Hold on to your horses in Hungary's countryside

An excitable steed didn't stop the inexperienced Polly Evans from falling for the scenery around Lake Balaton

Csavargo was cantering up the hill like a horse on the run from a cleaver-wielding chef. He hurtled round the path's tight little bends and skimmed under the trees' low branches so that I had to lie low on his neck to avoid an unseating. It was all very exciting, but I had a problem: I was finding it difficult to communicate to this horse that, really, I'd quite like him to slow down. His name translated from Hungarian as "Vagabond", but rather than a gentle itinerant, this equine wanderer was scorching up the slope like a Magyar who'd sniffed an Ottoman scalp.

The trouble was, I didn't speak Csavargo's language. The issue wasn't the Hungarian – Csavargo was almost as useless at that as I was – but that I'd never really ridden horses in Europe before. All my previous equestrian adventures had taken place in Argentina, where we'd ridden cowboy style. I'd subsequently been for a couple of lessons at Stag Lodge Stables, on the edge of Richmond Park, where a delightfully precise instructor named Rita had been most insistent about the position of my legs and the dreadfully erratic rhythm of my rising trot. I'd taken only a couple of classes, though. I'd never reached the chapter entitled "How to Stop Your Horse Charging into the Bottom of the One in Front". But then, just when a collision seemed inevitable, we arrived at the top of the hill and came out of the forest. Following the lead of the other horses Csavargo slowed to a walk.

From this high point, the rural panorama of the Balaton region stretched out before us. This was wine land, and we rode through fields of vines that stretched taut in rigid rows, their grapes recently harvested. Speckled across the vineyards were tiny two-storey houses that couldn't have squeezed in more than one small room to a floor, each the master of its own few rows of grapes. The houses were immaculate, with perfect paintwork and tended gardens. Every now and then, a square church steeple stretched higher than the rest, towering above a building painted marzipan yellow, or palest almond, or Christmas-cake white. On the horizon, the waters of the great Lake Balaton blazed in a streak of reflected light.

Horses grazed in fields and gardens. The Hungarians have a long tradition of equestrian pursuits and the thudding of hooves still beats loud through the country's veins. The early Hungarians arrived on horseback from central Asia more than 1,000 years ago; centuries later, mounted Magyars jousted with the invading Ottomans, while nomadic herdsmen roamed the Great Plain into recent centuries. "That castle was built by the Magyars as a defence against the Turks," Gyula pointed up to some craggy ruins on a nearby hilltop. Gyula owned the stables that Csavargo called home, and the adjoining guesthouse in which I was staying. Despite the construction of castles whose remains now litter the land, the Hungarians ultimately failed in their resistance. In the early 16th century, this part of Hungary ceded to Ottoman rule, an occupation that would last more than 150 years. Each August, Gyula and his horse-riding friends dress in robes and armour and, for three days, they gallop around brandishing flags and sabres in a show that re-creates these equestrian battles.

The only invasion this area sees today is of the tourist kind. Lake Balaton, with its warm, shallow waters and 125 miles of shoreline, has long been a top choice for Eastern European holidaymakers. Now the British are trickling here too, Ryanair having added Balaton to its list of destinations. Most people come in July and August, thronging to the resorts along the southern shore of the lake for swimming, watersports and nightlife. Outside the short summer season, on the more peaceful northern side of the lake, the countryside is quiet and perfect for hiking, cycling, or simply bathing in one of the area's thermal spas.

It was hard to imagine this harmonious idyll ever being truly overthrown by the tourist hordes. As we approached our lunch spot, even Csavargo seemed to have given up the fight. We tethered the horses to trees, then greeted Gyula's parents who had driven out to meet us with a picnic: homemade meatballs, homemade salami, homemade pickles and even homemade wine.

When we had no more space for so much as the tiniest gherkin, we packed up the remains of the picnic and continued our horseback tour. We climbed again, on to paths above the vineyards, where the trees were heavy with fruit. The hills that rose around us were sometimes pointed in perfect cones, others were squat and flat. The land here was volcanic; for years basalt mining had been a mainstay of the economy.

I reached up to pick an apple. Hoping to mollify Csavargo, I offered him the uneaten core. But as he craned round his head to take my half-chewed gift, I failed him one last time. I accidentally dropped it.

How to get there

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) offers return flights to Balaton from £192. Polly Evans took a riding tour with Chief Gyula's Riding Empire (gyulavezer.hu). She stayed at the NaturMed Hotel Carbona in Heviz (00 36 83 501 500; carbona.hu), which offers doubles from E122 b&b. She travelled with Fox Autorent (00 36 1 382 900; fox-autorent.com); a week's car hire costs from E265.

Further information: Hungarian National Tourist Board (00800 36 000 000; gotohungary.co.uk).

Further reading Polly Evans is the author of 'On a Hoof and a Prayer: Around Argentina at a Gallop', published by Bantam, price £7.99

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home