Terrain shapes and bedrock
Characteristic of Hungary’s landforms are mainly extensive lowland areas. Hungary is surrounded by alpine mountain ranges such as the Carpathians in the north and east, the Eastern Alps in the west (see Alps) and the Dinaric Alps in the southwest.
According to COUNTRYAAH, the great Hungarian plain, Alföld, in south-eastern Hungary, occupies half of the country’s surface. It is often called the breath after the steppe vegetation that existed before the cultivation of the area. It is bounded on the west by the Danube and crossed further east by Tisza. The two rivers are separated by a flat plateau area. For the past 25 million years, the area has been the seabed, with thick deposits of sediment deposited. In connection with the ice ages, loose soil and river sediment were then deposited, in which the rivers then cut down and formed flat sinks, breakthrough valleys and river terraces., whereby a backland arose. At the far north-west is a smaller plain, Kisalföld, which is crossed by Rába with tributaries. See also plain.
The two plains are separated by a mountain country, the Transdanubian Highlands. It consists in the west of the Bakony forest, a plateau of 400–700 m above sea level, consisting of limestone and dolomite, partially overlain by basaltic quilts. In its southern edge lies the shallow Lake Balaton, the largest lake in central Europe.
Northeast of Budapest, the highlands continue as part of the Carpathian interior, volcanic arc. Here, in the Mátra Mountains, Hungary’s highest point is Kékes, 1,015 m above sea level. A highland area is also spreading between Lake Balaton and the Danube in the southwest with loose plateaus and the Mecsek Mountains, 682 m above sea level, where rich coal deposits are found.
Hungary has a temperate climate with a strong continental feel. As the main part of the terrain is long and flat, the climate also does not vary significantly between the different parts of the country. However, weather variations during the year are relatively extreme compared to western Europe and stable weather types tend to be for longer periods of time. The Danube freezes during cold winters and the ice can then pose a danger to boat traffic. The transition between winter and summer (and vice versa) can be rapid with abrupt temperature variations. Spring and autumn are therefore not as well-defined as in western and northern Europe.
The annual average temperature in Hungary is about 10 °C except for the highest peaks in the Carpathians in the north, where the temperature reaches down to about 5 °C. Winters are long and cold with snow that is usually 30-40 days, longer during extreme winters. January has an average temperature of –4 °C to 0 °C. The summers are warm with an average temperature in July of 19-23 °C; daytime temperatures closer to 40 °C are not uncommon during the high summer. The highest measured temperature is 41.9 °C, the lowest –35.0 °C.
The annual rainfall is in the lowlands 500–700 mm, in the mountain areas up to 800 mm. Most of the precipitation falls during the early summer and then to a large extent as showers.
Plant-and animal life
The nature of Hungary is largely characterized by the Tisza/Körös and Danube/Drava rivers, around which wide plains extend. Up to a quarter of the country was regularly flooded until the middle of the 19th century, but as areas and embankments disappeared these areas disappeared and were replaced by intensive, large-scale agricultural parcels with little room for original fauna and flora. Here and there survived the dry grass steppes called pusta, which are still used for extensive pasture with cattle, horses and sheep and have great natural values. The western and northern parts of Hungary are more hilly where the deciduous forests, especially in the altitudes, create a living space for many plants and animals.
In the eastern part of Hungary lies the famous national park Hortobágy, the country’s largest reserve and central Europe’s largest remaining steppe area (pusta), located on the great Hungarian plain of Alföld. Tisza still floods parts of the park during spring and autumn, though to a much lesser extent than a hundred years ago. Today, there is only one fragment left of the natural wetlands (especially salt lakes) that once characterized the region. Instead one has built artificial ponds in large scale, which attracts a variety of looms (egret, silk heron, night heron, purple heron, squacco heron), glossy ibis, spoon drying, ducks (sällsyntastwhite-eyed diving duck), cutting spot, evening falcon, tatar falcon, sea eagle (wintering), black tern and water singer. In the fall and spring, countless amounts of geese, ducks, waders and cranes accumulate, such as 10,000-20,000 blow geese, 30,000 ticks, 10,000-30,000 redspaws, 120,000-200,000 brushes and 45,000-65,000 cranes. This makes Hortobágy one of the most important bird areas in Europe. Still the landscape is characterized by grazing sheep (including rack sheep with spiral horns), horses and Hungarian steppe cattle, a special form of gray, long-horned cattle. Lately, people have been trying to introduce Przewalski’s horse and urox-like cattle to see if they can take over the pasture in the future as the number of tambourines is decreasing. The combination of traditional culture and great natural values make Hortobágy one of Hungary’s most important tourist destinations and the area has been granted World Heritage status by UNESCO.
Just south of the capital Budapest and east of the Danube lies the Kiskunság National Park and Biosphere Reserve. In a varied landscape with puffs, salt lakes, reed areas and sand dunes, there are many different plants and birds, such as thick-footed, stilt-runner, cutting spot, wading swallow, black-headed gull, bearded tern, sea eagle, evening falcon and blue-collar. Excavating rodents such as sisel and hamster and steppe pills (Mustela eversmanii) occur. The area is also important for wintering geese and moving cranes. The proximity to Budapest offers good opportunities for visitors.
In southern Hungary, where the Drava River joins the Danube, lies the Duna-Drava National Park. A canoe trip through the maze of canals with flowering white water lily and yellow water lily as well as lake nut or a hike under majestic poplar, ash, oak and elm in the gallery forests offers unforgettable experiences. Bird life is rich with Hungary’s largest population of black stork, nesting sea eagles, brownies, several herons, kingfishers and summer gulls. Utter hunts in the fish-rich waters with more than 50 different species. Beaverhas been re-implanted to Gemenc north of the Danube – Drava confluence, where a dense trunk of red deer produces trophies sought throughout the world. Wildcats and turtles are common.
In western Hungary, Balaton-felvidéki National Park consists of six different landscape sections around Lake Balaton – one of Central Europe’s largest. Vineyards and many small picturesque villages are spread around the lake, and the lake with its surroundings is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Despite the human presence, there are several valuable natural features. One of the most famous is Kis-Balaton in the southwest corner of the lake – described by the legendary Swedish conservationist Kai Curry-Lindahl in the mid-1960s as one of “Europe’s most important and distinguished bird sanctuary”. Already then the area had been affected by debris, but since then nature has been restored to more than its former self. Today, sea eagles again breed, many herons (egrets, egrets, pupur herons), dwarf cormorants, large cormorants, black tern, beard tern and barley grain. Other attractions around Balaton include the mountains around Keszthely, with caves and a distinctive flora, eg. Gemsrot, and the Bakony Mountains with valuable forests of beech and ebony where white-backed woodpecker has its only known breeding site in Hungary.
In northwestern Hungary, on the border with Austria, the national park Fertő-Hanság is located in the southernmost part of Lake Neusiedler (Hungarian Fertő-tó). Together with the Austrian national park Neusiedler See – Seewinkel, one of Central Europe’s most important wetland areas by UNESCO has been designated a World Heritage Site. The Hungarian part is diverse with a variety of biotopes. The Neusiedler is a labyrinth of reeds and open water where many birds associated with the reed thrive, as egret, pupurhäger, gray goose, spoon drying, bittern, dwarf bittern, crested pochard, ferruginous duck, bearded tit, vitstjärning Bluethroats (Luscinia Svecica cyanecula),rattlesnake singers and thrush singers. Thirty-five different fish species have been reported, including the distinctive sludge whisker (Misgurnus fossilus), an eel-like, bottom-living fish with occurrence from the Netherlands in the west to Ladoga in the east. Salt lakes with glazed herb serve as attractive places for stilt runner, cutting spot and red poppy and are kept open by grazing with Hungarian steppe cattle, rack sheep and water buffalo. In the meadow fields, barley grain, bell frog, bell gentian and meadow squirrel thrive. In the surrounding oak forests are growing lady’s slipper.
In northeastern Hungary; On the southern slope of the Western Carpathians lies the national park Aggtelek, adjacent to the Slovak National Park Slovenský Kras. The area is dominated by karst is home to the Imperial Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, headed woodpecker, corncrake, hazel grouse, fire salamander, Danube crested newt (Triturus dobrogicus), yellow-bellied toad (Bombina variegata), hamster, otter, temporarily lynx and wolves, as well as many species of bats. A primitive form of horse – hucul or carpathian pony – as well as deer and deer keep the fields open. As in Slovakia, the National Park is a World Heritage Site.
Hungary has ten national parks, 36 landscaped areas, close to 150 nature reserves and a number of Ramsar areas and biosphere reserves (2012). In total, these comprise about 8% of the country’s area. In addition, Natura 2000 areas cover just over 20% of the country’s area.