After months of planning, it was finally here, our 'Ultimate Road Trip' as the boys like to call it. Even with all the research, we still had no real idea what to expect of Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia. Little did we know that the next few weeks would create memories of a family holiday we will treasure for many years to come!
We landed in Slovakia just before 11:00 and within the hour we had cleared passport control, baggage reclaim and collected our hire car - the beauty of hiring a car was that we now had the freedom to go wherever we wanted, and the flexibility to explore off the beaten track.
We headed south from Bratislava Airport, towards Hungary, stopping en route to purchase a motorway permit. (€14 for 10 days). Aiming for the road that runs parallel to the north side of Lake Balaton in Hungary, we drove through quaint villages with fruit stalls dotted along the side of the road. Maybe it took a little longer than if we had driven down the motorway but, personally, I felt it would be a much nicer drive - and as the map reader, I was in charge!
Our first week
On arrival at Club Abbázia (2833), our home for the first week, we parked our car in the pre-booked car park and got the key to our one-bedroom apartment in the main building, which was on the third floor and split over two levels. It was a lovely room, with skylights which gave us the most wonderful views of Keszthely. We dropped our bags in the room and went off to explore the resort grounds. The resort comprised of two buildings, and the swimming pool was situated just across a quiet road, in the grounds of the other apartments.
In the early evening, we took a stroll down to the lake through the tree-lined park. Even though we had read lots about Lake Balaton, we were still not sure what to expect and so we were all very excited to see Balaton for the first time. I have never seen anything like it - the sheer size of it, and the colours which reflected off the water at sunset; it was truly magical.
The next morning, after breakfast, we walked the short distance to the Varosi Strand club, which is the local lake club. The entrance fee was 2,500 HUF (£7) for a family ticket. Our young sons, Dylan and Ryan, were really happy to see that they were allowed inflatables in the lake, so we made a pit stop to pick up a crocodile and a submarine!
The lake was beautiful and had an array of restaurants to choose from for lunch. We tried some of the local favourites, including lángos, which is a type of fried bread with different toppings to choose from, known locally as Hungarian pizza - an acquired taste, but we were keen to try something new every day. We found Hungary to be really good value for money, and benefited from them using the Hungarian Forint rather than Euros. A meal for four was only 4,800 HUF (£13).
Time to relax
The lake club also had a swimming pool, play park and pedalos with slides attached to them to take out onto the lake, which became the boys' favourite activity! So, after lunch we hired the pedalo and headed out to the middle of the lake, where the boys spent the next few hours, jumping in and swimming around in the still waters of the lake.
After a busy few days we decided a day of relaxation was needed, so we made the most of the hotel swimming pool, which was set in the peaceful resort grounds. It wasn’t a huge pool, but it was enough for a relaxing swim after all the fun and excitement on the lake. It was very quiet, and we had the pool to ourselves for most of the day. We also challenged the boys to a game of table tennis, before the ball was hit over the wall into the neighbouring kindergarten!
Later that day, we took a walk up to the Festetics Palace, which was close to our resort, and we were completely blown away by the size and beauty of this building. Now a museum, this impressive building has history dating back hundreds of years.
We continued to explore the area and drove about 15 minutes to a different lake club, Gyenedias Lido Strand. It was a slightly cheaper entrance fee, but I imagine this was because it didn’t have its own pool, which didn’t matter to us, as the lake, once again, was in a charming setting with ample activities for the children, as well as lots of green open space and a sandy beach for us to set up camp for the day.
It was on one of our lakefront walks that we first tasted the amazing kurtos, also known as 'chimney cakes', which are made from sweet dough, rolled in sugar and then topped with either chocolate, nuts, or cinnamon, and which became a firm favourite for us. After dinner each night, while relaxing along the lakefront, kurtos became our evening treat.
We didn’t know this before we left, but 20 August is a national holiday in Hungary - St Stephen’s Day. They celebrate the foundation of the Hungarian State, a similar celebration to 4 July in America. This meant we were able to enjoy all-day celebrations along the lakefront, with live music and fireworks in the evening. The atmosphere was electric and so many locals turned out to join the celebrations.
Heading south of Lake Balaton
We decided to explore the south side of the lake to see if we could find any hidden gems. The south of Lake Balaton is renowned for its flatter terrain and many little resort towns, being much less mountainous than the north, but equally spectacular.
Coming across the tiniest of resort towns near Fonyód there was a restaurant where we stopped for a spot of lunch, and an ice cream shop. Looking around the restaurant, we saw lots of locals sharing a dish that looked amazing, so that was an easy decision... We ordered 'one of those'. Quite a heavy dish, but very tasty, the platter included pörkölt, a Hungarian stew with paprika, plus their popular cigáypecsenye, which was a spicy roast pork dish with rice.
After a week at the Club Abbázia it was time to say goodbye to Lake Balaton and start our adventures over the western side of Hungary, towards the Slovenian border. Before leaving, however, we took a drive into Tapolca where we explored the town and underground caves. A visit to the caves cost 5,900 HUF (£16), and they were utterly breathtaking. We boated through the crystal clear waters of the cave system, captains of our own boat. The cave roofs were very low, so the boys found this all very amusing - especially having a 6ft 6” dad!
In just under two hours we arrived at the Abbázia Country Club (5328) for our second week's stay, after another beautiful drive through country roads which went on for miles. Dylan took a beautiful photo on his phone of a castle positioned perfectly on top of a hill.
The location of the resort itself was very rural, giving a real feel of calm, yet perfect for everything we had planned for the coming week. With the resort being so close to the Slovenian border, and within driving distance of Croatia, we knew we had a good week ahead.
As we pulled into the hotel car park we were stunned at how lovely it was. It was wonderfully laid out with everything we needed for our second week of adventures with the children, from horses in their stables and a park on site, to a swimming pool. It didn’t take long for the boys to get changed and jump straight in - they had the pool to themselves!
After a nice long swim, it was getting late so we went back to our room - we had a one-bedroom apartment, which was split over two floors, and was large with plenty of room for all of us - we spent the evening relaxing on our balcony, which had the most amazing views of the hotel swimming pool lit up by the moon in a clear sky.
Out of nowhere, we were woken at 03:00 to witness the most biblical electrical storm from our balcony. Because the resort was surrounded by fields, the fierce lightening lit up the dark skies - I have never witnessed such a beautiful and mesmerising display.
The following day we were eager to get out and about to explore the area, so we hired bikes from the hotel for just 1,500 HUF (£4). Cycling along the road with deep forests on either side, we headed into neighbouring Slovenia, as the boys wanted to say they had cycled into a different country. Once clearing the border markers, the roads and landscape opened up with rolling fields as far as the eye could see. The roads were super quiet and perfect for the boys to be able to lead us on the adventure.
As we got deeper into Slovenia, we felt as if we were uncovering secret villages. It was simply beautiful, with sunflower fields which were just turning, country roads which you could see winding through the fields for miles into the horizon.
We stopped to top up our water bottles from the fresh spring, then headed toward the northern border, crossing to get back into Hungary. Although we were still about nine miles away in Prosenjakovci, we didn’t mind, as we had the whole day and the boys were loving it. Between us and the border marker was an almighty hill! Even with the best will in the world, there was no way we were going to be able to cycle up it. This did mean at the top of this hill there was a good run back down it to be enjoyed - which was a great relief!
We had been out exploring most of the day and made it back to the hotel just as the sun was setting, which made the scenery even more spectacular. The ride back to the hotel, mainly downhill, was a perfect end to a perfect day. In total we covered about 18 miles. Our travels continued the day after, when we visited the Vinarium Lendava in Slovenia. A viewing tower set in the Lendava hills which stood at over 53 metres high. We climbed 240 steps to the top of the tower and were instantly rewarded by the most breathtaking 360-degree view of vineyards and rolling hills. The boys were pleased that they could see all four countries from this viewing point: Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria, thanks to the clear blue skies.
We were keen to see as many places as possible and, realising that we only had a few days left of our epic journey, we drove about an hour into Croatia. With a little research beforehand we knew we should head to a town called Varaždin.
For the last 20 years, at the end of August, the historical city transforms into a street and music festival celebrating Špancirfest. With the streets decorated in vibrant colours, live music and some of Europe's finest street performers and acrobats providing the live shows, it was a truly entertaining experience and a real bonus for us. With an array of children's activities too, it really was a day to see Croatia in all its glory.
If it wasn’t for the great location of the RCI resorts, we wouldn’t have been able to visit and experience all of those great places. Thank you RCI! Until next time...
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