Aside from Budapest, my favorite part of Hungary is in the southwest, the area between the city of Pecs (European Cultural Capital, 2010) and Mohacs on the Danube River, the site of one of the most famous battles in European history. To see this area and to do it the justice it deserves, I believe that four days are necessary, and I recommend for your base the town of Siklos.
Siklos is a small town of 10,000 inhabitants, a stone’s throw from the Croatian frontier and well-positioned between Pecs and Mohacs, and in the heart of one of Hungary’s greatest wine routes. Siklos and the general region is now readily accessible from Budapest, along the spanking new M6 Motorway, as good as any German autobahn. Expect to arrive from Budapest in a little over two hours.
In a land generally known for its flatness, the south of Hungary has gently rolling hills, ideal wine country, and topping one small hill is the Castle of Siklos. Inhabited since Roman times, each subsequent authority -- Hungarians, Turks, Austrians -- added their own edifices and architectural stamps, creating an architectural goulash as varied and rich as the Hungarians themselves. The town also celebrates its diverse cultural inheritance; it has a restored mosque from the 15th century, the only one of its kind in Hungary, a Serbian Orthodox Church celebrating the legacy of Hungary’s once-vibrant Serbian community, and Catholic and Protestant Churches reflecting the Hungarians diverse religious roots.
Below the castle hill, a brisk wall from the castle, lies the Siklos Spa, a tastefully renovated thermal bath with 5,000 square meters of indoor and outdoor pools of various temperatures and mineral content, in an atmosphere both family friendly and hip. The kids will love the waterslides.
The best way to enjoy the pleasures of the spa, Siklos, and surrounding area is a sojourn at Hotel Castello, a modern hotel with all the conveniences you would expect from a four-star hotel. A stay at the hotel also provides gratis entrance to the spa, accessed by an enclosed, heated corridor; a blessing if visiting in the winter. After dips in the various pools, saunas, and salt rooms, highly trained masseuses are on hand to relieve the stresses of modern life, and an excellent hotel kitchen serves up fantastic Hungarian foods along with a variety of local wines. From the hotel, both Pecs and Mohacs, and the wine country in between, are short drives away, and there is no better way to lose the fatigue of the day than to soak in the spa and enjoy a great dinner at the hotel.
Next time, we’ll go from Siklos to Pecs.
Alex Billinis is a writer currently living in Serbia. He writes for numerous publications about travel, current events and economics. A Salt Lake City native and co-owner of a Utah-based real-estate company, he is the author of The Eagle Has Two Faces: Journeys Through Byzantine Europe. His Web site is www.alexanderbillinis.com.