Zala Springs

2017 Grateful 4

I’m lazy. I can be very lazy. And sometimes my CBA attitude has a price. I’d heard tell of Zala Spings, the golf course complex that opened near the village back in 2015. It’s just off the main road to Zalaegerszeg and if you’re heading to the thermal spa at Kehida and take the back road through Zalacsány, you’ll see it, too.

I noticed it last winter but wasn’t at all impressed. It looked like a poor attempt at emulating the K Club, or Mount Juliet, two rather spectacular golf courses in Ireland. I’ll fess up. I was feeling a tad superior wondering how Hungary could ever compete with Ireland or Scotland when it came to golf courses – the tradition just wasn’t there. But, of course, the competition was only in my head. It happens sometimes.

Friends in the village had told me that their recent visitors had been to dinner there and while a little pricey, they said they were impressed. I pooh-poohed. Impressed with the food maybe, but the course? Nah.

Of the visitors we’ve had to date, none has been a golfer. We’ve passed the golf club numerous times and have never ventured in. Until yesterday. And I was wrong. Yep. Wrong. The place has potential. It ranks as No. 1 in the list of 100 golf courses in Hungary and has had some interesting reviews.

Zala SpringsFirst of all, it’s not a golf club, it’s a golf resort. Situated about 2 hours drive from Zagreb, Budapest, and Vienna, it’s a prime location for golfers who like their style or timeshare travellers who want to spend 4 weeks a year on what could well be (become) a championship golf course (five Par 5 holes and lots of water hazards would make for a challenging round of golf). The 2-4-bedroom apartments are ready to move in to and judging from the site plan we saw, lots more are to be built, assuming there’s a demand. The website isn’t clear. I’m not sure if you buy the apartment and then they rent it for you or whether you just buy a time share. But either way, if you’re in Zala country, it would be quite the place to stay.

Green fees will set you back about €60 but it seems you can buy a day pass which presumably will let you play all day for a few euro more. The Pro shop is a tad on the expensive side, possibly catering to the fat pockets of golfers on tour. The entrance is quite impressive and the airiness of the clubhouse is rather lovely. Yep – I was definitely wrong.

Their New Years offer is a steal – overnight stay, gala dinner, dancing till dawn, all the wine and champers you can tipple, and then breakfast the next for under €100 per person sharing. An attractive proposition but I’m not sure I’m ready to mix with the country club set just yet.

Still, it taught me something, a lesson I’m grateful for: I need to rein in my dismissiveness until I’ve actually checked whatever it is out in person. Lord only know what else I’ve been missing. I really must visit that Doll museum in Keszthely.

 

 

Still unpacking

Nearly ten years after I first posted on this blog, I’m still unpacking. That might lead you to believe that I have an incredible amount of stuff, moxie loads of things I’ve acquired over the years. I haven’t. Not really. I regularly purge and rid myself of the tat I mistook for taste. But these purges are less frequent these days, as I prefer to spend my money on experiences.

A friend visiting the village recently, commented on the range of things in the house, things I’ve brought back from my travels – art, books, stuff – that are now on display. I hadn’t given much thought to it, until today.

I’ve just finished painting the guest room – the ensuite with the balcony. Funny how this isn’t exactly what people imagine when you mention living in a rural village in Hungary where the butcher has just done his weekly run through the village and I didn’t have time to stop him. I slept through the breadman’s run this morning, too.

The house came with a lot of pine (ugh) furniture and it’ll be a few years before I have the wherewithal to change it. Likewise, the pitched ceiling in the guest room, is also a pine job – and having painted the upstairs landing (and taken two weeks to do it) I can’t summon the energy to tackle a ceiling of this size. Hence the white curtains and bedspread with their gold thread, woven in a village in Romania and laced together by a lovely old néni I met in Káptalantóti at the Sunday market, Liliomkert, in the good company of MI.

I noticed as I was putting stuff back, that almost everything has memories. The orange blanket I bought on the first of many trips to visit the lovelies B*C in Haarlem, the Netherlands. (I still think that Bloomendahl beach is one of Europe’s undiscovered gems.) The carved Buddha I bought on my first trip to visit the inimitable S&D in Hawaii. It’s a home from home, a place I know I’ll be welcomed and fed. The throw I brought back from Valdez some 16 years ago – it still has a label on it. (It’ll make a lovely lap cover for visitors wanting to enjoy a morning cuppa or an evening cocktail on the terrace – village life ain’t boring, it’s just laid back). The friends I made in that small Alaskan town live all over the world today, and we’re still in touch. You can’t get warmer than that. The blown glass dish we bought in Croatia this summer, on holiday with the intrepid J-Gs. The old biscuit tin or the copy of the Vogue cover I picked up at my favourite market in Bath, in the company of one of my favourite women in the world, the amazing MC. The cross-stitched cloth I found on my first road-trip to Eastern Hungary with the lovely KG. A bronze candle holder that my sis-in-law brought me back from Spain for my birthday. A José Fuster watercolour that screamed at me in Cuba. Even the duvet set has memories of a year spent in Oxford.

There’s new old stuff, too. The tapestry I bought on an online forum that turns out to have been stitched by a friend’s grandmother about 100 years ago. The tin figure of Our Lady that I found in an old wardrobe. A First Communion certificate dated 1948 from a child of a few owners back. Embroidered doilies that I found in a drawer. It all ties together nicely – in my head at least.

But it’s not about the stuff. I could have dressed that room in 10 minutes, had I had a mind to. They’re not just things – they’re hooks on which I hang sheathes of memories that warm me, keep me safe, and make me smile. I’d like to get new bedside lamps. I have a picture in my mind of what I’d like – they’re on my market-hunt list. They’ll have stories of their own. I’d like to get some new furniture or do something with what I inherited. But I’m in no great rush. Something will come to mind, when the time is right. Today, I’m just enjoying the trip back in time.

Hitting the spot

Where has the summer gone? Is it my imagination or is time flying by ever so quickly, much quicker than years ago when it seemed as if we’d all the time in the world to do whatever it was we had to do. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of the aging process. Or perhaps it’s because many of us don’t have weekends any more. With growing expectations from employers that we be online and available nearly 24/7, the days blur into weeks and the weeks into months and the months into years.

Some time ago, a colleague decided to take two weeks’ holiday. He told the boss that he’d be unavailable. He was going somewhere to switch off: no laptop, no smartphone, no connection to anyone other than those he was with. He wanted a break. The boss was a little piqued. Surely he could find time in the day to check his emails? And if it took an hour to answer them, was that too much to ask? My colleague needed to get with the programme. To come in line with twenty-first-century living. He needed to live up to expectations. But my colleague was adamant. He got his two weeks.

Not being part of the structured work system, some might argue that I’m on a permanent holiday. I can work from wherever I have an Internet connection. The downside is that I’m always working and rarely, if ever, am I completely offline for more than a couple of days. My choice. My lot. My decision. But summer has a way of being summer. In Ireland at the start of the season, I was basking in a cool 14 degrees when friends in Budapest were melting in 40. At breakfast one morning I noticed how everyone was in their summer gear – sundresses, shorts, t-shirts, sandals – even though it was cold and wet outside. No matter the weather, summer is summer.

I know I’m in summer mode when I start to plan everything I want to do over the three months or so from June to August. I make a list of places I want to visit, seasonal restaurants I want to try and other summer-dependent spots I want to take in. The plan being that once tried and tested, I can then take my summer visitors to enjoy them, too.

But invariably, there are some gems I discover too late, just as they’re about to close, their money made, their season over.

A friend of mine recently spent 11 days walking around the Balaton – some 244 km. She’s a natural researcher and had done her homework before turfing up to some village or other. She wanted to discover the best of what’s out there so that she could then share her finds. Two in particular are worth noting. For next year.

The lakeside village of Vonyarvashegy is on the north shore of the Balaton and is home to about 2000 people. The strand is well-tended, a lovely open spot offering access to the lake for people with disabilities. Popular with German tourists, it has a bigger-than-usual restaurant offer, perhaps the smallest of which is The Spot Grill & Bar. In its third year of operation, this little gem opens from 21 May to 10 September, offering trout, chicken, salads, and the requisite Balaton burgers. Probably tired of people dithering between ordering a burger or a langós (both summer favourites), the chef decided to join the two and instead of a burger bun, has encased the patty in a langós. Genius. The desserts, both of them, are seconds material. The tiramisu (the Italian pick-me=up) could have come from Treviso, Italy, and the cheesecake, served in a glass, is delicious. The cocktail list is decidedly upmarket with the Cosmopolitan made from cranberries – something hard to find in Hungary. Added to the excellent food, the simple décor, and the fresh feel of it all is the excellent service. Robert has it nailed – always available, never intrusive, and very helpful. The Spot could hold its own just about anywhere. Class all the way.

The much smaller village of Káptalantóti swells in size for the Sunday market, Liliomkert. Hundreds of visiting tourists and summer residents (mainly German) descend on the place, turning the village into an obstacle course and the local fields into parking lots. With everything from a jar of honey to a kitchen dresser on offer, the place is a mecca for those looking for a piece of Hungary to take home. Nestled in the heart of the Badacsony wine region, the village has several vineyards of note, my current favourite being the Sabar Borház.

The enterprising local tourist board has organised a hop-on, hop-off wine bus that leaves the village 7 times daily every two hours to visit local vineyards.  A daily ticket will set you back 1500 ft. A must for next year. This year, I settled for a stop-off at Istvándy Winery. The restaurant was booked solid, which is no wonder, considering that everything on the menu is locally sourced – even the beef, which come from the herd of grey cattle looking over the fence. The panoramic vista of the Balaton and the vineyards is stunning. And, testament to the attention this family-run business pays to its customers, those of us sprawled on picnic blankets (supplied) on the hill below the restaurant didn’t feel the slightest bit cheated. As we ate our toasted sambos (mangalica pork and trout were the two on offer that day), sipped our grape-juice fröccs (so tasty I could actually fool myself into thinking I was drinking wine), and enjoyed the view, it struck me that life couldn’t get much better.

The summer is nearly over. The cool evenings are setting in. And as the autumn raises its head over the parapet, I can enjoy my favourite time of year knowing I have a head start on what I’ll do in summer 2018.

First published in the Budapest Times 8 September 2017

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