Aside from its politics, nightlife — and its goulash, of course — many may not know that Hungary is home to the man who discovered Vitamin C and a type of pig that looks like a sheep. Here are five things to know about the central European country:
The good old days
Nostalgia is everywhere in Hungary, whether it be harking back to the glorious exploits of the Magical Magyars football team under captain Ferenc Puskas, to the days of Greater Hungary, when the country was three times its current size, or even to the era of communist dictator Janos Kadar. The rich past that fills Hungarians with pride sometimes also colours political life. Hungarian leaders, in particular Prime Minister Viktor Orban, like to paint themselves as the “defenders of Europe”, an allusion to interminable clashes with Ottoman forces such as the siege of Nandorfehervar (modern-day Belgrade) in 1456. Janos Hunyadi’s victory in that battle still resonates in Hungary today.
Then there is Attila the Hun. Although the link between Huns and Hungarians is still debated, the conqueror of the steppes still inspires countless myths, particularly in nationalist circles.
Budapest, party capital
Far from the sweeping plains that the mangalica call home, the Hungarian capital has in recent years become one of Europe’s hotspots for rowdy tourists on a budget, lured by dozens of low-cost flights, pints of beer for 1.50 euros ($1.80) and flats to let for 30 euros a night. The city’s historic Jewish quarter is now home to nearly 800 bars, nightclubs and restaurants packed into less than two square kilometres. But just as in Barcelona, Berlin and Amsterdam, residents are growing increasingly fed up of living amongst it all.
Lake Balaton and the ‘sheep-pig’
Hungary’s premier natural attraction is the opaline Lake Balaton, central Europe’s largest at 600 square kilometres (230 square miles), whose shallow waters guarantee warm swimming for the holidaymakers who flock to its shores every summer. In the past, they included many German families split by the East-West divide, as Hungary was relatively easy for nationals of both sides to visit. The hidden treasure among Hungary’s fauna meanwhile is undoubtedly the mangalica, a breed of pig covered in thick sheep-like wool. Its delicious marbled meat, high in fat content, is prized by connoisseurs around the world.