When you get to Romania, it rapidly becomes clear life is moving on Romanian time now. And that totally works for us – because it lets us explore the diversity between the country’s pulsating capital, its mediaeval towns, Black Sea beaches and Danube Delta, and all in our own time.
The bustling capital: Bucharest
Just an hour and a half’s flight from Vienna, Romania is a country that couldn’t be more diverse if it tried. The capital alone has made a name for itself as a city of stark contrasts. Bucharest is hectic, temperamental and loud – while also being home to quiet, tranquil spaces, like the city’s oldest park, Cişmigiu Park. Bucharest has a diverse heritage, and is an exciting mix of very different architectural styles, including buildings dating back to the Ottoman Empire, palaces in Parisian fin-de-siècle style (which also earned the city its nickname of Micul Paris, or ‘Paris of the East’), alongside faceless concrete block architecture, a relic of the socialist era. Logically enough, the most imposing building is the Palace of Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului). The vast building – which Romanians themselves often refer to disparagingly as the ‘Palace over the People’ rather than ‘Palace of the People’ – is now the seat of the Romanian Parliament. You absolutely have to make the time for a guided tour here! Up on the roof, meanwhile, you’ll find the MNAC Café at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, where you can get both a great breakfast and an equally delicious view over the roofs of the lively city of two million souls.
Other attractions include the Triumphal Arch (Arcul de Triumf), the Athenaeum, which now houses the city’s concert hall, and the historic Royal Palace (Palatul Regal), as well as the Old Court (Curtea Veche), originally founded by legendary Prince Vlad Ţepes Dracula (also known as ‘Vlad the Impaler’, on account of how he liked to deal with his enemies, or their heads, at least).
Bucharest’s urban feel-good zone nowadays, with a truly bohemian character, is the Leipzig Quarter, home to one gallery, hip shop, café and restaurant after another.
After all that sightseeing, of course, you’ll need to look after your physical well-being as well and get a decent meal inside you. Romanian cuisine is particularly heavy and meat-based; one good place to start getting to know classic Romanian delicacies is Locanta jaristea, while another restaurant, Lacrimi si Sfinti, likes to put a more modern spin on the region’s traditional cuisine. As well as such traditional locales, international champions of haute cuisine and a host of trendy restaurants, cafés and bars in the capital such as Biutiful and Simbio have gained a wide national and international following in recent years.
If you really want to get Bucharest, though, you need to check out its nightlife. The Kristal Glam Klub, near Cişmigiu Park, has gained a reputation that’s second-to-none amongst the party crowd thanks to the international DJs who regularly play there. The perfect place to dance the night away. Things are equally full-on at the legendary Bamboo Club Bucharest and much-visited Player Club, which even has a huge outdoor pool. These clubs make up just a fraction of Bucharest’s diverse nightlife scene, however – which is why the only way to do it properly is to go there and check it out for yourself!
Transylvania: on the trail of Count Dracula
Transylvania was voted the world’s top travel destination by Lonely Planet in 2016, and you’ll soon see why. Shrouded in legend, the region in the Carpathian Mountains is famed for its dense forests, mystical castles and fortresses, and medieval towns. About two hours’ drive from Bucharest is the small mountain town of Sinaia, home to the fairytale Peles Castle. Once the summer residence of Romanian kings, it’s often described as ‘Romania’s Neuschwanstein Castle’ (the Bavarian inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle), thanks to its sumptuous architecture.
The myth surrounding Count Dracula really gets going when you reach the town of Sighişoara. This is the location of Casa Vlad Dracul, birthplace of legendarily cruel Count Vlad Ţepes Dracula, a.k.a. ‘Vlad the Impaler’ on account of how he liked to deal with his enemies and the man who inspired author Bram Stoker to create the greatest horror story figure of them all – Count Dracula. With its walled old town, imposing clock tower und unmistakeable church on the hill, the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site is widely considered the best-maintained early medieval city in Romania (if not Europe) still to be inhabited.
Braşov – or Kronstadt in German – was founded by the Knights of the Teutonic Order in the thirteenth century, and functioned as the spiritual and commercial centre of the Transylvanian Saxons for centuries. Its medieval city wall, historic old city district, Baroque city hall and ‘Black Church’ are particularly impressive. The church’s name comes from a fire in the city in 1689 which left nothing of the building standing but charred, blackened walls. Braşov isn’t just about the past, however; as a university city, it’s also renowned for its bustling nightlife.
No more than a few kilometres away is one of Romania’s best-known winter sports centres, Poiana Braşov. With its three cable cars, six chair lifts, two cross-country ski trails and numerous modern hotels and accommodation, Poiana Braşov is a genuine alternative for winter sports lovers wanting to try out something different just for once, and all for much more interesting prices. The region also offers amazing hiking in the summer months.
About 40 minutes’ drive away from Braşov, in the town of the same name, is the impressive Bran Castle, which is being cleverly marketed nowadays as the castle of Count Dracula. Even if Bran Castle actually has practically nothing to do with Count Dracula – Vlad Ţepes actually spent no more than a few days here – it’s still well worth a visit, despite the crowds of zombie-like tourists and souvenir shops just waiting to suck your blood!
The Black Sea coast
The Black Sea coast is home to flat, white sandy beaches, amusement parks, and in the evening, a vast range of options for going out. The ancient port town of Constanta (approximately two hours’ drive from Bucharest) was made famous by Roman poet Ovid, who was exiled here. Greek and Roman ruins can be visited here to this day, including a statue of Ovid which welcomes ships into the harbour. The nearby seaside town of Mamaia is the oldest and most important resort on Romania’s Black Sea coast. One special feature here is the Telegondola, a cable car which glides high above the town. Mamaia will suit anyone and everyone as a holiday resort – families can enjoy the white sandy beaches, and night owls the endless clubs and discos. The resort of Eforie Nord, some way south down the coast, is also very popular – and can get pretty full in the summer as a result. As well as beautiful beaches, meanwhile, the resort of Mangalia, a stone’s throw from the Bulgarian border, offers a wide range of options, especially for those on activity holidays.
Visitors to the Danube Delta can look forward to finding unspoilt nature, a vast range of different species of flora and fauna, original landscapes, pleasant, open people – and delicious silence. It’s the world’s only river delta whose entire area has been declared a biosphere reserve, and home not just to the world’s most extensive and compact area of reed bed, but also 1,600 species of flora and 3,400 different types of fauna. So as you can imagine, there’s a great deal to see and experience here. After taking the small town of Tulcea as your starting-point, there are three ways of exploring the Delta region: you can either overnight in Tulcea and book a daytime tour from here, or hire one of the hotel boats, which you can spend the night on too. The third option is to travel by ferry to one of the villages – Crisan or Sulina, for example – at the heart of the Delta, and already on the Black Sea. Whichever way you decide to go for, amazing natural experiences are guaranteed for all!
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