Summer tales from Lake Balaton: Treasures and legends in the water near Zamárdi

Feb 25, 2024

Summer tales from Lake Balaton: Treasures and legends in the water near Zamárdi

Feb 25, 2024

balatoni éjszaka Badacsony

Summer tales from Lake Balaton: Local traditions, legends, myths and history by the water

Thinking of the perfect holiday by Lake Balaton conjures up images of brilliant sunshine, the beach, delicious food, idyllic moments and all kinds of pampering. When you stay at Mirabella Camping, sitting by the lake and gazing at the water, you too will get a sense that there is something more still to this place. Views of Tihany Peninsula across the lake are not simply beautiful: they also stir up a longing for adventure, and fill one with excitement. History feels real and tangible in Zamárdi. The artefacts from long-lost ages bear testimony to the fact that people have always loved this place.

We have investigated the roots of this magical atmosphere, to find out what it is that spurs our imaginations and helps us leave the rut of everyday life behind. Read on for what we found out about the fairy-tale atmosphere of summers by Lake Balaton, the unique local legends and sunken treasures hidden somewhere under the water, maybe right by the campsite.


The history of Lake Balaton

The history of Lake Balaton is varied, and goes back all the way to prehistoric times. The formation of the lake started millions of years ago, and it owes its current shape to the powerful land movements originating from the Alps. Kőhegy Lookout in Zamárdi offers picturesque views when the weather is clear, giving you a glimpse into the results of what nature has wrought over millions of years.

Lake Balaton is an ideal holiday destination today, thanks to its unique geographic characteristics including the shallow water and moderate temperatures. Archaeological finds suggest our ancestors also flocked here. Historical artefacts show that small communities inhabited this area as early as in the Bronze Age. By Roman times, Lake Balaton was an important part of local trade routes.


Where Lake Balaton’s legends come alive

The rich and colourful world of legends, folk beliefs and stories about Lake Balaton has for centuries been closely associated with the atmosphere of the lake and its surrounding area. We only have room to highlight a few of the countless origin stories and unique fairy tales about this land. But if you come and visit Lake Balaton in person, you can live the summer tales and be part of the magic yourself.


Steamboat Helka on Lake Balaton – Postcard from 1908


Finding Helka on a family holiday

We all know the Helka Trilogy, written by Péter Nyulász, which has become a firm favourite of many teen readers. The first book in the series is called Helka – Shadows of Burok Valley. Its story, as well as that of the other books, takes place in the Upper Balaton region, near the Bakony Mountains. The heroes of the trilogy are Princess Helka, who escaped from the Many-Towered Palace in Tihany, Ciprián, Prince of Lake Balaton and Kamor, the Wizard of Bakony. Why not bring all three books with you on a family holiday, and let their magic transport you into a unique fantasy world during your afternoon siesta. You will find it hard to resist the pull to set off and explore the exotic locations of the stories for yourself in the real world. The trilogy is the perfect motivation for a hike taken together as a family, and a great start for an unforgettable summer adventure by Lake Balaton.


Love and healing magic

The waters of Lake Balaton have long been believed to have healing properties, and many visited the lake in the hope of a magical recovery. According to another local belief, if a young maiden submerges herself in the water of Lake Balaton at dawn, she will get a glimpse of her future husband in the twilight. Well, there may be something to this second one, actually. It certainly doesn’t seem impossible when you see the first rays of the sun after a hot summer night at the campsite.


Szamárkő in Zamárdi

Szamárkő is a large boulder situated at the western end of Zamárdi, which has many strange legends associated with it. The rock has a trough-like hollow and a ‘fire pit’ in it. Next to it lie a carved stone and two footprints. According to local legend, Jesus passed by this rock when he was a child, accompanied by a donkey, the Virgin Mary and St Joseph. The donkey bit at a clump of grass that was growing on the side of the rock, hence the name Szamárkő (‘donkey rock’ in Hungarian). The two dents, then, would be Jesus’ footprint and the donkey’s hoof print.

The sages of old believed the rock had been cast here from a volcano in Tihany, or maybe it was deposited here in a great flood. Yet others assert it had been brought back from the Holy Land by crusaders.

The rock is actually volcanic in origin: it is sandstone filled with petrified snails. Archaeologists believe it was once at the centre of fertility rituals, then the Celts built a hill fort around it. Szamárkő is still in its original place today, and well worth a visit when you are in Zamárdi.


The legend of the inseparable link between Tihany and Zamárdi

Apparently, there are several maps from the 18th century that show Tihany as an island in the middle of Lake Balaton. Yet others show Tihany Peninsula jutting out from the southern shore of the lake. These mistakes are partly attributable to inaccurate sketches produced at the time. It wasn’t until after the end of Turkish rule in Hungary that these cartographical errors were corrected. It was also then that the area around Lake Balaton and the boundaries of local land holdings were accurately mapped out. Still, we at Mirabella have a strong connection to the magical Tihany Peninsula. It is a beautiful place, an ideal destination for a day trip, it is situated right across the lake from the campsite, and it is very easy to reach from Zamárdi by ferry.


Treasures on the beach and under the water

Adventurers are drawn to Lake Balaton by the promise of archaeological finds, shipwrecks lying at the bottom of the water, sunken treasures and natural wonders washed out to the shore. The area around Zamárdi, Szántód and Tihany is particularly rich in stories of legendary treasures. This is the perfect place for dreamers. After all, who knows what valuables lie under the lake right here at Mirabella Camping?


‘Goat nail’ molluscs from Lake Balaton, a favourite among children


Congeria molluscs: The legend of goat nails from Tihany

‘Goat nail’ fossils is the common name of the weathered shells of Congeria molluscs that once lived in the Pannonian Sea and which resemble goats’ nails. According to legend, a local hag grew envious of a beautiful young woman’s herd of goats, which had golden fur and snow-white horns and nails. So the hag dug ditches in the earth to separate the animals from their owner. The skies grew angry at this injustice and sent a huge storm to wash away the hag, the goats and the woman. The latter became a fairy and continues to live on the peninsula to this day. The marble-white nails of the perished goats, that is to say, the remains of mollusc shells from the Pliocene era, are washed out to shore from time to time. These finds are a common sight near Tihany, Szántód and Fonyód near Zamárdi.



Underwater treasures by the campsite

According to legend, there are treasures dating back to three thousand years ago lying in the silt of Lake Balaton. A carved wooden pole from the 2nd century BC was indeed discovered near Szántód in 2005. Experts think even older artefacts, dating back to the Bronze Age, are probably still at the bottom of the lake. Changes in the water level may have caused remnants of Roman buildings and roads, along with who knows what else, to go underwater. Due to lack of funding for excavations, only a relatively small part of these artefacts have been uncovered to date.


Bring the tales of Lake Balaton to life


According to fairy tales, Lake Balaton is home to bog fairies, witches, goblins and many more unique creatures. Magic and miracles are commonplace here. It’s not just children who love diving into the world of fantasy: adults who escape the rut of everyday life during a holiday by Lake Balaton also enjoy daydreaming about magical stories. Try this unique kind of travel for yourself! Visit the campsite, and lie back with an exciting book, or go explore the stories surrounding Lake Balaton.

You can re-live these stories here by exploring the hidden treasures of the local area. On top of all that, summers by Lake Balaton also offer outstanding culinary experiences, numerous cultural events and heavenly comfort. Book your accommodation at Mirabella Camping, and make your own fairy tale a reality!