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Hortobágy National Park
This 520 sq km national park offers some of the best bird-watching in Europe: over 310 species have been spotted here in the past 20 years. Among the fragile wetlands, marshes and saline grasslands are many types of herons, egrets, spoonbills, storks, warblers and eagles. The park is also home to the great bustard, one of the world's largest birds, which stands a metre high and weighs in at 20kg. A visit to the best parts of the park requires a guide, and travel must be done by horse, carriage or on foot. The wildlife preserve is about 40km west of Debrecen, in the Great Plain.
The tiny town of Máriapócs is an important place of pilgrimage. Devotees are drawn to a gorgeous Greek Catholic church, which houses the Weeping Black Madonna, an enormous and unbelievably ornate iconostasis that now takes pride of place above the altar. Even Pope John Paul II hurried here in 1991 to pay homage to the miraculous image, which is why the church is in good condition today. What was surely known to him - and not to others - is that this icon is not the original, but a 19th-century copy. The real one is kept in St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.
This tranquil village is the home of the Pannonhalma Abbey. Founded by Benedictine monks almost 1000 years ago, the monastery has been destroyed and rebuilt many times and is now a crazy quilt of Turkish, Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. The interior is beautiful, despite the butchery, and includes a neoclassical library containing some 300,000 volumes (making it the largest private library in Hungary); historical archives holding some of the earliest surviving examples of written Hungarian; a gallery with works by Dutch, Italian and Austrian masters from the 16th to 18th centuries; and, above the red-marble arched doorway, a fresco depicting the patron, St Martin of Tours. Look down to the right near St Martin and you'll see, written in Latin, perhaps the oldest graffiti in Hungary: 'Benedict Padary was here in 1578.' Pannonhalma is a working monastery, and must be visited with a guide. It is 18km southeast of Gyor, in Western Transdanubia.
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