
The Romans were the first to make use of the hot waters, originally for medicinal purposes. Today, the pursuit is relaxation and over time the bathhouses have grown into splendid architectural affairs, most notably in Budapest.
The capital is an elegant, stylish and lively city made up of two separate settlements clustered on either side of the Danube River: hilly Buda has a wealth of graceful Habsburg and neoclassical buildings, while sprawling Pest is its commercial centre with a generous scattering of art nouveau architecture and an ad-hoc party scene.
The city has long been the focus of Hungary’s artistic, musical and literary community and is by far the best place in the country for a choice of bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Smaller cities are equally architecturally fascinating and deserving of a visit in their own right: Pécs for its museums; Eger for it’s fortifications and infamous Bull’s Blood Wine; and Györ whose grand Basilica houses the golden herm of László.
Beyond these urban centres, Hungary’s bathes in natural delights. South west of Budapest is Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest body of freshwater, where locals spend hot summers cooling off in waters that average 20°C (68°F).
In winter, Hungary freezes, and thrill seekers head north to the Bakony Hills for the chance to ski through the forests before unwinding with a dip in the thermal spa.
It may be landlocked, but Hungary is a country content on ploughing its own furrow no matter what seeds its neighbours are sewing and is all the better for it.