One of the off-the-beaten-track destinations in Europe is Romania, located north of the Balkan Peninsula on the western shore of the Black Sea. It is home to numerous natural beauties, friendly people, a great number of jaw-dropping castles – including the creepy Bran Castle, home of Dracula – impressive folk museums, among which the open-air skansens are especially interesting. Explore the most mysterious country in this part of Europe and hear the old-folk tales about witches, giants, ghosts, heroes and fairies.
Romania is a country of untouched nature and majestic mountains boasting white sandy beaches, the Black Sea, the Danube Delta, places like Bucovina, Transylvania, Maramures and the Carpathians. Not to mention that the BBC Top Gear crew declared the Transfagarasan Road – which connects the two highest mountains in the Southern Carpathians, Moldoveanu and Negoiu, and ascends to height of 2,034m – as the best road in the world. Apart from this, Romania is home to the largest population of brown bears and numerous other animal species.
The old Romanian folk tales about witches, giants, ghosts, heroes, fairies, werewolves, vampires and creepy creatures are very much alive today, especially in the rural and remote areas of Romania. When driving through the countryside, don’t be surprised to see garlic and crosses on house doors to ward off vampires. Sighisoara, a medieval citadel town in the historic part of Transylvania, is the place to be if you’re chasing vampires, as this is where Vlad Tepes, known as Dracula, was born.
When you travel through Romania, you feel as if you are traveling back in time, which is no surprise, as, Romania is a land of mighty castles and enchanting medieval hamlets. Although the most famous is definitely the spooky Bran Castle, there are numerous other castles dotted around the country. Make sure not to overlook beauties such as Hunedoara’s 14th-century Corvin Castle or King Carol I’s sumptuous 19th-century pile, Peleş Castle. The northern part of Romania, Maramures, boasts medieval towns and villages with hayracks, horse carts and stately wooden churches.
Romania has a long, proud history of brewing good beer. What’s even better: the country remains home to one of the cheapest pints of beer in Europe. The best-known local brands of beer are Ursus, which many Romanians consider a national brew, Ciuc, owned by Heineken, and Timisoreana, which has been brewed for almost 300 years (since 1718).
Romania’s capital, Bucharest, is a dynamic, energetic cosmopolitan city, where traces of communism meet unbridled capitalism. There is a great variety of good museums, where The Peasant and Village Museums should take priority, as well as the Grigore Antipa National History Museum.
The city boasts the largest Parliament building in the world with 3,100 rooms and 12 stories, which is definitely worth visiting. Also not to be missed is the old town centre, with narrow cobbled streets and some splendid 17th- and 18th-century Orthodox churches.
If you’re a bird lover, a visit to the Danube Delta is a must. Head to Romania in May, September or October and you will be rewarded with the impressive sight of migrating birds. The Danube Delta is a unique ecosystem boasting numerous caves, waterfalls, lakes, reed beds, willow forests and wetland, crossed by an intricate network of channels. It offers sights of numerous bird species, including the glossy ibis, egrets, herons and cormorants, to name but a few.
Spooky Bran Castle is one of the country’s leading attractions. It gained popularity mainly because of Bram Stoker’s terrifying novel about Count Dracula, but the castle was originally built in 1382 to defend Bran pass against the Turks. Bram Stoker never actually visited Romania, and imaginary Dracula’s castle was based on a description of Bran available to him in turn-of-the-century Britain. When tourists came to Transylvania searching for Dracula, they found the 60-metre-tall castle and thought it resembled the castle from the book. It was home to Queen Marie from 1920 and served as a summer royal residence until the forced abdication of King Michael in 1947. A few years later, it was transformed into a museum, which attracts more and more visitors every year.
The Transfagarasan is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. Connecting the two highest mountains in the Southern Carpathians, Moldoveanu and Negoiu, it is over 150 km long and ascends to a height of 2,034m. Legend has it that the road was built on the personal orders of Nicolae Ceausescu, who wanted to create a strategic route across the Fagaras Mountains to ferry troops north in case Romania was invaded. It took 4 years to build and many workers died in the process. The road has more tunnels and viaducts than any other road in Romania and boasts many spectacular sights and scenic spots.
From its mountain chains to the Black Sea Coast, from the rose valley and the vineyards to the monasteries and the old cities, Bulgaria is a very diverse country in the heart of the Balkan peninsula well-worth visiting.
It is not only the distinctive language that differentiates hungarians, but also the melancholic character linked to the days of the Empire gone by bearing similarities to the slowly winding flow of Danube as it cuts through the country.