Located in Zala country in about 200 kms from Budapest, Hévíz is famous for its thermal water which is in fact the largest biologically-active natural thermal lake in the world. The thermal water of Lake Hévíz breaks out from an underwater spring cave at a temperature of 40 °C, but even on the coldest days, water temperate doesn’t drop below 25 °C. This makes bathing possible even in wintertime. Imaging swimming in a clear, warm lake among colorful waterlilies surrounded by forest trees and willows. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
Legends and History
There are many legends about the extraordinary healing powers of the lake. According to one of them, Virgin Mary listened to the prayer of a Christian nurse wanting to cure a paralyzed child and opened a spring. From the warm thermal water and the steaming mud erupting from deep underground, the sick child was completely healed. The legend dates back to the Roman times and the mentioned child was apparently East Roman emperor Flavius Theodosius, who declared Christianity in his empire in 391. Whether the legend is true or not, the spring has been feeding lake Hévíz ever since.
Although the foundations of bathing culture have been laid already by the Romans, significant development of the spa hasn’t started until the 18th century. During the latest reconstructions, new buildings were added to the lake housing pleasure pools, a wellness department with a sauna block, a therapy department with hydrotherapy, massage treatments and mud treatment rooms, examination rooms, changing rooms, catering units and spacious resting areas, making the spa a very enjoyable place to visit.
The Spa Town of Hungary
Today, the town’s healing reputation extends far beyond the borders of Hungary. As the country’s second most visited town after Budapest, Hévíz recorded over a million overnight stays in 2017. The majority of the tourists come from Germany, Russia and Austria, the rest from all over the world.
People come to Hévíz for healing and relaxation. Regular bathing in the lake eases rheumatic pains, while drinking the water aids digestive disorders. But many say that the lake heals not only the body but also the soul. The secret lies not just in the water, but in the peaceful atmosphere of the town, the forest walks and therapeutic treatments, such as the mud pack, the weight bath and the various medical massages. In recent decades, a flourishing wellness industry has been established around Hévíz with a great number of modern wellness hotels, massage and beauty salons.
Things to Do in HévÍz
Although Hévíz is quite small, there are a couple of things to do here other than bathing. The town has a pedestrian shopping area with many souvenir shops, boutiques, cafés and ice cream parlors. At the beginning of the shopping street, there’s a Tourinform Office, offering tourist information about programs and activities in the area. There is also a bicycle rental service in the office.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays there’s a local farmer’s market selling home-made products like honey, pickles, milk and cheese, fruits and veggies, fresh bread, sausages and home-made cakes. Apart from groceries, visitors of the market can buy handcrafted goods such as pots, baskets and homemade soaps.
The Egregy district of Hévíz is known for its wine cellars and gastronomy. From the city center you can reach the wine cellars in a pleasant 25-minute walk – passing the Church of the Heart of Jesus at the end of Zrínyi Street or the Roman excavations at the end of Attila Street. In the evenings, wineries and restaurants between the vineyards are full. Guests who are pleasantly drowsy from bathing can refresh themselves here with a nice dinner or wine tasting, accompanied by live music. In addition to traditional Hungarian cuisine, guests can sample international cuisine on the open terraces of the restaurants or in the cozy wine cellars.
Hévíz and Surroundings
Located only 5 kms from Hévíz at the western end of Lake Balaton, the charming town of Keszthely offers many attractions on its own. With its cozy main square, Gothic Franciscan Church and pedestrian shopping street, Keszthely is one of the most popular towns to visit around Balaton Lake. Keszthely also has a nice lake promenade with many restaurants and a splendid beach which is highly recommended to visit during the hot summer months. Moreover, Keszthely gives home to one of Hungary’s most beautiful baroque castles, the 18th century Festetics castle. The castle today operates as a museum featuring various exhibitions. The Festetics family was one of the most significant noble families in Hungary who played an important role in the political, economic, scientific, and cultural life of the country.
The Festetics castle has a stunning park, which is now a nature reserve and one of Hungary’s few historical gardens. The park has been fully renewed in 2015. It now has an impressive palm house with various exotic plants and a bird park. There are currently about 40 species of waterfowl living in the bird park along with peacocks and pheasants. But visitors can also meet birds from around the world, including those from Australia, South America, and China. The world’s smallest water bird, the hottentotta duck, also lives in the park.
Kehidakustány & Zalacsány
Just 13 kms from Hévíz, Kehida Spa & Thermal Bath in Kehidakustány welcomes visitors all year long with a three-story indoor adventure spa, a children’s pool, an outdoor pool with a pool bar, a wave pool, a sauna oasis, a Kneipp treading pool, a thermal bath for medicinal purposes, a wellness section with various massage treatments, and a restaurant.
Just outside Kehidakustány is a lovely little village called Zalacsány. Zalacsány gives home to Hungary’s most beautiful 18-hole golf court called Zala Springs Golf Resort. Those who enjoy playing golf or just want to have a delicious lunch in a very pleasant surrounding shouldn’t miss it. The resort has some very modern accommodations as well. On the outskirts of Zalacsány is a beautiful baroque castle which now functions as a wellness hotel. The Batthyány Castle Hotel is situated in a quiet, relaxing environment surrounded by an ancient park, an open-air swimming pool, a children’s playground, beach volleyball and tennis courts, bar skittles, a grill terrace and a bar. The Castle Hotel also has a great restaurant, an indoor thermal pool, a jacuzzi and a sauna block as well.
Hungary is quite spoiled when it comes to thermal waters as only 30 kms from Hévíz, there is another great spa town called Zalakaros. Although Zalakaros doesn’t have a thermal lake, its medicinal water is one of the best in Europe. The town awaits visitors all year long with a wonderful spa and thermal bath, a medicinal center, an adventure park with a roller coaster (Zobori élménypark), some great hotels including 4-star superior Karos Spa, and many restaurants featuring delicious local dishes and wines.
Deep among the Zala Hills, Zalaszántó gives home to one of Europe’s largest Buddhist stupas. The 30-meter-high snow-white Buddhist church located on top of the 316 meter-high Világvári Hill is a symbol of peace. Colorful prayer flags swirl around it, mantra music plays and the smell of incense is in the air. In 1993, the church has been sanctified by the Dalai Lama himself in a great celebration with the purpose to radiate peace and peace-loving thinking all over the world.
How to Get to Hévíz?
There are many ways to get to Hévíz from Budapest. By car, it takes 2 hours to get there using the M7 motorway. There’s also a direct bus leaving from Népliget bus station about every two hours. You can also reach Hévíz by train. Just take a train to Keszthely. From the Keszthely train station there is a regular bus service to Hévíz every 15 minutes. If you come from outside of Hungary, it’s probably best to fly. There is a Hévíz-Balaton Airport in Sármellék which welcomes charter planes all day long. From the airport, you can use a transfer service to get to Hévíz.