Leave the city behind and a magical world will open up to you. Lush flora and exciting fauna, homely tastes accompanied by a sip of good wine, complex traditions and beliefs – let the locals take your hand and lead you into their world. Rural tourism has been quite a hit in Western Europe over the last few years and it's gaining popularity in Hungary as well, at an amazing speed, as more and more old peasant cottages are renovated (while retaining their traditional characteristics, of course), to much joy of citydwellers looking for a rural experience. Countless little village houses offer accommodation all over the country – the best (and certainly most authentic) way to get to know the rich rural culture of Hungary.
Do you want to go organic for the vacation? No problem – more and more organic farms offer accommodation. Where the gentle slopes of the southern Zselic and the western Mecsek meet, you'll find the Ecopark Bükkösd with several guest houses open all year round (www.okobukkosd.hu). The surroundings call for extensive walks in the fresh air, but the locals can take you hunting and horse-riding too. The farm holds several of the indigenous Hungarian domestic animals (here's your chance to get familiar with the famous Hungarian greycattle, the mangalitsa and the racka sheep) as well as big game – check out the red deer, the fallow-deer, the moufflon and the wild boar up close. The Kacar Farm is definitely worth a visit too (no accommodation offered here, so just drop by for a day). Located at the foot of the Börzsöny Mountains with a magnificent view on the surrounding environment, the farm is the place to get to know old trades and crafts. In the tiny self-built houses and workshops (using mud, wood, straw, hay and reed only) there is a smithy, a traditional oven for baking bread and a wind mill. Around the houses there are animals to get to know as well. The place is open from spring to autumn, but please let the locals know if you are coming beforehand (www.kacar.hu). Felsőszenterzsébet is a tiny village at the end of the Őrség, with just 15 inhabitants. Here you'll find the Ózon Organic Farm. Take a peek into an everyday functioning farm, check out the goats, the sheep, the cattle and the fowl and taste the strictly organic home-made cheeses, as well as the home-grown veggies and fruits.
Another option to get to know the land and its people is by going on a wine tour in the countryside. What better way to spend your holidays than with a glass of heavenly Hungarian nectar after all? You'll find comfortable accommodation in one of the numerous villages just check www.falusiturizmus.eu for a complete list of apartments and guest houses. The wines of the Balaton region have their own distinct character. Take a seat in front of one of the local wine cellars and all your senses will be pleased with great flavours and magnificent views of the hills and the lake, taking your stress away in an instant. Start the relaxing at Tokaj – sip wines that are medicine for your body and soul while marvelling at the beauty of the little town and its surroundings.
For a truly Hungarian nature experience head to the Hortobágy. Hungary's largest protected area (and the largest natural grassland of Europe) is the place to spot some animals you've probably never seen before such as the famous Hungarian Grey cattle and the Racka sheep. Hortobágy is dotted with little villages and farms offering accommodation as well. Choose a farm where you can pet animals. Once here, make sure to visit Máta Stud, Hungary's most significant horse breeding centre with 250 horses (www.hortobagy.eu). Pottery is an important part of Hungarian folk culture so head to one of the villages with centuries of potterymaking traditions, and you won't go home emptyhanded. Pottery villages can be found all over the Őrség and the Great Plain (called Alföld in Hungarian) offering beautiful objects from simple to ornate, from white to traditional black. You might even give it a try yourself at a workshop offered at one of the pottery houses.
Want to make sure that you only see the best of the best? Here's our top 10 of the most beautiful villages of Hungary. Hollókő is the place you shouldn't miss under any circumstances. Voted (several times) as the most beautiful village by public polls. The settlement will take you back a couple of hundred years in time. For a marvellous view onto Lake Balaton, head to Tihany and see if the famous echo's still working. Szigliget was built on a number of volcanic hills – climb up and check out the ruins of the castle. If you're aiming even higher, go to Mátraszentimre, located at a height of 835 m, it's the settlement closest to the skies. Just by Lake Tisza you'll find Poroszló – your base to head out from for you daily fishing or boating-trip. Őriszentpéter is also considered as the capital of the Őrség region and the place to stay if you'd like to check out the Őrség National Park and some nicely renovated farmer's houses. Villánykövesd is the place to go to celebrate your favourite drink – at the yearly drinking song festival. Don't miss the two storey deep cellar system either. The village of Noszvaj couldn't have found a better location on the southern edge of the Bükk National Park, at the foot of the castle hill, in the valley of the Kánya creek. And what intriguing architecture it has – don't miss the De la Motte Castle built in Zopf-style. The settlement of Hortobágy is well-known for its so-called ninehole bridge, Central Europe's longest stone bridge serving as a highway. Szilvásvárad is located at the foot of the BükkMountains and is a true gem for nature lovers. Check out the Veil waterfall of mineral water and the ‘jungle' of up to 200 years old giant beech trees.