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Where Cowboys Roam – Hortobágy National Park, Hungary

Hungary Footnotes

Vital statistics:

Capital: Budapest

an-aerial-view-of-budapest

An aerial view of Budapest

Population: 9.9 million

Language: Hungarian (Magyar). Most under-30s speak English.

Time: GMT+1 (Mar-Oct GMT+2)

International dialling code: +36

Visa: Not required by UK nationals

Money: Forint (HUF), currently around HUF370 to the UK£. There are ATMs in Debrecen and Hortobágy village.

When to go

April, May, June: Optimum time for migrant birds arriving at Fishponds and on puszta. Museums open. St George’s Day Driving Out Celebration, when herds return to pastures, held in late April.

July, August: Hot for activities. Less bird action too.

September, October: Good climate. Autumn migrations of thousands of common cranes.

November, December: Winters can be cold, with snow. Many museums and restaurants close.

Health & safety

Take an EHIC card, and take out comprehensive travel insurance. Consider insect repellent to deter mosquitoes and ticks.

Further reading & information

The Nature Guide to the Hortobágy & Tisza River Floodplain (Crossbill Guides, 2008)

Collins Bird Guide (Collins, 2010) is a comprehensive field guide to birds of Europe.

Hortobágyi Nemzeti Park, 1:90,000 map (available locally), shows points of interest, roads, tracks and restricted areas.

http://www.iranydebrecen.hu/en — official site for Debrecen and surrounding areas

Planning guides: Hungary travel guide

The trip

Getting there: Numerous airlines fly from the UK to Budapest, which is 240km by road from Debrecen. Wizz Air flies direct from Luton to Debrecen. Flights cost from £25 one-way; flight time is just under three hours. Change money at the café in Debrecen’s (tiny) airport. The airport bus into town costs HUF500.

Getting around: Frequent buses connect Debrecen to Hortobágy. Singles cost HUF900; journey time is 45 minutes. Bikes can be hired from Hortobágy’s Visitor Centre or Hortobágy Okotura.

Cost of travel: Hungary is good value. Less than £50 a day should cover public transport, accommodation, bike hire, entry fees, tours and meals. Save by camping or spend more to enjoy excellent meals and wines.

Accommodation:

the-fecskehaz

The Fecskehaz youth hostel

The Old Post Office Inn was built in the 1690s so has history and atmosphere, as well as a csardas folk band in the cellar restaurant. B&B doubles from HUF16,800 (£45).
The Okotura has rooms and camping.
The Fecskehaz, or ‘Swallow House’ is a youth hostel but has individual en-suite rooms and is a good option for low season.

Food & drink

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The Ikon Restaurant – Debrecen, Hungary

The justly famous Debrecen sausage uses mangalica pork, paprika and garlic. Palinka is the potent local fruit brandy. Hungary keeps many of its best wines for itself; try Vincze merlot.
At Hortobágyi Csarda chef Istvan Katona cooks traditional herdsmen’s dishes using local produce; try his slambuc (herdsmen’s stew).
Ikon restaurant re-imagines classic puszta dishes; the ‘Menu 20 Mile’ encompasses organic meats from Hortobágy puszta.

Hortobágy highlights

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A pygmy cormorant

Halasto: (Fishponds) Spot pygmy cormorant, avocets, and many more species.

Máta Stud Farm: Horse-drawn carriages head into the pastures to meet csikos demonstrating their skills.

Puszta Safari: Ride a bus among free-grazing Przewalski’s horses, auroch cattle and wild ass.

Állatpark: See unique rare breeds in a traditional farm setting and try herdsmen’s skills such as lassoing.

MODEM: Debrecen’s cool contemporary art museum hosts exhibitions about the puszta.

Pásztormúzeum: The Herdsmen Museum explores the fascinating history of the puszta’s rural traditions.

Madárpark: Hortobágy’s bird hospital rescues local wildlife for treatment and return to the wild.

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