- 10 Apr 2012 9:00 AM
This mountain town is dotted with wooden houses, some of which actually date from the late 19th century, and all in a style based on the traditional buildings of the local Góral people. The main pedestrian street is super-touristy but I couldn’t resist the main souvenir… cheese. In adorable shapes and lots of flavors. We brought home tons. And the Poles in this part of the country know how to grill, too.
The food was unbelievable, grilled meats of every kind, paired with pierogi filled with cheesy-meaty-spicy delights. Everyone raves about Zakopane for skiing, but there are lots of places to hike (250km of trails) and bike here, and if you’re not up to the task, you can hop on a horse-drawn cart driven by a burly Góral man in colorful local costume. Commercial site www.zakopane.com has lots of information.
6. Fertőtó, or Neusiedlersee
This lake on the Austro-Hungarian border gives you the best of both worlds. There are things to see on both sides, and you can bike all the way around for a binational biking holiday. The path around the lake is 132km (94km of which are in Austria and 38 in Hungary), and there are 500km of trails in the region to explore, all of them flat, meaning they’re great for families.
There’s even a bike ferry that shortens the route around the lake to “just” 82km. Just biking from one charming town to another is enough of a thrill, and you can swim in the shallow lake or take a sailboat ride or go windsurfing on the lake.
We even went there once in winter and had a great skate on the lake. I recommend staying in one of the charming inns in one of the Austrian villages, and be sure to eat at “heuriger,” a kind of outdoor resto-bar with plates of luscious hams and cheeses served with the local Blaufrankisch, or in Hungarian, Kékfrankos, red wine. Or beer, of course. Here is general information in English on the whole Austrian region (the Austrians are admittedly better at tourist info) and info on cycling.
Oh wait! Do you have kids aged 3-12 or so? Then visit the nearby FAMILYPARK! This is a fabulous theme park (with a dumb name) geared toward these smaller ones rather than the roller coaster crowd. Great for a whole day. Open March through September. My daughter just reminded me to include it!
7. The Esterhazy palaces
Here is another binational idea for you. Visit the two palaces of the Esterhazy family, one in Austria and one in Hungary, just 44km apart. Here, you can peek into the lives of a family that once owned more than 700 thousand acres in this neighborhood, and Nikolaus I, who so fell in love with Versailles that he decided to build his own in Hungary.
The “Hungarian Versailles” was completed in 1766 and hosted Haydn and other great composers and musicians of the era. The Esterhazy palace in Austria was completed in 1682, is actually much smaller, but has a vibrant cultural life in its spectacular theater, reminiscent of Budapest’s Opera House. Visiting both also provides insight on funding for reconstruction after WWII, and throughout the communist years in Hungary.
Though Hungary has done a wonderful job renovating the palace, the Austrian one is in better shape. For information on the Hungarian one in Fertőd - click here and for the the Austrian one here.
How about riding bikes on old railway tracks? On draisinen, to be specific, special bike-cars made for the rails, and 4 to 10 people can ride one! There’s even one where you sit in a circle, with holes for your large beer… Anyway, what a fantastic way to make use of old railroad tracks!
This is in Oberpullendorf, Austria, about 220km from Budapest. In the U.S., the so-called greenways movement is converting railroads into bike paths, but this is even more ingenious. It was my father-in-law’s idea – he loves both bikes and trains – and the whole family, 6 adults and 3 kids, went together.
The route is 23km, dotted with convenient stops for food and ice cream, and at the end, buses will take you back to the beginning. Which end? Well, we recommend starting on an odd-numbered date, when the trip starts in Oberpullendorf and finishes in the wine-rich town of Horitschon (my husband says visit the organic Weninger winery for the best Blaufrankisch and Syrahs in the region), and equally importantly, more of the trip is downhill!
Book in advance, because it gets full. Unfortunately the website is only in German and Hungarian, but do your best with it, because this is a family holiday not to be missed!