Hungary is known for many things – paprika, goulash, birthplace of the Rubik's Cube. To followers of the Taltos faith it is also known as one of the heart shakras of the earth, a sacred place where energy lines or "ley" converge.
"Dobogoko means beating stone," says our local guide Gyorgy Kovalik, leading us along a steep section of the Thirring-Korut loop in Hungary's mountainous Dobogoko region.
"You can hear the heartbeat of the earth if you put your ear to the rocks."
For now, all I can hear is my own heart hammering in my head. After a gentle descent we begin to climb upwards; through groves of silver birch trees, their naked arms thrust to the sky; under a rocky overhang, where plaques hang in memory of those long passed; and alongside boulders engraved with symbols from the Old Hungarian runic language.
"Coming to Dobogoko is a pilgrimage for most Hungarians," says Kovalik. "It is believed that when we spend time here the energy in our bodies aligns with the shakra energy of the earth."
When we pause on a plateau to admire the view Kovalik tells us the story about the turil bird, a mythical bird of prey, which first appeared in the 9th-century and is said to have led the early Hungarians out of Asia westward to a new motherland. Whether by chance or design, a contour map of our route shows a clear outline of a falcon, its wings soaring across the landscape. "In Taltosism, nothing happens by chance," says Kovalik. "We are all connected to the earth."
And that's the real strength of a tour like this, regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs there's common ground from being immersed in nature.
It's day four of a five-day cruise along the Danube River from Vienna, Austria to Budapest, Hungary aboard Avalon Waterways' newly-christened Avalon View and I've forgone a winery tour in favour of an active hike.
Through the company's Avalon Choice program, which is available on every cruise, guests can select from a wide array of included excursions (up to 28 on some itineraries) from classic sightseeing to immersive discoveries and active adventures. Avalon also offers specialised Active & Discovery itineraries on every major river in Europe including the upper and lower Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Rhone and Seine Rivers as well as the waterways of Holland and Belgium.
Such a variety of choices – from kayaking on the Moselle River to e-biking along the Seine or hiking to the Krushuna waterfalls in Bulgaria – mean that guests can follow their passions, interests and abilities. Every cruise has an Adventure Host and an adventure centre where outdoor equipment such as backpacks, walking poles or binoculars can be borrowed by those wanting to go it alone. While no two nature-based activities are the same, all offer the opportunity to become more deeply immersed in the places you visit.
The Dobogoko region, which is situated in northern Hungary near a bend of the Danube River, is home to a ski area and numerous trekking and mountain bike trails. We start near a small history museum and a hiker's hut built in the 1800s before passing under an elaborately engraved timber archway.
In time we spread out, the sound of my boots and birdsong the only noises in this valley of shadows. As I climb the magnetic pull becomes stronger, uplifting and energising me, until finally we reach the colossal tors. While some wander around in awe, others sit quietly or meditate, all humbled by the spectacle before us.
Chakra of the earth, or simply a beautiful forest? It doesn't matter; time in nature is always good for the heart.
Avalon Waterways operates cruises in Europe, Egypt, Asia and South America. International flights can be added to your booking, plus additional pre and post-cruise accommodation. The eight-day Active & Discovery on the Danube cruise, sailing between Budapest and Deggendorf, is priced from $5060 based on double occupancy. See avalonwaterways.com.au