A few months back, we road-tripped across part of the fastest growing country in the EU to see what the country had to offer. Here’s a list of essential stops we found along the way
Autumn in Romania, specifically Transylvania, looks like a Microsoft desktop wallpaper. Just an impossibly crisp image, bursting with colour, perfectly lit, really vivid saturated shades of orange, yellow and red. As we drive through the country, a mixture of winding hillside roads, panoramas of rich tri-colour forested mountains, quaint gothic towns and vast agricultural plains roll out as we stare out of the window. The montage we are confronted with from the minibus windows is a far cry from the often politically charged ignorance that has risen to the fore over previous years in the UK.
For a week in October, thanks to Blue Air and ALIS Travel, we had the opportunity to partake in a Romanian road trip, flying into the capital city of Bucharest and out of Cluj-Napoca a week later. In between, we drove over 600km across Romania, mostly through Transylvania. The trip was an eye opener. Below are our recommended stops for the essential Romanian road trip.
The first destination on our road trip is Sinaia, roughly a two-hour drive from Bucharest, situated among the Carpathian Mountains. We arrive at night, so we’re unaware of how beautiful our surroundings are, but the noticeably fresher alpine air, almost menthol in its taste, suggests we’re much higher up than before. The view from our balcony at the Hotel RINA the next morning reveals all. The mist hovers over the fur treetops catching the sun for much of the morning, giving a whimsical cotton wool effect and you don’t have to look far to see snowy peaks and an unspoiled light blue sky above. The hotel is comfortable and luxurious, with its slightly dated features only adding to its charm, bringing to mind a James Bond stop off if he were pursuing a villain by ski.
Nearby Peles Castle is a must-visit. We were lucky enough to be granted a private tour of the Neo-Renaissance castle, not far from Sinaia up winding mountainside roads. Construction of the castle was initiated by King Carol I of Romania in 1873, with the building completed in 1914. As is a common theme with many of the castles in Romania, infamous dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s purge of royalty took the castle into state hands. The revolution in 1989 re-established the castle as a heritage site and it soon re-opened to the public.
Bran Castle and Rasnov Fortress
So, you’re probably thinking, Transylvania? Why hasn’t he mentioned Dracula yet? That’s all there is to Transylvania? Surely? Well no, it isn’t, but we admit you probably should visit Bran Castle, former home of Vlad the Impaler (notable influence behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula). The medieval fortress which sits atop a rocky outcrop separating two valleys is a far cry from Peles, but a great viewpoint for stunning vistas. The nearby area brings to mind the British seaside with its stalls of uniform souvenirs, but take little away from the area’s mythical charm.
Rasnov Fortress is another must for stunning vistas and panoramas, offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding forests, mountains and agricultural plains of Brasov County. Nothing less than stunning, a perfect Autumn destination as nearby forests show off their richest colour pallete and the mountains are capped with snow.
A personal favourite on the trip was Miclosoara, one of the best-preserved medieval villages in Transylvania. Of course, it wouldn’t be Transylvanian without a castle, but the story here is one of different regal traditions. The castle and a nearby guesthouse, is owned by one Count Tibor Kalnoky, a 25th generation Kalnoky.
The Count, a close friend of Prince Charles (who also owns property in the area, notably his own scenic retreat) is a champion of local tourism, working to create conservation areas as well as safeguarding local environmental and architectural heritage. The village itself is the perfect relaxing retreat and although we don’t ride, the best way to take in the nearby rural splendor is apparently by horseback. Tours can be organized.
Salina Praid and Lampusna
Salina Praid is a salt mine, a salt mine you have to visit. Not just to marvel at the sheer scale of the caverns (Spoiler alert: They’re gigantic), the textures of the sheer cave walls or rope walks and activities, but because a visit might actually improve your health, the saline air having health benefits. There’s also an area that details the history of the mine as well as a beautiful chapel.
Lampusna guesthouse is special. The former hunting lodge of Nicolae Ceaușescu, tucked away in thick forest at the end a modest dirt track, is deep in no phone signal territory and better for it. A place known for entertaining, previous guests included communist heavyweights including Gorbachev and Tito. If you can, try stay in the main bedroom, favourite of Ceaușescu himself.
A big thank you to Blue Air and ALIS Travel for their help and hospitality, for flights to Romania visit blueairweb.com; ALIS Travel are the go to for organising all holiday things Romania, for more info visit alisholidays.ro
Words & photography by Davey Brett