If you ever plan a trip to Lake Balaton, the peninsula Tihany is absolutely a must-visit. Where Balatonfüred is the Saint Tropez of Hungary, Tihany represents the charming Provence. A visit to Tihany is one that will trigger all your senses, as in Tihany, everything rotates around lavender. Cakes, ice-cream, lemonades, giftshops, festivals, decoration; this is lavender heaven! If you are looking for the most adorable town in Hungary, don’t look any further. Picturesque streets with cobble stones, vintage giftshops, handcrafted designs and cute ice-cream shops; Tihany is in one word just adorable.
You might think that this just sounds too much, but it is not! Because it is backed up with a fascinating history about the first pharmacies in Hungary, the medicinal purposes of essential oils such as lavender and the uniqueness of the geological area that made all of this happen in the first place. Tihany is the protector of Dr. Bittera Gyula’s legacy, who represented the lavender in Tihany since 1926. Dr. Bittera Gyula, a chemical engineer, discovered during his career the healing powers of essential oils, and mad it his purpose to find the perfect circumstance to grow herbs. In Tihany, situated on the peninsula of Lake Balaton, on the fields near the peninsula’s Inner Lake (Belső Tó), he found the excellent spot to grow lavender. Ever since, Tihany has become the significant center of lavender in Hungary.
This doesn’t mean huge factories and mass productions, but instead you will find a small manufacture, ‘Tihanyi Levendula Manufaktura’, which strives to maintain the traditions of producing lavender oil. The manufacture, which is situated in a beautiful traditional house in Tihany, is open for visitors and free of charge. Inside, you can visit the exhibition dedicated to Dr. Bittera Gyula and his research, and travel back in time to the 1920’s Hungarian pharmacies. You can take a peek into the manufacture, where they produce lavender soaps, based on traditional methods, executed with modern means. On the first floor, you can find the shop, selling all their traditional and handcrafted products, from oils and cosmetics to pillows and decorations, celebrating Tihany’s precious lavender.
When visiting Tihany, I would wholeheartedly recommend you visiting this manufacture, in order for you to be able to appreciate Tihany not only for its looks, but also its meaningful history. However, just walking around in the old city center, sniffing up the atmosphere (literally!), is already a wonderful experience. Being situated on a peninsula, Tihany might just offer the most beautiful view over Lake Balaton. When you arrive to the old city center, I would recommend you to start off with a coffee at the coffeehouse Rege, with its panoramic view and its delicious lavender cheese cake it will give the best start of your Tihany experience.
Close to the coffeehouse, on the top of the hill, you will find the magnificent Abbey of Tihany. Again, this place plays a significant role in the Hungarian history. The 1055 charter establishing The Benedictine Abbey of Tihany is one of the first Hungarian language texts, and King Andrew I, the king who established the Abbey, is buried in the crypt underneath the 18th century baroque church. The last Hungarian king Charles IV and his wife queen Zita spent their last days in Hungary in the monastery. Charles IV was the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and spent his years after the fall of the Monarchy attempting to reclaim the throne. Both his attempts failed, which is why eventually he was exiled to the Portuguese island of Madeira, where he soon fell ill and died.
After taking in the magnificent panorama that the Abbey offers, and strolling around the cute streets with traditional folk houses, potteries, and the abundance of lavender products, a perfect place to conclude the Tihany experience is at the Echo Restaurant. By walking from the Abbey on the promenade next to the panoramic view, you will be led straight towards the restaurant, which offers an (if possible) even more stunning view for your lunch. And right there on that spot, while sipping from your lavender lemonade and enjoying the view, that is what Tihany is all about.
If you visit Tihany at the beginning of summer, around June, you absolutely should add a visit to the lavender fields as well, and to complete the lavender experience, you can buy a paper bag and harvest some lavender to bring a piece of beautiful Tihany home. It’s the most unique souvenir and also makes a great gift! If you like to add some activity to your visit, I would recommend hiking towards the Inner Lake (Belső Tó), and walk around the lake. The view is beautiful, and if you are lucky, you will encounter some Hungarian meerkats on the way!
Tihany is reachable by car, and/or ferry from Szántódrév to cross Lake Balaton from the southern part. With public transport it is also possible to reach Tihany, but unfortunately there are no direct connections, which makes it a pretty long journey, depending on where you are departing from. In summer time there might be some direct lines from Budapest, otherwise I would recommend booking a carpool service at Oszkár Telekocsi.