We are now approaching the border of Slovenia, having walked or cycled about 400 kms from Budapest over a two week period. We would like to provide a summary of our experiences in this country to assist future pilgrims. Note that the Via Pannonia is not one of the Camino routes supported by the official organization in Hungary; those routes go up the Danube to Vienna.
The walk: The Via Pannonia is a largely soft surface meander from Budapest to the western border with Slovenia. Most of the walk is beautiful, passing through mature forests, along farm tracks and through small towns. The way is reasonably well marked, although it is still essential to have a phone with the track marked. Because many of the tracks are little used and overgrown, it can be quite wet from the dew in the morning. On mornings with a heavy dew I sometimes chose adjacent small roads so that I didn’t get soaked. The fellow who developed this route, Ferenc, warned that we would probably average one kilometre per hour less than on the Caminos in Spain. I found this to be true, particularly for the periods when I was beating through long grass along farm tracks. Overall, this was a beautiful and rewarding route.
Hazards: Ticks are ubiquitous along the Via Pannonia, particularly during May, the month I was walking. They are known to carry both Lyme disease and encephalitis, and I did in fact contract the former. Good tick hygiene, such as long pants and insect repellent, is recommended.
Loud, aggressive dogs were an annoyance along the route; I frequently set off a symphony of them as I passed through a village. They are almost always behind a fence, however, so I never had a frightening experience.
The ride: Ruth generally found her own cycling route each day using the Pocket Earth mapping app. It was often possible to ride part of the day on the official walking route, but after having to turn around a few times Ruth generally only took the walking route when it was on some kind of road. Ruth has a folding bike pulling a trailer, so it is not the most robust rig. That said, it would have been difficult to move any bike through the sections of long grass. Ruth generally found small roads or paved biking paths for her day’s ride. She did become shy about roads marked as unpaved, as they were sometimes almost impassable due to mud and damage from tractors and logging vehicles. Overall, Ruth found Hungary to be a beautiful and pleasant cycling destination.
Accommodation: Ferenc can be contacted for an accommodation list through “Via Pannonia” on Facebook. We also used the Booking app. Both provide more than sufficient options for finding a place to stay. The price of accommodation varied widely, sometimes being surprising high for a former Eastern block country. However, the quality of the accommodation was consistently good. Most of it appeared to have been recently built or renovated. We always had lots of space, generally with a kitchen. On several occasions we had access to a hot tub, which is not something we encountered very often on other Camino routes. There did not appear to be much of a cost saving for single occupancy at most hotels, so a single traveller would find accommodation expensive. We were also told that there is a two day minimum for stays in tourist areas such as Balaton during the high season, but we did not encounter this hurdle.
Food: Years ago, when we were cycling in Germany, a woman commented that “they keep a good kitchen in Hungary”. We certainly agree. Hungary is famous for its goulash, but there are many other flavourful dishes, and some outstanding desserts. Menus have an emphasis on meat, though there is often a short vegetarian section and a selection of salads. Due to the language hurdle we only recently realized that restaurants may have a daily special, which are filling and very good value. Most towns of any size have at least one restaurant.
Because we generally had a kitchen at our accommodation, we did some self-catering, particularly for breakfast. The stores in the small towns, often an ABC Coop, have a sufficient but limited selection of items. We ate a lot of very mediocre granola.
Language: Once you leave Budapest you will encounter few people who speak English. Hungarian is a difficult language to learn, with few cognates in English or the Romance languages. Google translate can help bridge the gap in conversations, but telephone calls are very difficult. This is one of the reasons most of our accommodation came through the Booking app.
Pilgrim experience: At this time the Via Pannonia is in its infancy. You are unlikely to meet another pilgrim, the locals generally have no idea what you are doing, and other than some Santiago churches and yellow arrows, there is little indication that you are on a Camino. It is, however, an excellent long walk with the sense that you are a pioneer on a new Camino route.
Overall, we enjoyed the Via Pannonia very much and we would recommend it. The fact that it connects to routes in Slovenia and Italy makes it a portion of a viable long distance Camino.