Part two of our Budapest trip guides. (See part one, exploring the city here) We had just one full day on our three day visit to Hungary, so wanted to make the most of this to head out of Budapest to see what lay in the surrounding countryside, searching for hills and testing out our Hoy Vulpine road kit.
ESCAPING THE CITY
Terrain: City roads, country roads, gravel paths, cycle paths, dirt tracks, wood trails, mud slides
Weather: Sun, rain, thunderstorms, more sun
While Hungary is for the most part a flat country, we could see on the map that to the North-West of the city in Pest County lay the Duna-Ipoly National Park which includes the Pilis Mountains close to the city. We planned a route using Komoot which would take us on a fantastic 70 mile adventure, exploring all types of terrain and landscape.
Up early to make the most of the sun, we set out from our location in Pest, crossing over to Buda, and following the cycle-way north along the Danube. This path follows the river for several miles and is a great way to head out of the city, through Obuda (Old Buda), an historic but less touristy area of the city. The pretty cobbled streets quickly transform into more industrial surroundings as we continue north, criss-crossing the train lines along the river.
Somehow we end up on the main highway out of town, so we pause for a minute in the Romaifurdo district to grab pastries and coffees for breakfast, before finding our way back to the cycle path on the river. It’s a picturesque route, easy cycling with beautiful views of the Danube and the impressive Megyeri Bridge. To Jon’s excitement we find several trails and paths along here that zig zag through the woods, crossing small streams over wooden planks… he’s already forgotten that we’re shooting road kit, on road bikes…!
The river path leads to Szentendre, a charming town with cobbled squares and crooked streets. Here is where we leave the Danube and head west, up into the Pilis Mountains.
To describe the Pilis Mountains as mountains is fairly misleading. Hills would definitely be a more accurate description, though perhaps they are as close to a mountain as you get on the Hungarian plains. However, there can be no complaints from us about the quality of riding here; the roads are smooth, rolling, quiet, and beautiful. The sun is shining, the temperature creeping up high. We pause in a small village to grab some snacks and sun cream. However, it seems that skin protection is not something the Hungarians go in for: all we can find is a lonely bottle of factor 7.
We continue winding up the gentle hill, to a village with the tongue-twisting name of Pilisszentkereszt. We stop here for lunch at ‘Pilis ABC’ mini-market, and create a lunch of bread, spicy salami, cheese, crisps and delicious local strawberries. The lovely shopkeeper doesn’t speak English but we get by with sign language and the help of a friendly local who does speak a little, and enjoy our lunch in the sun outside the shop.
To Jon’s delight, our route from Pilisszentkereszt turns off the road and onto gravel paths again; we’re now following the contours of the hill around, and are surrounded by lush green forest on one side, gorgeous views of the surrounding area on the other. We’re enjoying the grit for a mile or so… until the path descends deeper into the forest, and turns into a mud slide. Jon’s still loving life, (“if you slow down you go down!”) but I’m sliding around on my slick tyres and becoming more unconvinced about this route by the second. A van comes towards us in the opposite direction, skidding across the mud and Alex and I hurl ourselves and bikes into the bushes to avoid being taken out by it. Desperately checking my gps, it looks as though we’ve got many more miles of this, and I suggest taking a shortcut down the hill. We take the path but as we go through the clearing it disappears in the forest, and we decide it’s not an option. On we battle through the mud, bikes totally caked to the point that the wheels are no longer turning. I pull the dirt out of my back wheel with my hands, wiping them clean on my legs in an attempt not to make my kit too dirty (forgetting that there’s mud all up my back).
We crawl on, and finally hit tarmac again. The joy of the escape from the forest is short though; immediately there’s a crack of thunder and lightning and rain begins to hammer it down. At least is it will wash us clean! Jon and Alex attempt to get the mud off of our bikes using a water pump by the side of the road. We’ve hit the halfway point for our ride, and begin descending. I’m keen to ban any more off-roading for fear of another mud bath – Jon’s keen to get back on the trails as quickly as possible, so when our route points us down another muddy path there’s a tug of wills! We stick on the road for a few more miles before turning onto a wide gravel path, that thankfully stays that way!
We stop a few miles later for a refuel in a small town not far outside of Budapest. We’ve not got too much further to go, though we’ve now been out and about, cycling and shooting for over 9 hours – I’m knackered! The descent into the city through the affluent District II is beautiful, made all the sweeter by the sun reappearing. We wiggle through the hilly, leafy streets, into the Castle District, before climbing back up the hill to Fisherman’s Bastion. The sun is setting, and we are treated to a spectacular view of the city – the perfect end to the day. We quickly scrub up back at the apartment and head to Menza on the lively Liszt tér square for a well earned dinner; Alex and Jon devour a bowl of Goulash each, then decide they need to also share a beef stew. Back at the apartment, I collapse into bed, the balcony doors open and a warm breeze wafting into my room. We’ve tested our Hoy Vulpine kit and bikes (and ourselves!) on all terrains and and in crazy weather – it’s been an incredible day.
TOP TIPS FOR GETTING OUT OF THE CITY
1. Follow the cycle path along the Danube north, to beautiful Szentendre
2. Enjoy the rolling roads in the Pilis Mountains
3. Enjoy the off road trails too – but beware of mud slides!
4. Out of the city few people speak English – but everyone we met was incredibly friendly and hospitable, and sign language goes a long way
5. Descend into the city in the evening sunlight through the Buda Hills