Hortobágy National Park - the Puszta

Hortobágy National Park - the Puszta

4002 Debrecen, Sumen u.2.

Getting there: from Budapest take the M3 motorway to Füzesabony, then go towards Debrecen on route 33, which crosses the National Park.

Hortobágy is the largest continuous natural grassland in Europe, which means that it was not formed as a result of deforestation or river control. The first Hungarian national park (established in 1973), it is the country's largest protected area (82 thousand hectares). A significant part of it is Biosphere Reserve and a quarter of its area enjoys international protection under the Ramsar Convention on the conservation of wetlands.

Hortobágy has outstanding natural features, maintaining great biological diversity in respect of species and habitats. It is a unique example of the harmonious coexistence of people and nature based on the considerate use of the land. In order to discover the treasures of this region, however, it isn't enough just to travel through it; at first sight there is nothing to see. If you look around, what is most conspicuous is that your eyes are not arrested by any buildings, hills or mountains. But there are times when you may think you see such things: A mirage can be a spectacular sight on hot summer days!

A major part of the area of the National Park is formed by natural habitats, alkaline grasslands, meadows and the marshes lying between them. From the point of view of nature conservation, the artificial wetlands, which cover a much smaller area, are of considerable importance: these are the fishponds, situated on 6 thousand hectares, created during the last century on the worst quality grazing-lands and marshes. Lake Tisza, a reservoir established in the 70s, shows what the water-world looked like before the river was controlled. In its three bays there is enough room for the waterfowl, anglers and even those holidaymakers who like noisy water sports.

The marshes and fishponds are bird nesting habitats and migration sites of European significance. The appearance of 342 bird species has been registered in Hortobágy so far, of which 152 species nest in the National Park. The symbol of the Park is the crane; undoubtedly, one of the most spectacular sights here is the cranes' autumn migration. Tens of thousands of cranes can be seen every October as they fly above the grasslands to their overnight roosting places.

Hortobágy was never densely populated, and its few villages were destroyed during the Tartar and Turkish invasions. The monotony of the grasslands is punctuated by the burial mounds and guard mounds of the Nomad peoples that lived here thousands of years ago.

For thousands of years the wild animals grazing on the grasslands of Hortobágy, the aurochs and wild horses, were gradually replaced by domesticated animals. A large number of tough, undemanding long-haired sheep and grey cattle can be found here. Less ancient species are the curly-bristled mangalica pig, a source of good bacon, and the Nonius horse. The predecessor of the latter was brought to Hortobágy from Normandy at the beginning of the 19th century. Visitors are amazed at the skills of the horsemen and at the sight of the galloping herds of horses.

The herdsmen living on the grasslands do not have permanent buildings for themselves or their animals. Most of the ancient herdsmen's buildings are very simple but also practical, made chiefly of reeds. The sweep-pole wells for watering the animals have become symbols of the Hungarian grasslands.

Inns were built 10-12 km apart along the commercial roads crossing the plains, where travellers could rest and the herdsmen turn in for the night. Tourists still like to visit these inns where they can taste the excellent herdsmen's dishes and other specialities of the cuisine of the Great Plain. In the Hortobágy village tourist centre, in the former cart stall of the Nagycsárda (Great Inn), there is today a Herdsmen's Museum where the history and memorabilia of the herding life are shown. A stone bridge was built across the river Hortobágy on the road connecting Budapest with Debrecen in 1827, and from the number of its arches it is known colloquially as Kilenclyukú híd, which means "bridge with nine holes".

Help in getting to know the protected flora and fauna of the National Park is given by four exhibit areas and study trails. It is worth getting information on the areas open to visitors at the tourism information offices or the headquarters of the Park before setting out on your journey.

Of the regular programs, the best known are the International Horse Days and the Hídi Fair in August.