CNN Travel has taken a fresh look at Lake Balaton and its importance to Central and Eastern Europe.
Reporter Nathan Kay writes that during the communist era, travel options were limited in Hungary and Central Europe, which meant Lake Balaton became the region's most popular vacation destination. Now, this large lake in western Hungary has once again become a popular holiday spot for people from all over Europe.
Lake Balaton means as much to Hungarians as the Riviera does to Westerners. Its popularity in recent years has skyrocketed, earning itself the nickname "The Hamptons of Hungary," a nod to the summer retreats on Long Island favored by wealthy New Yorkers.
The freshwater oasis is home to a picturesque 197-kilometer shoreline with public and private beaches, underwater cave galleries, volcanic hills, ancient fortresses and even a villa named after Fidel Castro. Siófok, on the southern bank, provides an array of bars and clubs for the younger crowd while the north shore is a little more sophisticated, with spas, vineyards and historic towns.
Large numbers descend upon the lake to take advantage of the water sports activities and to sunbathe on the beautifully kept beaches. Outside of the water, Balaton is fast becoming a major music and arts attraction and is now Hungary's second-most important food and wine region after Budapest.
Lake Balaton is becoming so popular that the Hungarian government recently allocated US$21 million for the modernization of the lake and its surrounding areas. The nearby Hévíz--Balaton Airport is currently in development to handle international flights, and new roads and railways are also being introduced.
Large numbers of tourists descended upon Lake Balaton this year, probably the most it has seen since communism.
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