It comes as a shock to some, however Transylvania isn’t just a fictional setting from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel — it’s, in reality, an precise place. Whereas its connection to the well-known vampire may pique your curiosity initially, I shortly found that this area of Romania is filled with surprises. (See additionally my explanation why I liked touring in Romania.)
The Dracula factor expectedly does get performed up somewhat bit. Vacationer eating places in Sighisoara, the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler who served as his inspiration, serve issues like Dracula’s bloody steak or his ‘favorite wine’ and such. However for probably the most half, the area is fairly low-key and appears principally off the vacationer radar.
If Romania is just not in your record, it ought to be. Because of its superbly preserved Medieval cities, beautiful landscapes, and a splendidly conventional tradition, I feel Transylvania may nicely be one of the crucial underrated areas of Europe. I lately went on a street journey by means of Transylvania along with my girlfriend, and the next locations have been amongst my highlights.
Small quiet metropolis with an enthralling previous city
Sibiu was the primary place we visited in Romania, fairly just because it was straightforward to fly there by way of Munich. It turned out to be an excellent place to start out, not solely as a result of it sits proper on the coronary heart of Transylvania, but in addition because of being a completely charming Medieval city.
It’s value heading straight to the Sibiu Lutheran Cathedral and climbing up its 73m excessive steeple by way of stone stairs, by means of what appears to be a choir apply room, after which up a number of flooring of vertigo-inducing picket stairs coated in pigeon poop — till you lastly attain the church bell tower. Up right here you’ll be able to embrace your internal Quasimodo whereas having fun with some nice panoramic views of Sibiu. Distant snowy mountains type the backdrop behind the city’s orange-roofed homes and its church towers and domes.
The previous city of Sibiu is in fantastic situation and is pleasantly walkable, with its cobbled squares and leafy parks the place granddads collect to play chess in the afternoon. The city has some enjoyable and peculiar particulars, such because the Medieval half that includes a decrease and higher part, in addition to having a sq. with baroque buildings with an virtually Viennese grandeur.
It was right here in Sibiu that I used to be additionally launched to the area’s hilariously dopey wanting homes, owing to the Saxons who constructed them right here. Their tall pointy roofs and slender attic home windows make you very simply see faces in them… and the squintiness of their eyes make these homes look, properly, as excessive as a kite. When you see it, you possibly can’t unsee it.
We took our first dive into the Romanian delicacies at Crama Sibiul Vechi, a former wine-cellar-turned-restaurant specializing in native dishes. The meals was principally of the grandmothers-kitchen fashion, and the sarmale (Romanian cabbage rolls) was the most effective I’ve had on the journey.
Outdoors Sibiu are a few villages which are decently fascinating to go to in case you have your personal transportation. In Rășinari, most of the homes lack a person-sized entrance door and as an alternative have an enormous horse carriage-sized one — whereas in the village of Christian, you’ll find a pleasant instance of the area’s famed fortified church buildings.
Spectacular mountain move (however often closed)
After Sibiu, it was time to see some epic landscapes…
At first look, the Transfăgărășan street appeared about as unpronounceable to me as Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano. However ignore all of the squigglies — simply learn it as Transfagarasan — and issues get quite a bit simpler.
This winding mountain cross over the Carpathian vary will get touted by many a listicle as one of many prime locations to see in Romania, so I dutifully went there… solely to find that snow retains it closed for as much as 9 months of the yr. This looks like, umm, perhaps pertinent info to share, however all journey websites I’d consulted have been solely silent on this significant element. GRRR.
So to be clear: the Transfăgărășan is often solely open from July till September!
It was a bit of irritating to drive all the best way to the mountains solely to be thwarted by concrete roadblocks half-way up. In Might, we might solely get so far as the start line of the cable automotive, which may take you to Bâlea Lake if the schedule permits (however we have been already too late). Some tantalizing glimpses of distant snowy peaks did persuade me it might be a tremendous place to go in season. As a comfort prize, we had just a little picnic with a view of the Făgăraș Mountains.
Tip: if the Transfăgărășan street isn’t open, attempt driving the Transalpina as an alternative. I want I’d recognized this beforehand!
Bustling historic metropolis with many close by castles
The plan was to remain in Brașov for 2 nights, however upon arrival I instantly knew we needed to prolong our keep. Brașov instantly attracts you in with its Medieval appeal; its previous city rests between two forest-clad mountains, which type an exquisite inexperienced backdrop as you peek via its cobbled streets and alleys. Atop of one among these sits a Hollywood-like ‘BRASOV’ signal, simply so there’s no mistake about the place you’re.
The middle is nice and largely pedestrianized, that includes a fantastic Gothic church that’s been dubbed the Black Church ever because it acquired scorched in an ideal hearth in the 17th century. A hike up the Tâmpa mountain is properly value it for the viewing level and the paths across the Brasov signal (a cable-car additionally runs right here), as is a shorter hike up an reverse hill to the Braşov Citadel. However one in every of Brașov’s true delights is just to walk the streets and take a look at a few of the funky cafes and cheap eating places, for which you’ll be really spoiled for selection.
Brașov makes for an ideal base from which to make daytrips across the space. About 15km west is the charming city of Râşnov which, to not be outdone, additionally has a Hollywood-style signal — to not point out its personal spectacular hilltop fortress.
Bran is an extra 10km west and is house to Bran Citadel. It as soon as guarded the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, however is closely marketed as Dracula’s Citadel based mostly on a obscure connection to Vlad the Impaler. Cheesy memento stalls encompass the citadel making it feels a bit tourist-trappy, although it might be much less so in the off season. I extra loved visiting Peleș Fort, which can have been constructed far more lately (in the early 20th century), however has spacious grounds the place you’ll be able to go for a stunning stroll.
Provided that Brașov is the area’s most important vacationer vacation spot and has many potential daytrips close by, you may need to give it at the least a Three-day keep.
By the best way, whereas I didn’t get the prospect, I’ve been advised the seven ladders canyon is a wonderful hike close to Brasov.
A spectacular gorge
It was unsure whether or not going to Bicaz can be value it, because it lay past the extra apparent round route via Transylvania. Nevertheless it was undoubtedly well worth the detour, because the Bicaz Gorge was in all probability probably the most scenic location of the journey. You find yourself driving proper by means of a deep chasm by way of the mountains, typically having to cease to admire the views. Past the gorge additionally lay the Bicaz Dam, from which you get some good views of the luxurious inexperienced valley under.
On the best way again, the Bicaz river ultimately flows into Lacu Rosu (the purple lake), named after its reddish alluvia deposits — although it undoubtedly appeared to be a inexperienced lake once we visited.
The Locu Rosu wasn’t fairly the scenic pure location I’d anticipated. As an alternative, it was extra of a leisure picnic location, full with paddle boats, swingsets and memento outlets. Thankfully, we have been there throughout Labor Day, so it was abuzz with households having BBQs and partaking in the native festivities. I liked snacking on Kürtőskalács, a type of coiled snake-like sugar bread.
Lakul Rosa won’t be fairly a must-see simply by itself, however the gorge is just spectacular, and Bicaz additionally appeared like a superb leaping off level for exploring the encompassing nature.
Photogenic Medieval city
Sighisoara is a splendidly picturesque city you’ll be able to immediately fall in love with. Once we climbed the cobbled streets as much as our Airbnb whereas passing brightly coloured pastel homes, I might have squinted my eyes and fooled myself that I used to be in the colonial city of Antigua in Guatemala — so vibrant have been these facades. In fact, the Saxony and gothic structure poking out from behind the roofs jogged my memory that I used to be, in reality, in Romania.
There isn’t essentially a lot to do in Sighisoara as there’s to easily respect. On this colourful and fairytale-esque city, a part of the enjoyable is simply to get misplaced in its tiny alleyways and see what’s there — which might be a cute vintage retailer, or perhaps simply an alley cat. It’s the kind of place the place you could be fortunately consuming espresso and simply watching the world go by.
A Medieval coated picket stairway leads as much as a central hilltop on which rests a 13th century fortified church, in addition to a stunning previous graveyard partly overgrown with wildflowers (and with some graves courting again to WWI). From this hilltop, you additionally get some good views of Sighisoara and its citadel under.
Sighisoara is far smaller than Brașov or Sibiu and it might have fewer issues to see, however you undoubtedly shouldn’t miss this beautiful little Medieval city.
Village with a UNESCO-listed fortified church
Transylvania as soon as shaped a frontier with the Ottoman Empire, which led to the development of quite a few fortresses alongside the Carpathian mountain vary. In smaller cities, it additionally led to the fortification of present church buildings, of which the church in Biertan is an excellent specimen.
The walled church sits atop a small hill, poking its head over the little village when seen from a distance. It takes simply an hour or so to see the place, although I strongly advocate making a cease if you end up anyplace close to Sighisoara.
Enjoyable reality: the church grounds additionally has a “marital prison” from Medieval occasions. If a pair in these elements needed a divorce they first needed to spend six weeks contained in the jail — all of the whereas sharing a single pillow, a single set of cutlery, and so forth. The couple would solely be granted a divorce in the event that they completely couldn’t work out their issues throughout this time.
Epic former salt mines turned amusement park
I’ve toured a couple of mines earlier than, however by no means did I see something like the big Minecraftian caverns of Salina Turda. Once I first stepped onto the balcony of its 112-meter deep foremost corridor, I should have actually gasped.
One purpose the Turda Mines are so massive is that mining has been happening right here for almost a thousand years (sure, a thousand). Nevertheless it’s solely since 2010 that it contains a vary of funfair points of interest and a ferris wheel.
The video games can entertain you for some time, although don’t anticipate that a lot info on salt mining or the historical past of the mines; the Turda Mines are value a go to principally for his or her spectacular scale. I’ve seen some bloggers complain that the expertise isn’t that genuine because it’s primarily a mini theme park, however I feel it’s fairly value a go to anyway. It takes about two hours to see it correctly.
The city of Turda itself is completely unremarkable, although we discovered a cute hilltop B&B amid some vineyards that made for a pleasant keep. With extra time we’d have checked out the close by Turda Gorge, however we already needed to get again to Sibiu in time for our flight house.
The journey took 9 days beginning and ending in Sibiu. We coated loads of floor on this route — for a extra leisurely tempo, I’d advocate going to at least one much less place or having a day or two extra to spend. Renting a primary sedan value about 22 Euro a day by way of Rentalcars.com.