Whether you’re planning an adventure tour or a TET expedition in Europe, riding Hungary is unlikely to be on your list. With most of its territory lying in the Carpathian Basin or the Great Plains of Europe, Hungary can’t boast breath-taking mountain views like Slovenia, Switzerland, or Austria, beautiful coastal routes like Italy or Croatia, or great technical riding like Portugal, Spain, and Greece. And yet, although I’d planned to cross Hungary in a week or so loosely following the Hungarian TET, I’ve been here for three weeks now – and I’m still not ready to leave. Here’s why.
Riding the Hungarian TET with a fully loaded bike proved a little too sketchy for me especially as I encountered countless muddy trails and mud pits on the southern section. Having a base camp, however, solved the issue, and I happily covered miles and miles of the TET Section 3 near the Serbian border, looping back to my base camp in the tiny wine village of Csaszartoltes (try and pronounce that, I dare you). Flat tires and a tired clutch aside, the Southern Hungarian TET was just what I needed with lots of fast-flowing tracks, some forest trails here and there, and of course, the notoriously sticky Hungarian mud.
The awesome part about the Hungarian TET is that there is practically no traffic, motorized or otherwise, and you truly have the place to yourself. Opening the throttle wider on the faster tracks in the endless plains and meadows, having a ball racing across vineyards, and figuring out your navigation on single-track forest trails with not a single soul in sight feels pretty amazing, and the TET tracks often take you past small sleepy villages where you can stop for a snack and a cold drink.
Out there on the trails, however, aside from a lone farmer driving a tractor here and there, there’s no one, and when you stop for a break, it feels like you’re somewhere much more remote than Central Europe.
Riders of Hungary
Having traveled in Hungary more than a decade ago as a lowly backpacker and hitchhiker, I remembered how spectacular Budapest was, I knew Ferenc Liszt was practically considered a saint in Hungary, and I was aware that goulash in Hungary is a soup, not a stew. I also knew Tokaji was appreciated by the French kings themselves, and that Lake Balaton was so beloved among locals they call it the Hungarian Sea. But, because the Hungarian language is way too complex to pick up quickly, I never made lots of local connections – that is, until I set tire in Hungary on off-road trails.
Hungary has a robust off-road and racing motorcycle community, and I soon made friends all over the country racing the Hungarian Baja together, figuring out how to get clutch and cam chain parts sent to a local Suzuki dealership in the south of the country, and looking for a motocross track to practice before continuing to Croatia. Hungarian riders are among the most chilled out, friendly, and kind motorcycle people in Europe, and I’m grateful for all the new friends and connections I made here. So much so that I’m planning to come back for the Hungarian Baja races in 2021 – they may not be as technical as the Romanian enduro events or as big as the Greek and Spanish rally races, but they provide a decent challenge, and the atmosphere, the people, and the camaraderie are just incredible.
As I zigzagged slowly across the Great Hungarian Plains, I kept finding places and people off the beaten path that made the journey that much more special. I got to hang out with local winemakers during a local wine festival in Csazsartoltes, a fairy-tale-like village where the streets are lined with wine cellars converted into small hotels overlooking the lush green vineyards; I spotted beautiful horse ranches – Hungarians are still very much into all things equestrian – and charming little towns along the mighty Danube, stayed with locals in farmhouses converted into small AirBnBs, and rode with local riders who always showed support. And when I got a flat tire on a track in the middle of nowhere, a friendly local police officer showed me the way to a small tractor shop nearby whose owner helped me pick three nasty thorns out of the tire and patch up the tube.
Although English isn’t as widely spoken in Hungary as it is in Poland or Slovakia, and I’m struggling to understand anything Hungarian, oddly enough, I’m beginning to feel at home here and all of a sudden, I’m in no rush to cross into Croatia and start getting ready for the Dinaric Rally coming up in a couple of weeks. Despite the mud, the flat tires, and the crazy weather, Hungary and I have become friends.
If you’re looking for some peace, quiet, and solitude, some easy off-road riding, great food and wine, and amazing people, Hungary might just be the place to explore.