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Hortobagy National Park

Last Updated 13/06/2021

Around June I became aware that a few things existed, Hungarian horsemen and their incredible skills, the UNESCO listed Hortobágy National Park, the Puszta and the rare and heritage breed livestock of this unique region. We’ve been trying to make a visit to this area ever since but our first chance came with our trans-Europe, Romania to London roadtrip. We decided to make this trip fun and an exploration rather than the usual trudge, so seeing these Hungarian blue-clad cossacks with their whip-cracking trick riding, grey cattle and weirdly horned racka sheep became our first destination. We drove south from Maramures, crossed the border into Hungary near Oradea and headed to Hortobagy National Park for the first night of our summer adventure in Europe.

Our Hortobagy travel blog includes staying in Hortobagy, visiting Hortobagy National Park, the Puszta and the famous Hungarian horsemen, heritage cattle, sheep and more livestock.

Hortobagy National Park
The long-horned Hungarian Grey Cattle were once near extinction, now they graze the Hungarian Great Plain again. Here cattle dogs expertly drive them towards us.

Hortobagy National Park

We found it difficult to find accurate information on this region online, most of the websites were in Hungarian and defeated Google translate also the information they offered was confusing and less than helpful. We decided to head to the Hortobágy Nemzeti Park Tourist Information Centre after breakfast and simply ask how best to enjoy and explore the area. Their top suggestion was the Mata Stud and their 10am tour was about to start, we had a plan!

Please check and double-check all the information we give you locally as times, places, dates, and services do, as we found, change often. Restrictions and closures may apply.

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Wells for watering animals Hungary
Trditional wells dot the flat grasslands of the Great Hungarian Plain and keep the livestock watered.

This post will mostly consist of photos from our tour at the Mata Stud, we’ll also tell you where we stayed and give you more options on things to do and places to visit in and around Hortobágy National Park. This was an incredible morning and absolutely worth doing, you can reach the area easily by road, it’s in central, eastern Hungary, or there is a train station nearby at Mata.

What is the Puszta?

 Hungarian Racka horned sheep. Traditional breed Hortobagy
Traditional Racka sheep with their crazy v-shaped horns, enjoying some shade at a roadside on the Hungarian Plain.

UNESCO say ” Puszta consists of a vast area of plains and wetlands in eastern Hungary. Traditional forms of land use, such as the grazing of domestic animals, have been present in this pastoral society for more than two millennia.”

It’s a fascinating area to drive through, encircled by commercial agricultural land, endless sunflowers, corn and grains, the Hortobágy Puszta is reminiscent of the grassy plains of the UK, even Mongolia. Grasslands and wetlands mingle, giving a diverse habitat and abundant birdlife.

Where to Stay for Hortobágy National Park

 curly haired Hungarian pigs Great Hungarian plain
Curly haired Hungarian pigs are another traditional breed. They come in red, white and black. Interestingly, I saw a curly white pig at our local livestock market in Romania, I thought it was a freak genetic occurrence, but maybe not. Western Romania was formerly part of Hungary.
Waterbuffalo in Hungary and Romania
Water buffalo first came to this part of the world from India with overland caravans. They are stronger than the Hungarian grey cattle, can run faster than a horse if you make them cross and of course, make delicious mozzarella. We often see them in Romanian farms too.

We visited the Hortobágy area mid-week, in July and we found it hard to find accommodation through limited availability. We settled on a lower-cost small hotel in Balmazújváros, a small town on the edge of the park. Breakfast was included, the family suite had 2 separate bedrooms and the town had a good Hungarian food restaurant and a fantastic swimming pool with natural hot water spa a short walk away. We would recommend this hotel as a good basic choice.

Check out prices and availability for Kerekes Panzió here.

Pictures of Hungarian Horsemen From Hortobagy National Park and the Mata Stud

Hortobagy National Park
The whips are purely for display and to demonstrate whip cracking skill while riding without a girth. The saddles aren’t attached at all.
Hortobagy National Park
The horses kneel then lie down while the rider continues to twirl his whip.
Hortobagy National Park
Apparently this is incredibly rare. Horses sitting like a dog. I have no idea.
Hortobagy National Park
These carts are very similar to those still in use in Romania today, historically salt from the Transylvanian salt mines passed this way by cattle cart. ( See our post on the Turda Salt Mine)
Hungarian shepherd and cattle dog herding grey cattle at Hortobagy
Well trained cattle dogs herd the huge Hungarian Grey Cattle accross the grasslands.

Is the Mata Stud and Hortobágy Park Good for Kids?

Hortobagy horsemen good for kids hungary

It’s fantastic for kids! The animal park mentioned below gives children the opportunity to interact with baby animals and everything about this region is extremely interesting and educational, from the whip-cracking horsemen to the rooftop crane’s nests. The little museum at the Visitor’s Centre is great too.

Other Things to Do in and Around Hortobágy National Park

 Traditional Hungarian Thatched barns
Thatch reaches the ground on the long Hortobgy barns. It provides insulation in summer’s heat and winter’s snow. These barns house the racka sheep a the Mata Stud.

Things to do in and around Hortobagy National Park include the following:

For you, for Pinterest

Hungary's Horsemen and Heritage Livestock

So that’s our Europe road trip off to a great start, we enjoyed exploring the Hortobágy National Park and meeting the blue Hungarian horsemen along their animals, even more than expected. It was a morning to remember. Onward now into the south of Hungary for Lake Balaton, Hungary’s inland sea, and from there beautiful Slovenia. Stick around to follow! This Hortobagy National Park blog first appeared on this website.

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