As you drive into the thermal town of Zalakaros in western Hungary you can smell the faint whiff of sulphur in the air. It’s a small town whose economy is almost entirely dependent on the warm waters that rise from beneath it, with numerous hotels and the Zalakaros furdo at its centre.
Despite its small size, the town and the baths can be quite confusing experience if you have never been there before and if you’re not careful you might come out more stressed than you went in. Unless you are staying in a hotel in Zalakaros itself, you’ll need to use the pay and display parking in front of the Men Dan Hotel and the tourist information centre. The main entrance to the Zalakaros furdo is just behind the car park, but this is sometimes closed and you will instead have to walk about 200m down the main road to find the entrance through an insignificant looking door behind some bushes at the end of the complex.
There are numerous ticket options but if you don’t speak Hungarian then they’ll sell you a day ticket to all areas of the complex for about 2550Ft. When you get into the changing rooms you will also need 1000Ft as a deposit for a locker and they will give you rather a awkward plastic tube with the key to hang around your neck. Don’t put any money in this as it is not watertight!
The complex indoors feels a bit like a cross between a local authority swimming pool and a hospital, so it’s not the best place for a luxury spa break. It is a patchwork of facilities that have developed with no coherent style or layout, so if you want to make the most of the complex than you will need to have your explorer’s hat on.
The main thermal pool area is housed inside a wooden dome that seems somewhat like the inside of a hobbit house, though nothing like as cosy. There are three pools at 33°C, 36°C and 38°C. The atmosphere is very subdued however and some visitors appear to be going a bit stale in the murky green waters. There is also an outdoor thermal bath surrounded by sun terraces and a bar area. The pool can become very crowded, as is the case with most of the pools at Zalakaros and the lifeguards are more there to wag their fingers if you’re being naughty than to actually save your life.
Far on the other side of the complex is a more conventional indoor thermal pool, indoor and outdoor warm fun pools with a lazy river and bubble jets and a large indoor swimming pool, all of which are reasonably well maintained. If you go in peak season then you will also have access to the large park behind the complex which contains a range of additional outdoor fun pools and swimming pools, which really makes this a very substantial complex. Sadly, if you go at any other time of the year though, these pools are closed and the park is fenced off.
There are a number of saunas and steam rooms that you can use, as well as a few bars and restaurants, though exactly what will be open would depend on the time of the year.
Zalakaros furdo is a very large complex when it is all open and has plenty to keep you busy for hours.
The complex is extremely badly designed, making it difficult to find your way around and physically challenging for those with mobility problems.
Take plenty of change with you. You will need it for the car park and your locker deposits. Men’s and women’s changing rooms are separate so you might need more than one locker.
The Zalakaros furdo is really a case of quantity over quality. There is an excellent range of pools and facilities to enjoy, especially in peak season when all of the outdoor pools are open, but it is very poorly designed and needs a lot of modernisation.
RatingSetting: 3/5 Architecture: 1/5 Ambience: 2/5 Facilities: 3/5 Value: 3/5 TOTAL: 12/25 (one star)