40km North of Budapest
If you’re planning on visiting the Danube Bend, which you absolutely should, don’t assume that the towns are much the same. While Szentendre is all about the town and Esztergom is all about the cathedral, Visegrád draws you in to the landscape and the remnants of a faded world.
Travelling from Budapest by train takes around an hour and brings you to Nagymaros, the slightly larger one-horse town across the river. It’s pretty unassuming but has a nice blend of ease and charm, its greatest asset being the view of Visegrád. The stunning geography of the hills, piling up on each other like sofa cushions, is punctuated with Salamon’s Tower, the Citadel, a simple church and a smattering of houses hiding amongst the fabric of the trees.
The Danube here takes on the guise of a lake; its breadth looks broader still, as it curves around the hills. The Nagymaros side offers an opportunity to sit by the river on peaceful sandy beaches, without the intrusion of a road. A modest selection of restaurants and bars are also genuinely riverside. After you’re through daydreaming, a small car-ferry connects to the opposite bank.
The centre of Visegrád is essentially a handful of restaurants. However, a few hundred metres along Fő utca are the excavated and partially reconstructed ruins of the Royal Palace. It doesn’t look particularly palatial at first glance, in fact it looks distinctly farmhouse-like, so don’t expect regal grandeur. The cloistered ‘formal courtyard’, with its replica of the Hercules fountain, is the pinnacle and hints at how the palace might have appeared five hundred years ago. The subtlety is perhaps preferable to a complete reconstruction.
On top of the hill rising steeply behind the palace are the ruins of the Citadel. Continuing on foot, a path runs perpendicular to Fő utca, passing the brutally restored Salamon’s Tower. The journey to the summit is demanding. Turning one corner, I see half a dozen people negotiating the slope, moving awkwardly from side to side like extras from Dr Who. If you’re a smoker, prepare to wheeze, or alternatively take the bus.
Reaching the summit though is worth the endeavour, despite having to pay if you want to get anywhere near the stunning views. The Citadel itself is embellished with tableaux of medieval life, houses a waxwork museum and is home to some rather unpleasant smelling horses, all of which are a little superfluous (particularly the horses.) They do little to detract from the scenery though, which is simply magnificent.
isegrad, Vishgrad, Vishegrad, Najmaros, Nadjmaros, Nagmaros
Take a train from Nyugati palyaudvar to Nagymaros (1hr), or alternatively take a boat, if a three-and-a-half hour trip appeals to you. There’s also a hydrofoil that only takes an hour, if you have money to burn.