With its fabulous Baroque heart, SZENTENDRE (St Andrew), 19km north of Budapest, is unlikely to disappoint. Called "the Montmartre of the Danube" by Claudio Magris, it remains a delightful maze of houses painted in autumnal colours, with secretive gardens and lanes winding up to hilltop churches. The town's location on the lower slopes of the Pilis range is not only beautiful, but ensures that Szentendre enjoys more hours of sunlight than anywhere else in Hungary, making it a perfect spot for an artists' colony.
Before the artists moved in, Szentendre's character had been formed by waves of refugees from Serbia. The first influx followed the catastrophic Serb defeat at Kosovo in 1389, which foreshadowed the Turkish occupation of Hungary in the sixteenth century, when Szentendre fell into ruin. After Hungary had been liberated, the Turkish recapture of Belgrade in 1690 precipitated the flight of 30,000 Serbs and Bosnians led by Patriarch Arsenije Carnojević, 6000 of whom settled in Szentendre, which became the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church in exile. Prospering through trade, they replaced their wooden churches with stone ones and built handsome town houses. However, as Habsburg toleration waned and phylloxera (vine-blight) and floods ruined the local economy, they began to trickle back to Serbia, so that by 1890 less than a quarter of the population was Serb. Today, only a few dozen families of Serbian descent remain.
In 1928, thanks to its close proximity to Budapest and the excellent light conditions, Szentendre became a working artists' colony, and today its links with art are as strong as ever, with some two hundred artists working here and the town's countless museums and galleries vying for the attention of the peak-season tourist crowds. The town is extremely popular and can get swamped in the summer months, but it's still possible to escape the tourists and enjoy the quieter side of the place.
A good time to visit is for Szentendre's summer festival (Szentendrei Nyár), which runs from late June to late August and encompasses jazz and folk music evenings, organ concerts, dancing and theatrical performances; it culminates with a pop concert and fireworks on August 20. On the preceding day, a Serbian festival with kolo (circle) dancing takes place at the Preobrazenska Church. Tourinform can furnish you with more specific information on the festival's events.