Verdant realms of the Pilis and Visegrád mountains

Although people see them as two sides of the same coin, the overlapping regions of the Pilis and Visegrád mountains are micro regions with completely different geological backgrounds.

These neighboring ranges certainly have features in common: they can boast of green foliage, abundant wildlife, unique spots and rich historical heritage, not to mention their wonderful panoramas overlooking the Danube Bend.

This article intends to put you in the mood for a winter hike to the Danube Bend, or to be a compass for winter sports enthusiasts about the natural curiosities for the upcoming season.

As a visual aid to places mentioned below, click here to take a peek at an older but very detailed map. In addition, feel free to click on the links in the article, they will lead you to further useful information about the Danube Bend!

Pilis hegység kilátás

The Pilis portrait

Some consider this the heart chakra of the Earth, others see a green area accessible from the capital within a few minutes. Some seek to find forgotten ruins of an obscure and magical “Ancient Buda Castle” in the depths, and many had learnt respect of the forest and nature here.

Pilis is a mountain range of sedimentary rocks, mainly limestone and dolomite, deposited about 225 million years ago. Its formation took place along tectonic fault lines and eventually its surface eroded over millions of years.

Pilis is the easternmost element of the Transdanubian Mountains, and the small landscape can be divided into three further geographical units.

The Kevély group’s heights are located in the south, northwest to them are the cliff-formations of the Hosszú-hegy (Long-mountain), and on the north lies the Pilis Mountain, which also contains Pilis Peak, the highest point with 756 meters.

The large variety of caves in the region is noteworthy, 15 of which are registered as specially protected natural formations.

The peaks of Pilis are covered with deciduous, lime-loving oaken woods, while beeches and hornbeam oak forests spread across its northern slopes. The mountain range is home to many sensitive and highly protected plant communities (dolomite rock grasslands) and herbaceous rarities (e.g. the Pilis flax and the sesleria sadleriana).

The Pilis’ fauna was known during the Middle Ages as the royal hunting grounds, where only the Hungarian kings had the right to hunt.

Some iconic members or the avifauna are the saker falcon and peregrine falcon nesting in the mountains, but sporadically a short-toed eagle or a brown kite may also be spotted.

In the forest thicket, wild cats and lynxes wander in search of prey. The countryside has numerous wild ungulates, including the goat-shaped, mountain-loving mouflon. The Pannonian lizard, a reptile rarity may also be observed here.

Pilis itself is part of the Transdanubian Mountains, but its northeastern neighbour, the Visegrád mountains geologically belong to the Northern Hungarian Uplands.

However, being geographically separated from its range by the Danube, many think the Visegrád Mountains are also part of the Transdanubian Mountains.

If we piqued your interest about the unique sights of Pilis, read further in this article.

The “royal” Visegrád Mountains

The Visegrád Mountains pose as mighty guardians of the Danube Bend, on the downstream right bank of the river. The superficial observer may associate these mountains with the Pilis, but their rock types and formation are completely different.

The two ranges are separated by the Szentléleki-stream (namesake to Pilisszentlélek, meaning “Holy Spirit”) along a geological fault line.

Both ranges are based on Triassic sediment, which was covered by marshland during the Oligocene period (about 35 million years ago). In a geologically recent era (about 15 million years ago), a strong volcanic activity manifested in the marshland epicentre of the Visegrád mountains, and the subsequent wear and tear eventually formed the range with its characteristic formations.

Prominent heights of the eastern range are the Öreg Pap Mountain (“Old Priest”, 565 meters) and the Urak Asztala (“Table of Lords”, 593 meters). Dobogó-kő is the central dominant block with its 700 meters (part of the National Blue Trail), and the Maróti Mountains extend westward.

These mountains are characterized by crags, canyons (Rám Canyon) trenches (Holdvirág Trench), and unlike Pilis, the volcanic formations (Vadálló Rocks) are also remarkable here. Its flora and fauna show minor differences to that of Pilis (e.g. slightly cooler microclimate, volcanic soil), but is mostly similar, especially in forest biomes.

The historical and cultural center of the microregion is Visegrád, where attractions like the Royal Castle of Visegrad or the ruins of King Mathias’ Renaissance palace and museum can be visited.

Breathtaking panoramas

Listing all wonders of these two mountain ranges would be endless, so instead we would like to highlight some panoramic peaks and observation platforms overlooking the Danube Bend.

Even this list requires some narrowing down, so we will only mention our biggest favorites.

  • Prédikálószék: if you climb this peak at 639 meters above Dömös,  you will be greeted by an amazing panorama overlooking the Danube Bend.
  • The Visegrád Citadel and Solomon Tower: the former watches over the land and waterways from a height, the latter is a medieval residential tower closer to the bank, offering a princely view.
  • Boldog Özséb Lookout: the circular observation tower built at the top of the Pilis Peak is an excellent hiking destination.
  • Strázsa Hill: you can contemplate the beauty of the landscape on the west side of Pilis, at this unique, lesser-known vantage point.

Trails for the boots

The Pilis and Visegrád mountains are among the most popular hiking locations in the country. This is due to their natural treasures, their cultural sights, their proximity to Budapest, their beautiful viewpoints and peaks, as well as the local infrastructure and efforts promoting tourism.

Needless to say, there are many hiking destinations or trails worth mentioning alongside these hills.

The Spartacus trail is a real challenge for the winter. The narrow footpath meanders between Pilisszentlászló and Visegrád, sometimes flanked by steep slopes in the mountain-valley forest. The Pilis Peak has already been introduced as a mountaintop worthy of conquest, but in addition, the hiking trail leading there is a splash of green – and the Holdvirág Trench or the Dera Gorge are close nearby. We also recommend the trail leading to Nagy-Kopasz Mountain, where you can look over the Pilis from the Csergezán Pál lookout.

No matter what you choose or when you visit, these mountains close to the Danube Bend always offer a breath of fresh air and opportunity to recharge. What they perhaps lack in height, they make up for in beauty that delights both the body and soul.