Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape

Photo in the Public Domain.

Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape is part of the Tentative list of Hungary in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape comprises a hilly landscape of volcanic origin that has been exploited since the Middle Ages. The lands are used for viticulture. A variety of volcanic features can be seen, such as a basalt organ (Saint George Hill) and the stone seas of the Káli Basin. The proposed area lies on the north coast of Lake Balaton.

Map of Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

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UK - 04-May-21 -

Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape (T) by Squiffy

A cool September breeze riffled the branches of the fringing trees as I swam out into Lake Héviz. It was definitely better to be in the water than out on the manicured grass. 38 metres below the centre of the lake hot thermal water gushed forth from a fissure, meaning that the lake was roughly the temperature of a municipal swimming pool. And much like a swimming pool, I was not alone. Around me people swam, floated or just splashed in the shallows. And to my right, patients in white towelling robes sat out on the decking of the spire-roofed spa that projected out into the lake on piles like a British seaside pier. However no municipal pool I’ve ever visited has required me to periodically untangle my feet from water lilies or strings of algae.

It sometimes feels that there is a European UNESCO World Heritage ‘starter pack’: baroque palace, vineyard landscape, gothic cathedral, beech forest, Roman ditch. Plus, coming soon, spa resort. Hungary’s Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape tentative site manages to tick off a number of these in one go. Baroque palace? Yep, that’s the Festetics Palace in Keszthely. Vineyard landscape? Yep, plenty of references to viticulture shaping the landscape. Spa resort? Yes, two bookend the site, Héviz to the west and Balatonfüred to the east.

Lake Balaton is hard to miss on any map of Europe. At 77km (48 miles) long it is the largest European lake outside outside of Scandinavia. It stetches southwest to northeast. The south-eastern shore is a string of holiday resorts. The north-western is more rugged and interesting, and it is this shore that is captured by the tentative site. From west to east the main locations of the site are Lake Héviz, followed by the Festetics Palace in the town of Keszthely, the basalt buttes of the Tapolca Basin, the vineyards and hills of the Káli Basin, the rugged Tihany Peninsula protruding out into Lake Balaton like a turtle’s head, and then the town of Balatonfüred. Indeed, the area is already protected, both as Hungary’s Balaton Uplands National Park and also as the Bakony-Balaton UNESCO Geopark.

My exploration of the area was restricted purely to the western edge of this area whilst Interrailing through Central and Eastern Europe. Keszthely had been an unplanned stop, but certainly a pleasant one with its neat lakeside town centre and restaurants selling Lake Balaton pike-perch and Egri Bikavér ‘Bulls Blood’ wine. Getting there required changing trains from the main line running along the south-eastern shore of Lake Balaton at Balatonszentgyörgy. A further local line shadows the north-eastern shore through Tapolca and Balatonfüred.

The Festetics Palace sits in the north of Keszthely, an espresso-coloured confection of mansard roofs that wouldn’t look out of place in France topped by an onion-domed tower that definitely would. It dates from the second half of the 18th century, with significant additions in the 1880s. Part of the palace is open to the public as the Helikon Kastélymúzeum and a visit is highly recommended for bibliophiles purely for the dreamy galleried aristocratic library. The Festetics family also founded the Georgikon, the Europe’s first agricultural college, on site in 1797. So there’s that.

Lake Héviz is a 5 mile bus ride to the north-west of Keszthely. A low-rise town of Zimmer frei notices surrounds what is proudly declared to be ‘the second largest thermal lake in the world!’ I’ve had some difficulty ascertaining precisely where the actual largest thermal lake is – most links from a Google search point back to Héviz – but Lake Rotomohana in Rotorua, New Zealand, seems a decent bet. Maybe this explains why branding for Héviz now seems to have shifted to declaring it ‘the largest swimmable thermal lake in the world!’ And it’s certainly an interesting excursion, paddling through the lily pads in 30˚C water. The projecting spa buildings of the St Andrew’s State Hospital for Rheumatology and Rehabilitation, reconstructed in the late 1980s after a fire, give it a kind of Bond-villain-lair-esque atmosphere.

Hungary has proposed the Balaton Uplands as a Mixed site. This is a nonsense. Even with Europe’s first agricultural college the Festetics Palace is, at best, a middle-ranking palace largely extended fewer than 150 years ago. The nomination file states that ‘The Festetics Castle… may well vie with the beautiful chateaux of the Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes’. Which is an audacious level of hyperbole. Strip out the ‘cultural’ components and I suspect there could be a kernel – just a kernel – of a Natural site based on criterion vii only, relating to the relict volcanic landforms (thermal springs, basalt landscape etc). The problem for Hungary is that while these may be of some interest they are not unique. And there may well be more outstanding examples elsewhere – New Zealand probably has that in the bag with Tongariro National Park, the Auckland Volcanic Fields on its T-List, and the world’s actual largest thermal lake.  So the point of difference for Hungary is to demonstrate how the landscape has been impacted by the people living there – spas harnessing the waters at Héviz and Balatonfüred, the adoption of cultivation methods suited to the hills and basins.

I still don’t give it much of a chance though.

(Visited September 2003)

Full Name
Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape
Cultural Landscape - Continuing Natural landscape - Volcanic and thermal
2017 Revision

Includes former TWHS The Tihany Peninsula (1993)

2017 Added to Tentative List

The site has 4 locations

Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape: Tihany Peninsula (T)
Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape: Festetics Castle of Keszthely (T)
Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape: Historic quarter of Balatonfüred (T)
Balaton Uplands Cultural Landscape: Lake Hévíz (T)
WHS 1997-2024