Once upon a time, DEBRECEN was the site of Hungary's greatest livestock fair, and foreigners tended to be snooty about "this vast town of unsightly buildings", with its thatched cottages and a main street that became "one liquid mass of mud" when it rained, "so that officers quartered on one side were obliged to mount their horses and ride across to have dinner on the other". Even so, none denied the significance of Debrecen (pronounced "Deb-retzen"), both economically and as the fount of Hungarian Calvinism. From the sixteenth century onwards there wasn't a generation of lawyers, doctors or theologians that didn't include graduates from its Calvinist College.
Now the second most populous city in Hungary (around 200,000), Debrecen is still renowned for its university and teacher-training colleges, but for all its past grandeur there's a strong sense that the region is missing out on incoming Western investment. However, using his good connections with central government, the Fidesz mayor has in recent years arranged huge grants for beautifying the city, and is pressing for the completion of the M3 motorway to nearby Nyiregyháza, which would open up the region.
More pertinently for visitors, Debrecen hosts two major festivals, plus a mega Flower Carnival on August 20; its restaurants, pubs and nightlife are as good as any on the Plain; and the city makes an ideal base for excursions to Hortobágy National Park and the Hajdúság and Nyírség regions.