Think Romania and in all probability dreary, mental images arise of a typical, communist nation – grey, grim and, quite simply, boring. But communism’s rigid control over Romania’s political, academic and cultural life is now a thing of the past. In the last decade, the country’s rich, ethnic culture has revived and flowered in the new spirit of freedom.
Great places to visit and things to see and do in Romania include:
Romania’s varied geography makes it an adventure tourism paradise. The rugged mountains offer opportunities for hiking, climbing, cave exploring, biking and camping. Alternatively, you can play golf, ride horses or try river rafting and parachuting in the lush valleys. In the Danube Delta, go fishing or bird watching. Spend a night under the stars (watch out for mountain bears!); or contact ANTREC for a cosy room in a country house.
One building you cannot miss in Bucharest is the grandiose, wedding-cake structure of the Palace of Parliament, built by former President Nicolae Ceaucescu. It is second in size only to the Pentagon, the world’s largest building.
The palaces of Mogosoaia, Buftea and Heresti, beyond Bucharest, as well as Snagov’s historic buildings and monasteries, are other spots of interest.
For a glimpse of ancient history, visit Constanta, the Greek/Byzantine port built in the 6th century BC. If you go further inland, you will be able to explore the ruins of the ancient Greek cities of Histria, Tomis and Callatis.
The Biertan Church, atop a hill overlooking the village of the same name, is one of the churches fortified by the Saxons. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A trek to Moldavia’s Painted Monasteries of Bucovina (Voronet, Sucevita, Humor, Rasca, Agapia and Moldovita) is highly recommended. Also a World Heritage Site, the exteriors of the monasteries have beautiful frescoes painted on them. This trek will take you one full day.
Take a cycle tour of Romania; whether you choose easy forest road trails or want to bike on riskier paths along mountain ridges, it’s a delightful way to explore remote Transylvanian villages. Popular spots for bikers are Bucovina, Bicaz Gorge, Ceahlau, and the Apuseni and Banat Mountains.
From late spring to mid-autumn, there’s a paradise waiting for birdwatchers in the Danube Delta. Feast your eyes on a host of feathered beauties like colonies of black pelicans, cranes, purple herons, ospreys, spoonbills and cormorants.
Poiana Brasov is a popular resort for winter sports, besides having several tourist attractions.
The Black Church, dating back to the 14th– 15th century, is one such place of interest. Its Gothic-style architecture is a marvel of elaborately decorated portals and sculptures. It houses partly preserved murals from the 15th century and a 17th–18th century collection of Oriental carpets. A huge fire destroyed large parts of this historic Transylvanian town in 1689. The Black Church too was badly damaged. It owes its name to the smoky colour left behind by the fire.
Bran Castle lies in Dracula country, between the Bucegi and Piatra Craiului Mountains, 30 km from Brasov. The carefully preserved castle and the stunning landscape around make it an important heritage structure, a must-see for every tourist. The ancient vampire’s spirit is said to live on in these parts – not hard to believe when you cast your gaze upon this magnificent structure and the wild beauty around. Even if the legend says that Vlad Tepes (the character that inspired Dracula) used to live at Bran Castle, he actually lived at Poenari Fortress in Arges, near Campulung.
Bungee-jumping enthusiasts can head to Rasnoava Gorges in the Postavaru Mountains, Europe’s second highest spot for this sport.
Camping, anyone? Romania’s many rivers and rugged mountains offer several picturesque spots, from late spring up to early autumn. The nearest Romanian Tourist Office will provide you with information on campsites and maps.
Romania has 12500 caves, many filled with nature’s treasures. Gaze upon the first Palaeolithic paintings found in central and south eastern Europe or explore caves with underground glaciers. The Apuseni range alone boasts of 200 caves. Some caves are equipped with electric lights. With so much to see, it’s no wonder Romanians love to go caving!
Some famous and very beautiful caves are: Muierilor Cave (a cave where they say women and children used to hide; they also discovered prehistoric bears skeletons here. It is a spectacular cave because of it’s natural calcareous formations), Polovraci Cave (is one of the biggest caves in Romania and has the longest tourist pass. The legend says that Zamolxes, the supreme divinity of the Dacs, used to live in this cave. A lot of Dacs priests and orthodox monks also used to live in this cave. On one of it’s walls you can find an ancient drawing showing a skeleton, perfectly sketched, with a scythe in its hand. The drawing is still in perfect condition), Topoltina Cave (also a very large cave, it was naturally created in several floors, it is a natural monument and has several lakes), Scarisoara Cave (is an ice cave, naturally created in an ice mountain).
Costinesti is a historic camping spot for teenagers, located 31 km south of Constanta. Close by are the 19th century villages of Costinesti and Schitu, built by German colonisers. The campsite was built in 1949 and was the first of its kind.
The Danube Delta is home to 160 species of fish; other good areas for fishing are the hills of southeast and central Romania. Trout is found in the mountain waters of Maramures, Bucovina and southwest Transylvania. Romania’s innumerable rivers and lakes are blessed with abundant varieties of fish – catfish, sturgeon, carp and sander. Barring April and May, fishing is allowed all year. Sarulesti, near Bucharest, hosts a World Fishing Cup once every two years.
Mountaineering & Hiking
The Bucegi Mountains are ideal for rock climbing. Busteni town, at the foot of the Caraiman Mountain, is the base camp for all mountaineering expeditions. Caraiman Mountain, whose highest peak is Heroes’ Cross at 2384 m (7820 ft), has many routes ideal for beginners. Costila Mountain (2490m/8170 ft) has 150 alpine routes for the more experienced climbers.
The Piatra Craiului mountain range (maximum height: 2238 m/7342 ft) is majestic in its beauty. In winter, though, this range is recommended only for highly experienced climbers owing to extremely adverse weather conditions and avalanches.
If you have a yen for flirting with danger, check out the Bicaz Gorges by the Bicaz River, carved out of the Jurassic-age limestone of the Hasmas massif.
The limestone walls and climbing routes of Cernei Valley are similar to the ones in Piatra Craiului and Postavaru.
Summer hikes are hugely popular in Fagaras Mountains, Romania’s highest range, though the vertical rock faces of Bucegi, Bicaz Gorges and Piatra Craiului are more challenging. Only highly trained and extremely fit climbers should tackle the Fagaras routes during the harsh winter.
Visiting Peles Castle (once a royal residence, but a museum since 1953) is like walking through history. The predominant style is German Renaissance; wander around and you’ll also see halls done in Italian Renaissance, baroque (Germany), Rococo (France) and the Spanish-Moor traditions.
Sinaia Monastery (or Carpathians’ Cathedral) is located in a fairy-tale setting, dating back to the 17th century. As the first building constructed on this land, it is symbolic of the town’s historic identity. Mihai Cantacuzino (Sword Bearer) built the monastery and the old church during 1690 –1695 and dedicated it to the Sinai Mountain. Later, the locality took on the name Sinaia.