The travel experts at Lonely Planet offer their top recommendations for a trip to Hungary.
Stunning architecture, piquant cuisine, vital folk art and steaming thermal spas are Hungary's major attractions, but it's the uniqueness of the people, their culture and language that makes it so mysterious.
This gem of a city is blessed with rarities of Turkish architecture and early Christian and Roman tombs. Its Mosque Church is the largest Ottoman structure still standing in Hungary, while the Hassan Jakovali Mosque has survived the centuries in excellent condition.
Pecs is exceptionally rich in art and museums. What's more, the climate is mild - almost Mediterranean-like - and you can't help noticing all the almond trees in bloom or in fruit here.
It may consist of a mere two streets, but Holloko is the most beautiful of Hungary's villages. Its 65 whitewashed houses, little changed since their construction in the 17th and 18th centuries, are pure examples of traditional folk architecture and have been on Unesco's World Heritage list for 25 years.
Most importantly, it is a bastion of traditional Hungarian culture, holding fast to the folk art of the ethnic Paloc people and some of their ancient customs.
Paprika, the sine qua non of Hungarian cuisine, may not be exactly what you expect. All in all, it's pretty mild stuff and a taco with salsa or a chicken vindaloo from the corner takeaway tastes more fiery.
But the fact remains that many Hungarian dishes such as porkolt (stew of beef, pork or most commonly veal) and halaszle (fish soup) wouldn't be, well, Hungarian dishes without the addition of the ''red gold'' spice grown around Szeged and Kalocsa.
It comes in varying degrees of piquancy and is a culinary and cultural Magyar essential.
Sopron has the most intact medieval centre in Hungary, its cobbled streets lined with one Gothic or colourful early baroque facade after another. A wander through the back streets here is like stepping back in time.
The icing on the cake is the town's Roman ruins. But architecture aside, the little town that brought down the Iron Curtain beckons with its many vineyards and cellars where you can sample the local wine.
With 250 resident species, several of them endangered and many rare, birds are plentiful in Hungary and you don't have to go out of your way to observe our feathered friends.
Head to the Hortobagy on the Great Plain to see autumn migrations, or to one of the many lakes, such as Tisza, to see aquatic birdlife. Bustards proliferate in Kiskunsag National Park near Kecskemet, while white storks nesting atop chimneys in eastern Hungary are quitea sight from May to October.
This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Hungary (7th Edition) by Steve Fallon, et al. © Lonely Planet 2013. Published this month, RRP: $42.99.