F1 2023 Insider's Guide No. 12 – Hungary

20 Jul 23


F1 2023 Insider's Guide No. 12 – Hungary

Once ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty and part of the pivotal Central European empire of Austria-Hungary, Hungary’s loss in World War I signalled the end of its empire and the loss of more than half of its lands to neighbouring countries. Now a smaller nation, but one which is still rich in history and natural sights, Hungary is a destination to discover. From castles to spas and goulash to red wines, the country is worth exploring. It hosts the next round of the Formula One World Championship at the Hungaroring near Budapest.

The location of the first Grand Prix behind the Iron Curtain in 1986 where Nelson Piquet surprised everyone by performing a near-impossible overtake on Ayrton Senna to win the race, the sinuous circuit has few straights and overtaking is notoriously difficult – but it is a challenge Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One® Team drivers Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso relish.

Where can you go to experience history?

Tapolca and Szigliget Castle – No wonder the guidebooks and the hotel staff will tell you to hit the road and head for Tapolca. It’s the perfect picture book Hungarian town which immediately makes your mind spin and think of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The yellow and pink coloured buildings of the old town tumble down to Köztársaság Square with its monuments and churches. Stroll over to Lake Malom where you can swim in the refreshing waters before heading up to Szigliget Castle. This is one of the most impressive fortresses in the country, towering over the valley below. It dates back to 1260 and you get a sense of all the vicissitudes of history its rock-solid walls have witnessed over the centuries, of empires coming and going but architecture remaining.

Where can you relax?

Budapest’s spas After a frenetic day at the track what could be better than winding down in the warm waters of the natural springs that are famous around the world? Budapest has been a spa destination for centuries and people have known the restorative – and some would say medicinal – value of the warm mineral waters for that whole time. The indoor Gellert Baths ooze imperial decadence as you bathe beneath grand ceilings and imagine what Hapsburg life would have been like. The Széchenyi Baths are the iconic baths of Budapest – a yellow pool house presiding over a huge outdoor pool. Fun fact: look for the old men submerged and playing chess on the outdoor boards that predominate here.

What is Budapest nightlife famous for?

Ruin bars – The collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the Warsaw Pact in the 1990s left Hungary newly independent again but also scratching its head as to what to do with decades of Soviet era architecture that was not fit for purpose. Coupled with economic woes which meant that historic buildings in the city centre were crumbling, a plan was hatched which would make small scale interventions and restorations possible: turn the ruins into bars. Budapest became the nightlife capital we know now in the early 2000s and Szimpla Kert started an unstoppable band wagon. Nowadays the city also has ruin bars like Mazel Tov and Instant Fogas which stay open late and are perfect in summer with huge open courtyards, relaxed vibes, and cheap drinks.

How can you feel like you’re at the seaside?

Lake Balaton – Central Europe’s largest lake feels more like the seaside than being inside a land-locked country. Because it is so big and because Hungary does not have a coast, it has a special importance. You’ll find people from Gyor and Budapest chilling in the hotels at resorts like Siofok, but also people from around Europe – including Germans who remember when those from the East and West could holiday here together in Communist times when the government built huge hotels along the shores. You can enjoy beach life in front of the hotels or escape to quieter spots like the Tihany peninsula. Interesting fact: with an average temperature of 25-26 C in the summer months, swimming here is a joy.

Where can you go underground at a UNESCO-recognised national park teeming with caves?

Aggtelek National Park One of the world’s most impressive cave systems brings potholers and intrigued visitors from across the globe to Hungary. Drive the two hours from Budapest to the north of the country and among the dramatic mountains and racing green forests you’ll discover the legendary Aggtelek National Park. Inscribed in 1995 by UNESCO as a globally important natural monument, there are hundreds of karst caves – some of which have not even yet been fully explored or even discovered; many of them extend over a national border into Slovakia. Join a tour or just explore and stare in awe at these natural rocky wonders.

How can you enjoy Budapest’s hottest new address?

Verno House – Travellers who crave a stay with style have been heading to Verno House since its inception in December 2022. Its roots stretch back further though - this is a building of the Imperial era that has been sensitively restored and basks in its new plumage - a palette of autumnal greens, greys and browns mixed with some mid-Century furniture and lighting. In-house restaurant The Flava has been receiving plaudits for its locally-focussed cooking, such as aged Hungarian rib eye or filet mignon followed by nougat babka. The central location sees the whole of Budapest’s sights just a short stroll away.

What is the swishest nocturnal haunt in Hungary?

The Corvinus – During the week of the Hungarian Grand Prix or even throughout the rest of the summer, Hungary’s place to be seen after dark is at the Kempinski Corvinus. This grand dame of the Budapest hotel scene offers numerous night-time choices. Nobu is obviously one of the hottest tables in town, serving its Japanese classics, while ES Bisztro offers modern takes on Hungarian dishes. For drinks, The Blue Fox Bar (a Top 500 Bar in the World) is a cocktail-lover’s dream. Crashing upstairs in the beautiful bedrooms is a great idea after a night of indulgence.

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