Normafa is a popular hiking destination for generations of Budapest families, and its walking trails, picnic facilities, and playground were showing signs of this decades-long affection. After the local government announced that it would carry out an enhancement project lasting years, the first phase of this suburban beautification endeavor is now complete. The main walking path leading to János Hill is freshly paved, new benches and trash cans make the surrounding area cleaner and more comfortable, and the spacious playground sprawled across Anna Meadow is an inviting children’s paradise.
Legend has it that the story of Normafa, the landscape’s namesake beech tree, dates back to the time of 15th-century Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus. Originally called Viharbükk (which translates to “storm beech”), the tree received its present name after 1840. The moniker is associated with the Bellini opera Norma: the area was a much-loved spot for walking excursions, and when a group of actors and actresses from the National Theater came up here on one of their regular trips, politician Pál Nyáry allegedly presented opera singer Rozália Schodelné Klein with a gift from her fans, which prompted the prima donna to break into song, giving an impromptu performance of an aria from the renowned masterpiece. After surviving a series of vicious storms, the tree was finally destroyed by lightning in 1927.
This green oasis on the edge of town has been a cherished day-trip location ever since, and due to the hillside becoming more and more heavily populated over the years, the area is now in constant use on weekdays and weekends as well.
Frequented by runners, dog walkers, and hikers, the countryside setting was lacking in proper infrastructure: the trails were deteriorated, there was a shortage of benches and trash cans, erosion exposed many roots (which looked as untidy as they were dangerous), and slippery leaves scattered everywhere often caused annoying accidents.
Spanning some five years, the wide-scale revamp effort aims to provide inspiration for city dwellers to spend more time outside. In a bid to preserve the beauty of the suburban landscape and reduce the intensity of use, a number of additional paths have been added to give runners, bikers, and hikers more options to choose from.
Before launching the project, the government of the district organized a district meeting and held a referendum to facilitate public discussion, while they also consulted with an NGO representing citizens with disabilities as well as some representatives of WWF.
The two-meter wide path leading to János Hill is now more secure with stabilized gravel paving, after replacing 40 cm of the soil’s top layer with the natural rock from the hill. Relaxation areas and easy-to-read maps can be found beside the elegantly transformed trails.
The new custom-made public furnishings – 30 benches with backrests and ten without, as well as 16 handy rubbish bins – add a refined touch to the refreshing, almost pastoral scene. Built on solid stone bases, the pieces are made from simple, high-quality, robust, surface-treated oak logs, and the bins showcase a similar design and identical materials.
The playground on Anna Meadow needed significant renewing as well – it is now upgraded with fun equipment, natural colors, and lots of natural-wood surfaces.
Plans for the near future include a small building with bathrooms and a baby-changing room, and several drinking fountains.
A bike-parking facility is located beside the playground, and exercise lovers can find an outdoor gym next to the hilltop station of the Zugliget Chairlift.
Photo: Norbert Juhász/We Love Budapest 23 pictures
Coming up in the next year, a 4.5-km running track and a track for bicycling and cross-country skiing will be created to further diversify the area. We really appreciate the current direction of development here – preserving local values while being conscientious of the surrounding wildlife is an approach that we wholeheartedly support. To reach Normafa by public transportation, take bus 21 from Széll Kálmán Square to the Normafa stop, or bus 21A from Széll Kálmán Square to the end of the line.