The Mátra Hills: you can't go anywhere higher in Hungary: the Mátra range
of hills contains the country's highest villages and two highest mountains,
the 3,326 ft. (1014 m) Kékes, and Galyatető (3,162 ft./964 m). On a clear
day, from the lookout terrace of the television mast built on the top of Kékes
you can see not only the northern central mountains but also the more distant
Tátra range. Popular all-year picnic spots and hotels are to be found in
the centres of the hill region; some, at Mátraháza (C4) for example, have
been established since the 1930s.
But this is the not the end of region's roll of superlatives. Here, for instance,
is the country's most visited place of pilgrimage, the Szentkút (literally "Holy
Well") at Mátraverebély (C4), where festivals in honour of the patron saint
are held on 15th August and 8th September. The shrine of the Virgin Mary
has been visited by pilgrims since the thirteenth century, and nowadays
tens of thousands make the journey in the hope of cures.
The whole area is rich in springs and all forms of natural beauty, attracting
a good many walkers and hikers. It is also a favourite hunting ground for
serious mineral collectors, for the wealth of ores and crystals to be found.
There are many attractive routes across the hills, among them a 35 mile
track which keeps to the ridges and is the route of the annual Mátrabérc performance
walk. It starts from Sirok (D4), the site of one of Hungary's finest
mediaeval castle ruins, a sight worth seeing if you are not put off by a certain
amount of walking.
From Sirok it's not far to a much newer place of interest: Hungary's only curative
dry spa, the Mátraderecske (D4) mofette. Ten years ago, there was a
sizeable escape of the colourless, odourless – but deadly – carbon dioxide
gas from a fault deep in the earth. Initially this was the cause of much alarm
in the village, but since then it has been harnessed. The gas, which is heavier
than air, has been confined to a basin covered with a wooden trellis and
so users of the facility can "bathe" in safety and derive the healing benefits through their skin,
because the gas only reaches up to waist height. It is particularly recommended as a supplementary
treatment for sufferers of heart and arterial conditions and for the relief of joint pains.
And now for another superlative… Hungary's largest historical wine-producing area is located at the
foot of the Mátra Hills. Wine has been produced here since at least the thirteenth century, and today
the area is best known for its quality fragrant whites.
Gyöngyös (C5): the majority of visitors to the Mátra Hills begin their journey at Gyöngyös, many on
the attractive narrow-gauge railway that runs to both Lajosháza (C4) and the climatic resort of
Mátrafüred (C4). In former times these lines were used to carry timber, though nowadays the almost
one hundred-year-old rolling stock carries only tourists. There are other places of interest in Gyöngyös
too, for example the Mátra Museum in the Orczy mansion with its fine collection of exhibits covering
the natural sciences; and the Franciscan Monastery dating from the 1700s, inside which is an ecclesiastical
library unique in Hungary for the fact it has operated continuously from its inception to this day.
Hatvan (C5): "hatvan" in Hungarian means sixty, and the town is so called because it lies at a distance
of 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the capital, Budapest. It is the meeting point of the Mátra Hills to the
north and the Alföld or Great Plains to the south. Its most famous attribute is the eighteenth century
Grassalkovich Mansion, where the German writer Thomas Mann once stayed.
Parád/Parádfürdő (C4): this town and its surroundings are a popular destination. Alum-bearing mineral
water was discovered in 1763, and this led to the building of the thermal baths and the alum works.
The manorial mansion's spacious stable (dating from 1880) now contains a coach museum, and
Parádfürdő hospital houses Europe's second most important collection of mineral waters. In neighbouring
Parádsasvár (C4) there is a 200 year-old glass works and the famous Károlyi Mansion hotel,
which can be visited with an admission ticket. The therapeutic properties of the mineral waters found
hereabouts have been known for centuries. That from the Csevice spring is carbonic and rich in hydrogen
sulphide; known as "sour water" it has been drunk for over two hundred years for the relief of
Pásztó (C4): situated between the Cserhát and the Mátra Hills, Pásztó was built beside the River
Zagyva. Amongst its many interesting features worthy of special mention is the Scola Magister,
or Schoolmaster's House, Hungary's only remaining mediaeval gentry town-house, mentioned
in written records as early as 1428. In accordance with the Mátra custom it is built of smooth
stones taken from the streams.
(Scola Magister) House
|Gyöngyös, Franciscan Monastery Library
|Pásztó, harvest procession
|Parádsasvár, Károlyi Mansion