Where Cowboys Roam – Hortobágy National Park, Hungary
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
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.
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
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.
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.