Possibilities of spending leisure time in and around Debrecen
Debrecen provides numerous opportunities for making the most of your leisure time, but this can also be said of the immediate and larger environment of the city. Debrecen is the second largest city in Hungary, and the capital of the Northern Great Plain region comprising three counties. However, several functions of the city surpass the borders of the region, in many aspects it plays a national and cross-border role as well. Based on the topographical conditions of the Northern Great Plain region it is a flat, plain area; however, its surface cannot be termed completely monotonous, because besides the plains as flat as a table-board, land divided by sand-hills, moors, groves, marshy areas and winding rivers can be found. North and south-east of the region – within a 100 km circle in linear distance from the centre of Debrecen – diverse mountainous areas can be found (Bükk, Zemplén and Bihar Mountains).
Nature lovers may find their account in Debrecen and the surrounding area just as well as those who prefer the values of culture, traditions or perhaps the constructed environment in their free time, or simply want to relax, but those looking for healing or sports, or those who like waters need not go far either.
The cultural environment and services of Debrecen
The cultural role of Debrecen far outreaches the borders of the region, the city can deservedly be called one of the significant, multicoloured cultural centres of Hungary and the Carpathian Basin, where the palette is quite vast from top-class theatre, through museums and exhibition halls to programmes of international significance.
Theatre – opera
This outstanding production of romantic architecture, the building of Csokonai Theatre, was completed in 1865. Several illustrious representatives of the Hungarian theatrical life played among the walls of the building richly ornamented with sculptures (e.g. Zoltán Latinovics, László Márkus, László Mensáros). There is a prose and opera section in the theatre: the significance of the latter is well represented by the fact that 3 out of the 13 premiers of the 2006/2007 season were operas (The Abduction from the Seraglio, Tosca, The Force of Destiny).
The building of Csokonai Theatre
There are two main cinemas in Debrecen. The bigger of these is Cinema City, situated in the Debrecen Plaza Shopping and Entertainment Centre where the majority of the offered shows are popular new international movies. The Cinema City, with a capacity of 1,727 seats in 9 rooms of different sizes, offers entertainment for many in the city.
The almost 100-year-old Apolló Cinema also plays an important role in the cinema life of Debrecen. It mainly serves as an art cinema, excellently complementing what Cinema City has to offer, and is a much liked spot of Debrecen’s cultural life. The complex, with 313 seats in three rooms, regularly shows the award-winning movies of the National Movie Days festival, and on movie days of different nations (e.g. French, Spanish) they offer a selection of movies not in nationwide distribution.
The largest art gallery of the Northern Great Plain region, “MODEM” Modern and Contemporary Art Centre, is situated in the heart of Debrecen. The three-storey building, with a total floor space of 4,650 m2, has an exhibition area of 3,000 m2. On the second floor we can find the largest – more than 1,300 m2 – contiguous exhibition hall in the country. The majority of the works of art in the MODEM are composed of the pieces of the Antal-Lusztig collection of European significance, and besides that the facility gives place to several periodical programmes as well. Among these “The Real da Vinci” opened on 16 August, 2007 is outstanding, which is open to the public in Debrecen until the end of November. Previously this exhibition could only be visited in the Uffizi Gallery and Tokyo, and from Debrecen it was moved straight to New York.
A MODEM Modern and Contemporary Art Centre in downtown, Debrecen
The other significant museum of the city and the region, Déri Museum, originally built on the endowment of Frigyes Déri, is one of the richest cultural art collections in Hungary. The abundant archaeological, cultural artistic and folk collection is showed during permanent exhibitions, but the natural life of the Hortobágy, the Hajdúság and the Erdőspuszták can also be visited in the framework of natural scientific exhibitions. However the Déri Museum is world famous for the Mihály Munkácsy paintings exhibited here that is the monumental trilogy showing the suffering of Jesus (“Christ before Pilate,” “Ecce Homo” and the “Golgotha”), which the audience could see together here for the first time.
Among the museums in Debrecen the Medgyessy Ferenc Museum, or the Museum of Ecclesiology evoking the spirit of the Calvinist faith of the city and its bygone educational role, or the Literary Museum of Debrecen, exhibiting the rich literary heritage of the town are worth mentioning.
Debrecen plays a significant role in the organizational structure of two religions. On the one hand here is the centre of the east Hungarian Reformed Diocese, on the other hand the archsee of the Debrecen-Nyíregyháza Diocese belonging to the Vác Archbishopric of the Catholic Church is also situated here. Besides these, among others there are Lutheran, Baptist, Mormon and Jewish congregations in the city as well.
The main square of Debrecen with the Reformed Great Church
The city is above all known as the centre of the Hungarian Reformation, which is definitely connected to Debrecen, also known as the “Calvinist Rome.” There are several facilities, monuments and institutions in the city connected to religion, and related to this, programmes are held. The most important sight and emblem as well of Debrecen is the Reformed Great Church, which gained its present form as a result of the constructions carried out on the basis of the plans of Mihály Péchy and József Thaler between 1819 and 1823. The best-known date in connection with the building is 14th April 1849, when Lajos Kossuth announced the Declaration of Independence proclaiming the dethronement of the Habsburg House. The Reformed College, also affectionately called “the school of the country,” has played a major role in the intellectual and cultural life of the city for centuries, and was rebuilt based on the plans of Mihály Péchy. It is one of the most beautiful monument buildings in the city built in classicist style. Besides the Debrecen University of Reformed Theology and the Reformed High School, the building of the College also accommodates the Reformed College and Church History Museum and the historical collections of the Great Library are also considerable.
Event halls and programmes
The 13,000 m2 Kölcsey Centre, the biggest conference centre in eastern Hungary, located in the same architectural unit with the MODEM Modern and Contemporary Art Centre and Hotel Lycium, provides a worthy environment for both professional and cultural events. By opening the halls together (the Grand Hall suitable for 750 people and 8 section rooms suitable for 100 people each) in the complex it becomes possible to accommodate 1,100 people at the same time. The Ball Room the Grand Hall, the light lecture hall and the corridors create an excellent opportunity for any lecture, ball, reception or exhibition. Although only opened in February 2006, there have already been many world-famous artists in the Great Hall (e.g.: Jan Garbarek, Andrea Rost, Chick Corea, András Schiff, Marcus Miller).
The Grand Hall in the Kölcsey Centre
The event hall with the biggest capacity in Hungary outside of Budapest (8,000 people) is the Főnix Events Hall, which besides the international organization of different sport events (e.g. gymnastics world championship, ice-hockey world championship, handball European championship) also renders it possible to have periodical fairs and concerts (e.g.: Deep Purple, Bryan Adams, Joe Cocker).
Several important events in Debrecen have a well-established history: from the middle of the 1960s different festivals have been held in the city. The Flower Carnival of long traditions, an event attracting a large number of visitors from all over the country and from abroad as well, was first held in 1967. During the carnival artistic flower compositions and art groups from all over the world march along the streets of Debrecen. The Debrecen Jazz Days programme series or the biannually organized Bartók Béla International Choir Competition also have long histories, but the Debrecen Military Band Festival is a significant event as well. In the middle of March the programmes of the Spring Festival and Spring Exhibition are organized, where visitors may choose among programmes from classical and pop concerts through folk dance and theatrical performances to different exhibitions and movies. From the 1990s cultural programme organizing greatly livened in the city, among the new programmes we must mention the Debrecen Autumn Festival, the Cívis Promenade series of events in the pedestrian zone of the city held in summer months, as well as the Debrecen Wine Carnival and the Beer Carnival.
In Debrecen those interested in sports may find different possibilities from athletics and ball games, through horseback riding and swimming to combat sports and activities to be played on ice. Primarily as a result of the investments of the near past, several high-standard sports facilities operate in the city, and there are also numerous different sport clubs.
The Athletics Centre in the Great Forest
The Debrecen Swimming Pool, opened in 2006, is one of the most modern sports facilities in Hungary. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that its 50 meters swimming pool can be converted into a 25- or 33-meter pool with the help of a portable wall. The building complex also includes a training pool, Jacuzzi, Finnish sauna and an outdoors pool with thermal water. Since the opening of the facility it has been the venue for several significant sport events (e.g. Water Polo Hungarian Cup Finals, Hungarian Short Course Swimming Championship in 2006), and besides that, in December 2007 the 11th Short Course Swimming European Championship was also held here.
The Debrecen Ice Centre was opened to the public in May 2004, and is nowadays considered one of the most modern facilities in the country. The lightweight construction ice centre built based on Finnish technology and with a grandstand of 500 seats as well as almost 1,700 m2 excellent quality ice surface, awaits sports lovers almost all year round.
There are more than 10 building complexes providing fitness services in Debrecen, among which one of the most important is the 2,000 m2 area Aktív Sport and Recreation Centre. The facility provides on the one hand several types of sports activities: those interested can chose the service that best fit them in style and fitness, from 72 isotonic and cardio machines, gyms suitable for 15 and 30 people and 4 qualified squash rooms. On the other hand the building complex also serves the needs of those looking for relaxation and fun (bowling alleys, pools table and darts are available).
The Great Forest Culture Park consists of two units. The Zoo and Botanical Garden of the Great Forest established second in Hungary after the one in Budapest in 1958, introduces 15,000 entities of 165 species from 5 continents, on a 17-hectare conservation area of the Great Forest. Besides the rare, exotic animals (e.g. toucan, flamingo and the gibbon) the domestic fauna and indigenous animals can also be visited. The other unit of the Park is the Ludas Matyi Amusement Park, which is the largest regular amusement park of the east Hungarian region. More than 15 rides (including a children’s railway and Ferris-wheel) await the visitors. Among these we can highlight the merry-go-round with horses created at the end of the 1800s, nowadays considered an industrial historical relic, as well as the Haunted Castle, where one can meet the famous characters of Hungarian folk-tales.
The Malompark Shopping Mall opened in 1998 and situated in one of the most frequented areas of Debrecen, close to downtown, the University of Debrecen and the Great Forest, is a modern shopping centre. The building complex consists of two parts. The basic function of the main building is shopping, with the most important shops being the Interspar hypermarket, Praktiker do-it-yourself shop and the Media Markt electronics department store. Malompark II. focuses mainly on services, so within that it gives home to the Aktív Sport and Recreation Centre, E.ON Customer Services and the Malompark Post Office. Altogether through the different shops the shopping mall provides app. 200,000 types of products and services to it visitors.
Besides the Malompark Shopping Mall the Debrecen Plaza Shopping and Entertainment Centre also plays a major part in the life of Debrecen, located in the heart of Debrecen. The most important elements of the 17,000 m2 two-storey building complex are the Cinema City cinema centre, the Match supermarket, Alexandra book store, Merkur Spielothek amusement centre and the Elektro Pont electronics store.
Besides the above-mentioned, the high level and quality shopping possibilities provided by Debrecen are demonstrated among others by the presence of the Tesco hypermarket, Cora hypermarket, Baumax do-it-yourself store, Euronics and Electroworld electronics stores as well as the drug store network of Drogerie Markt and Rossmann.
Bathing culture based on medicinal thermal water
It is a world-wide tendency today that preserving health plays a gradually increasing role in the motivation of spending leisure time. Due to the high value of the geothermic gradient, there is a significant supply of thermal and medicinal waters in the Northern Great Plain (there are more than 200 springs providing water of more than 30°C) the intense utilization of which began in the 20th century. The temperature of the thermal water varies, in some places it is only 43°C, while elsewhere it can be as high as 82°C. The mineral content of the water is also different at each place; the most typical are springs containing sodium or alkaline bicarbonate water and chloride, iodine, bromine and fluoride. The medicinal waters, among others, are suitable for rheumatic, articular and gynaecological injuries, follow-up treatment of accident injuries, and treating dermatology, respiratory, and kinetic diseases, furthermore in certain cases drinking the waters helps cure gastric and cholepathia disorders as well as bronchitis. Based on this thermal water treasure, a high level of bathing culture has been established in Debrecen and some other settlement of the region, often coupled by medical treatments as well.
In the recreation of the local population and tourists the Aquaticum Medicinal and Bathing Centre in the Great Forest plays an important role. The Great Forest is also favoured by visitors and, bordering the city from the north, gives place for the bathing complex, which is the first conservation area in the country. The medicinal bath constituting one part of the complex has been considered an outstanding medicinal place since 1960. There are thermal pools of different temperatures, steam cabins, in-doors and out-doors thermal water pools, which, besides numerous health preventive services, also provide 40 kinds of treatments for the guests based on medicinal waters. The water of the city is 63°C thermal water containing bicarbonate, alkaline chloride, iodine, and bromine, sodium chloride, which also contains considerable magnesium, calcium and metaboric acid. The medicinal water is especially suitable for the treatment of different articular diseases and deformations, soft rheumatism, ischialgia, akinesia after nervous diseases, kinetic deformation after injuries, accidents, gynaecological complaints, orthopaedic diseases, stenosis, etc.
Aquaticum Medicinal and Bathing Centre
The thermal bath of the medicinal bathing complex surrounded by the centennial oaks of the Great Forest awaits visitors all year round, while the water park is open to the public from May till September. The water park includes medicinal, swimming, splashing, children’s, and wave pools, but there is also an indoor-swimming pool, a sauna and the related solariums. In summer 2003 the almost five thousand square meter indoors Mediterranean Water Resort complex was opened, where effervescent pool, furling bath, wave-swimming-play pool area, furling cave bath, massaging water jet, cave pool with water fall, underwater massage, 11 different water slides for children and 5 splash pools await visitors.
Slides of the Mediterranean Water Resort
Due to its distinguished international significance and uniqueness, outstanding among the medicinal baths of the region, Hajdúszoboszló, with the largest bathing complex in Europe, situated within 25 km of the geometrical centre of the proposed area also has to be mentioned. The 67-74 °C medicinal water with alkaline ionic, iodic, bromine content of Hajdúszoboszló is suitable for treating, among others, kinetic and dermatological diseases and gynaecological complaints. Connected to the indoors medicinal bath providing 40 kinds of treatments based on the medicinal waters, is a 30-hectare open-doors swimming pool complex – Mediterranean beach with its 6,200 m2 water surface considered the largest built pool in Central Europe – and an indoors 50-meter sports swimming pool. Hungary’s first slide park was built on the area of the open-doors swimming pool, consisting of 12 different slides of a total of 1 km length, called the Aquapark. The tourist position of Hajdúszoboszló is further enhanced by the complex bath development to be implemented from 4.5 billion HUF European Union support in the near future. However, with the services of the open-door swimming pool complex and the medicinal bath the possibilities of medicinal recreation still in store in Hajdúszoboszló do not end here, since the town also has wellness hotels, which have their own medicinal pools, and await their guests with treatments in place.
Natural assets, excursions
The region is richly endowed in terms of natural assets and sights (many of which are protected today), and consequently offers outstanding possibilities for those interested in nature and excursions. The very roots of nature protection can be traced to the region of Debrecen, as the first nature conservation area of the country, a part of the Great Forest of Debrecen, was created here in 1939, and Hungary’s first national park was also established in the close vicinity of Debrecen, on the Hortobágy. The number of protected natural assets and areas has continuously increased since, and today two national parks, two dozen nationally and more than a hundred locally protected areas can be found in the region.
Foremost among the protected natural assets and also possessing great significance in terms of eco-tourism in the region is the Hortobágy National Park, the first and (with a total area of some 82 thousand hectares) still the largest national park of the country, where the protection of the landscape and economic activities continue to co-exist in an exemplary fashion. The original area of the park is a biosphere reservation, with one-quarter of it a priority protected area under the Ramsar Agreement on the protection of aquatic birds. On the huge alkaline desert of natural origin, populous herds of once indigenous Hungarian species of domestic animals (grey cattle, racka sheep) were grazing; however, their numbers have significantly decreased by now, even though these stocks of animals still play an important role in the preservation of genes. The once famous world of herdsmen has also long been a thing of the past, and its memories are by and large preserved only in museums and roadside inns, although cultural traditions constituting important attraction to tourists are still maintained vividly. The shows of horse- and cattle-herders are enthralling, as is also the mirage appearing in the distance, the sight of migrating water fowl, or the commotion at the Bridge Fair. Nothing symbolises the values and significance of the Hortobágy National Park better than the fact that in 1999 it received the honour of being listed as a UNESCO’s World Heritage site, as a prime example of the long-standing coexistence between humankind and nature.
The monotonous terrain of the Hortobágy is actually home to a very diverse biology, with four basic types of habitat that can be differentiated on the territory of the national park. The largest among these are the characteristic salt grasslands and pastures, and also include loess steppes, which can only be found today in isolated patches, tide lands adjacent to the park to the west that evoke landscapes typical before the regulation of the River Tisza, as well as the open bodies of water and marshlands that are also regarded as real avian paradises. From among the numerous bodies of water in the park, special mention should be made of the Lake Tisza Bird Reserve, also constituting a part of the national park, which is the largest and most diverse such habitat in the region. The Directorate of the Hortobágy National Park is headquartered in Debrecen, and it supervises not only the Hortobágy, but also other areas. Hajdú-Bihar, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok and Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg Counties belong under the jurisdiction of the Directorate, as does also Lake Tisza, and all types of habitat in the Great Plain of Hungary can be found on the 1,100 km of protected area it supervises. Special reference from among these should be made to the larger Hajdúság, Szatmár-Bereg and Central-Tisza and Bihar-plains landscape protection districts, as well as the nature conservation areas of national significance.
Nature conservation areas of national significance also include the Great Forest of Debrecen, which is a typical example for forests of lily-of-the-valley and oak association. The 1,082-hectare Great Forest is located in the northern part of the city, and is still a favourite excursion destination of the city-dwellers. This is where, among other things, the Aquaticum Medicinal and Bath Centre, the Great Forest Culture Park and the Botanical Garden of the University of Debrecen are located.
Outstanding among the elements of the natural environment of Debrecen and its vicinity is the area of the Erdőspuszták, surrounding the city in the shape of a semi-circle approximately 10 km to the east. Its busiest and most developed recreational centre is located next to Lake Vekeri, which provides opportunities for fishing and boating. Visitors can acquaint themselves with the history of the region, as well as its flora and fauna in the Erdőspuszta exhibition house and the surrounding arboretum, which includes a 3-km educational path. One interesting way to reach the area is by way of the “Zsuzsi” train, which is one of the oldest narrow-gauge forest railway line of Hungary. The attractiveness of the Erdőspuszta will be significantly enhanced by the Hotel Arborétum recreational complex, which is to be opened at the end of 2008.
With landscapes very different from the plains where Debrecen is located, several hills and mountains can also be reached within a distance of 100 km, offering diverse recreational opportunities. The Bükk Mountains, mainly consisting of limestone, can be reached to the northwest, in the direction of Eger or Miskolc, and boasts many interesting destinations and sights. The central part of the mountain range, the Bükk Plateau, with an elevation of 800-900 metres above sea level, a length of 18-20 km and a width of 6-7 km, is the biggest and highest plateau of Hungary. The plateau is intermitted by dolinas (valleys) of splendid beech and planted pine forests, and also has many botanical rarities in the form of plant associations and forest clearings (e.g. Nagy-mező, Zsidő-rét). The rock formations protruding at the edges of the mountains (Bél-kő, Ör-kő, Pes-kő, Tar-kő, Három-kő, Örvény-kő, stb.) offer wonderful panoramic views, as do also the valleys reaching deep into the mountain range (Szalajka, Hór, Garadna Valleys, etc.). The caves of the mountains offer wonderful dripstone formations, as well as archaeological findings (Suba, Szeleta Cave, Istállóskő Caves). Several excursion and visitor centres welcome tourists in the Bükk, and skiing slopes complete with lifts are also available in the Bánkút area. The majority of the mountains are protected as part of the Bükk National Park, established in 1977.
The landscapes of the Zemplén Mountains offer spectacular sights to lovers of nature, who can roam the mountains on several posted tourist paths. The largely untouched, conterminous forests, tent-shaped mountains and picturesque valleys of this mountain range of volcanic origin offer wonderful opportunities for hiking. The Zemplén has favourable endowments also in the field of wildlife management and hunting: most species of game hunted in Hungary can be found here and the river valleys also offer unique opportunities of hunting for water-based species. The area is also rich in historic monuments, fortifications, castles and ecclesiastical buildings, which are even majestic in the ruins.
The Bihar Mountains are located in Romania, but very close to the Hungarian border, with its central parts easily accessible from Debrecen in a south-south-eastern direction via Oradea. The Bihar Mountains constitute the central core of the Transylvania Island Mountains, bordered on the east by the Réz, on the east by the Gyalui, to the south by the Transylvanian Érc and the Zarándi, and to the west by the Béli Mountains and the Király Forest. Its tallest peak, Nagy-Bihar, is 1849 m tall. Its main attractions, however, are not even the majestic mountain peaks, but the cliffs and rock formations, the waterfalls, caves and scattered mountain farms. Nowhere else can one find so many fascinating karst phenomena within a distance of a few kilometres. The most important sights include the wonderful caves and other karst formations (Medve, Csoda Caves, Szekrisóra Ice Cave, Mézgedi Dripstone Cave, etc.), the picturesque valleys and straits, and the breathtaking waterfalls. The area of the headwaters and narrows of the Meleg-Szamos constitute the so-called “Szamosbazár”, which is an unforgettable landscape with a huge, impassable precipice and a panoramic road with scenic lookout points around the crest.
Built heritage, folk traditions and culture
The Plains region never had rich sources of long-lasting building materials, and so it is not surprising that relatively few architectural relics survived from centuries ago. Nevertheless, the architectural heritage still cannot be considered poor, and the folk traditions of the region are, in fact, quite rich and also still alive in some places.
The majority of the architectural assets of the region are protected monuments, and some of them are also nationally protected monuments or tourist attractions, which are known across the nation. As is also characteristic in Hungary in general, the majority of the monuments in the North Great Plain Region are also churches, residential or urban houses, but the number of castles and manors is also significant. Despite the fact that practically half of Debrecen was destroyed in the fire of 1802, also commemorated by the famous poet of the city, still it is this city that has the highest number and most significant protected monuments. The built heritage of the city includes some famous buildings known around the country (the Great Reformed Church, the Reformed College, the University of Debrecen, Hotel Aranybika, Déri Museum, the Truncated Church, Csokonai Theatre), as well as the typical, old “Civis” houses. Naturally, the other two county seats of the region also have important architectural sights. Among other things, visitors should see the buildings of the County Hall, Krúdy Hotel and the City Hall in Nyíregyháza, and the Inner City Great Church, the St. Francis Chapel and the County Hall in Szolnok.
All across the region, but especially in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County, there is a large number of castles and mansions, built in various architectural styles, some of which are utilised for different purposes (e.g. Tiszadob, Vaja, Vásárosnamény, Lónya, Mándok, Tiszavasvári etc.). Also representing significant value are the relics of industrial history, including, for example the watermills in Túristvándi, unique in Europe for its lacustrian foundation, or the Dry Mill in Tarpa.
Folk traditions and the relics of folk architecture occupy a special place in the wealth of the region’s cultural heritage. The masterpieces of the herdsmen’s art, bone and wood carvings, various types of embroidery (from the Bihar and Bereg areas, as well as the embroidered felt coats of shepherds), leathercraft, saddlery, or the black pottery of Nádudvar all represent unique values. The memories of traditional livestock-raising and life in the “puszta” are still preserved in many places by the sweep-pole wells, sheep-folds and shepherd’s cottages. A built structure inseparably tied with the image of the Hortobágy is the famous Nine Hole Bridge, which is still used today.
There are more than one hundred museums, collections of local history and other exhibitions across the region. The most attractive among them are Déri Museum of Debrecen (the best known works of art exhibited are the monumental paintings of Mihály Munkácsy, but the museum also has rich collections of archaeology, art history and ethnography), as well as the András Jósa Museum of Nyíregyháza and the János Damjanich Museum of Szolnok. Also well known around the country are the Shepherds’ Museum of Hortobágy, and special reference should be made to the Sóstó Museum Village in Nyíregyháza-Sóstófürdő, which presents the folk architecture and interiors of the North Trans-Tisza region (school, pub, church, parish, residential buildings, etc.).
The North Great Plain Region is home to many regularly held festivals and other events, some of which are of national and even international significance. In addition to the already mentioned major events held in Debrecen, one can choose from many other interesting and popular programmes around the world. These include the Hortobágy Bridge Fair, the Festival of Shepherds, the Hortobágy Equestrian Days, the Szatmár Music Days, the Szatmár Festival, the Nyírség Autumn, the Fruit Carnival, the Szolnok Arts Festival and the Szoboszló Dixiland Days, to mention just a few.
The region is also the national centre of important religions, which is also supported by the census figures of 2001, which showed that 33.7% of Hungarians practicing the reformed (Calvinist) faith, as well as 56.4% of Greek (Eastern) Catholics, live in the North Great Plain region. Debrecen is the Hungarian centre of Reformation, and consequently, the Reformed Church plays a defining role in the region. Accordingly, there are a number of famous church buildings in the region, ranging from the Great Reformed Church to smaller churches with wooden bell towers or painted wooden-panelled ceilings (e.g. Tákos, Csaroda, Tarpa), while the face-shaped grave markets of the cemetery of Szatmárcseke are unique also on a European scale. The Hungarian centre of the Greek Catholic church is Nyíregyháza, while the village of Máriapócs is an important place of pilgrimage and its 18th-century church is a valuable architectural relic. Churches in almost all settlements of the region are nationally protected monuments, and in the Jászság one can also find many beautiful roadside crucifixes, statues and painted columns.
The region is also an important part of the country from the point of view of gastronomy, as the ingredients and the food prepared from them are popular in many places. More and more emphasis is laid on showcasing traditional local products (apples, honey, walnuts, plum brandy, pumpkins, horseradish) and foods (shepherd’s meals, slambuc, Hortobágy meat pancakes, Tisza fish soup, etc.). It is a positive development that in recent years there has been an increase in the number of festivals and other events showcasing the gastronomic traditions of the region (Fruit Carnival, Szolnok, Goulash Festival, Debrecen Turkey Days, International Pumpkin Festival, Hajdúszoboszló Organic Food and Wine Festival, Szatmár Festival, Kevi Shepherd’s Festival, Harvesters’ Festival, etc.).
Surface waters, fishing, hunting
Debrecen is not very rich in surface waters; however, the landscape of the North Great Plain abounds in many rivers, including the Tisza and its tributaries, cut-offs, as well as various canals, and there is also a wealth of natural and artificial lakes and other bodies of water. The Tisza River and Lake Tisza, as well as many other waters, offer many opportunities for relaxation and active leisure activities. Nature-lovers looking quiet bodies of water will not be disappointed, and neither will those in favour of lively beaches and water sports or fishing.
Due to the fluctuating and frequently low levels, most of the rivers of the region are not navigable by larger ships, boats of yachts, but are usually suitable for smaller motorboats and ideal for use by human-propelled water vehicles. Accordingly, the most popular form of water-based tourism in the region is canoeing or kayaking on rivers. The favourite route of such tours is the River Tisza, especially its picturesque upper section, but tours are also frequent on the River Túr.
The best beaches are available on the River Tisza and the Tisza Lake, as well as on certain cut-off sections of the river. The best known and most developed natural beaches are located along the Tisza Lake, and foremost among them is Abádszalók, which offers many other entertainment opportunities also.
The North Great Plain is one of the richest areas of Hungary in terms of fishing. The meandering River Tisza with its tributaries and cut-offs, the various canals (Eastern and Western Main Canal, Nagykunság Canal), as well as the artificial and natural lakes welcome fisherman with an abundance of fish.
Hunting enthusiasts will also find excellent opportunities in the region, which is favoured and frequented by foreign hunters, too. It is mainly small-game hunting, but apart from hares, pheasants and wild ducks, one can also frequently encounter wild boars and various species of deer. All kinds of hunting including pheasant and hare beats, search hunting, shooting from stands or from vehicles are available, as is also hunting with cross-bow or falconry. The different species of game can be hunted at various times of the year: those interested should contact specialised agencies or huntsmen’s associations.
Bicycling and horseback riding
In addition to passive resting, many people today choose active forms of spending their leisure time, including bicycling and horseback riding. The flat landscape of the region offers many excellent opportunities for bicycle tourism, and in addition to the continuously expanded network of bike paths, the embankments of rivers also serve as natural bicycle paths for those wishing to discover the region on two wheels. As part of Route 11 of the EuroVelo international network (connecting Nord Cap in Norway and Athens), a fully posted bicycle path also runs across part of the region along the Tisza River (Rakamaz-Tiszasas).
Horse-riding and horse-breeding have constituted an integral part of Hungarian life and history over the centuries. The horsemen of the “puszta,” as well as outstanding Hungarian achievements of various equestrian sporting events, further improved the reputation of Hungarian horse-breeding, which is currently experiencing a renaissance, with an increasing number of people practicing this sport and hobby. Horseback riding allows people to explore areas that are difficult or impossible to reach by other means of transport, while they are also capable of enjoying the beauty of the natural landscape to the fullest. Depending on the number, type and quality of services equestrian facilities are ranked as having one to five “horseshoes”. In the interest of providing high-quality and safe service, part of the qualification is also the examination for the horses, which is unique to Hungary.
The North Great Plain Region is one of the regions of the country where equestrian sports can be pursued on a number of locations. The terrain is ideal, and the traditions of both riding and breeding horses are internationally recognised (especially due to the Hortobágy). In many places in the region, one can find highly developed equestrian centres: according to the survey of the Hungarian Association of Equestrian Sports, there are 20 qualified equestrian facilities in the region. Two of these have the highest, five-horseshoe classification, and 6 are in the four-horseshoe category, including one in Debrecen. There are both numerous equestrian tour routes, both shorter and longer, and horse-related events and programmes are frequently held.