Enjoy a walk on the wild side: two national parks to try

It's great to get away from it all sometimes, and here we make a few "wild" suggestions of places to visit in Hungary, whether on horseback, riding a bike, by boat or just putting one foot in front of the other.

The first of two very different national parks we introduce here is located some 180km to the East of Budapest. The Hortobágy national park was the first to be designated, back in 1973, and is also the largest of the national parks, covering 80,000 hectares. It contains the country's great plain or puszta, Hungary's answer to the American West. Here you will find unique shepherding culture, unique breeds of dog, sheep, pig and especially the famous Grey cattle (once an endangered breed, but now, thanks to careful preservation, it is making a comeback.) It is also home to 60-70,000 cranes and their nests dot the rooftops and towers all around. The best way to see these sights is from horseback, and several multi-day wilderness tours can be found in the Hortobágy area.

In stark contrast to the grasslands is the Gemenc forest, an 18,000-hectare flood forest located near the town of Szekszárd, in Duna-Drava National Park in the south of the country. As a result of the floods from the Danube and Drava rivers, boating used to be the main means of transport in the area, before water engineering work eased several bends and raised dikes by the rivers to reduce the flooding. Even so, this area still bears the rich flora and fauna from the silt waters and is a wonderful wilderness of poplar and willow trees, and oxbow lakes where one can see black storks, white-tailed eagles, herons, kingfishers and woodpeckers, as well as game such as red deer and boar. It is possible to go hunting there, though this is carefully controlled. (To find out more, contact the Budapest-based Hungarian National Hunting Protection Association). At the Gemenc Excursion Centre in Bárányfok, one can enjoy horse carriage rides and get maps of walking and cycling trails through the forest.