Explore Transylvania’s wild lands on the Bucegi and Parâng’s mountain trails. For extra adrenaline you can try mountain sports such as: bungee jumping on the Transfăgărăşan, at Vidraru, paragliding at Bâlea, mountain climbing and enduro motorcycle tours. Do not forget about horse riding, mountain biking and ATV rides of for history enthusiasts, Tărtăria is where the oldest written message of the human kind was found, the plates dating 5500 years BC being exposed for visiting.
During the reigns of kings Burebista and Decebal, the Dacians started to build fortified citadels in order to block the invaders’ access in the region. The defensive system of fortresses located in the Orăștie Mountains had a unique complexity, as it spread over a surface of approximately 500 square kilometres and was composed of elaborated fortifications, small forts and watchtowers. These outposts were created to protect Sarmizegetusa Regia, the capital city and heart of the Dacian Kingdom.
The fortresses were usually built on top of a hill for strategic reason, as this made them difficult to reach and easy to defend. Apart from the watchtowers providing long distance view, which had an accentuated military purpose, the fortresses also included dwelling towers. The walls were usually built according to a special technique, known as murus dacicus (Dacian wall), and most of the roads were paved. Although the fortresses’ main purpose was the defensive one, inside the enclosures were found traces of houses, shops, baths and workshops.
Many of the Dacian fortresses were destroyed and abandoned during and after the Dacian-Roman wars, their ruins serving as building stone for the construction of Roman castra. Some of these fortresses, like the one from Costeşti-Blidaru, could not be conquered by the Romans. However, they were surrendered by their guardians due to lack of supplies and resources.
Rural Transylvania still remains an idyllic land of traditional villages, one in which people embraced a pastoral, more natural and light-hearted way of living. Their strong connection with nature stands at the base of the entire rural society. From the noisy animals in the barns to the sweet-smelling flowers in the windows, from the clean air to the fresh milk and eggs, everything evokes a charming authentic, rustic atmosphere.
The typical countryside household, small-sized and wonderful in its simplicity, may appear novel to city dwellers, but it will definitely provoke an immediate reaction of sympathy. Usually decorated with traditional weavings, handmade products, icons and furnishings, these houses, transformed into agro-touristic pensions, have been adapted to suit modern needs. However, even if they opened their doors to welcome tourists, many of the villagers have not given up their traditional crafts and occupations. Your friendly hosts will initiate you in the Romanian traditional culture, one filled with Orthodox beliefs, old customs and legends.
In picturesque areas such as Rucăr-Bran and Mărginimea Sibiului, the hospitality of this rural accommodation is doubled by the traditional home-cooked meals. Smoked cheese, wrapped in fir bark, served with a glass of pălincă, represent only the appetizer for a true culinary feast, in which Hungarian, Romanian and Saxon influences can be noted.
Castles and fortified Saxon churches
Colonists in Transylvania, the Saxons had to build strong relationships of community solidarity with their neighbours, but also to ensure their own security in case of attacks and invasions. They started fortifying churches, castles and even cities, which they encircled with massif enclosures, guarded by huge gates and watchtowers.
Throughout the centuries, the Saxons left their print on the Transylvanian society, way of life and, most visible at a first glance, on the architecture. The sharp gables of the houses, the arched stone gates and the long, tall walls are dominated only by the lofty steep roofs of the fortified churches, imposing edifices which successfully combined the religious and military purposes.
The Saxon fortified churches of Transylvania are concentrated especially in the surroundings of Sibiu and Sighișoara. Their common features are the Romanesque and early Gothic architectural styles and the superb masonry of both the churches and the defence walls, some with observation towers and bastions. The fortified churches from Biertan, Viscri, Saschiz, Prejmer, Valea Viilor, Câlnic and Dârjiu, very well preserved, have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The three big medieval cities
Birthplace of Dracula, Sighişoara charms through its perfectly preserved medieval architecture. It is one of the most beautiful citadels erected in a combination of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles in this part of Europe. The entire town is a medieval monument, inside which you will feel the picturesque atmosphere of the tales with armoured knights and joyous troubadours. The vivid medieval art festival that takes place every year inside the citadel’s walls will take you back in time and give you the chance to participate in medieval tournaments or to take part in a witch trial.
Sibiu, a former European Capital of Culture in 2007, is a captivating combination of German and Austrian architectural influences, perfectly blended together. It attracts through its exceptional museums, impressive cobblestone squares and charming festivals. The city’s streets are enlivened by theatre and ad-hoc musical performances, craftsmen demonstrations and open-air exhibitions, as well as by the thousands of tourists who enjoy the fascinating story of this medieval burg.
For centuries, Braşov had been the most important commercial, cultural and military citadel in Transylvania. Its medieval buildings, from Gothic-style churches to entrance gates and from imposing bastions to culturally rich museum, all testify the city’s potential and make it one of the most visited places in Romania. In Braşov you can admire the buildings’ Renaissance and Baroque facades and you can relax in modern cafes inside the medieval bastions. The architectural beauty of the city’s main sights is enhanced by the wonderful scenery of the surroundings. Lying at the foot of Mount Tâmpa, Braşov has been nicknamed “the Salzburg of Romania”.
Bran Castle is a must-visit place, being a very valuable historic and architectural monument known within the international tourism due to its picturesque image associated with the places where Dracula haunted.
The medieval fortress was built for strategic military and economic purposes, but it soon changed its function and became an administrative and political centre. After being a reason for centuries-long disputes between Magyars, Austrians and Ottomans, as well as between Transylvanians and Wallachians, the fortress was given to the community of Braşov and soon became a customs centre. In 1920, the people of Braşov, represented by their mayor, donated the castle to Queen Maria of Romania, a gesture “intended, firstly, to be an expression of the sincere veneration that the population of our town feels towards the great Queen who dries the tears of widows and orphans, encourages the down-hearted, offers support and consolation to those who suffer, and spreads blessings everywhere she goes, thus irresistibly winning the heart of the entire country and its people”, as it is mentioned in the Donation Document.
Under the Queen’s touch, the castle underwent significant architectural changes, which revitalized the aspect of the old military fortress. The royal castle, now combining Gothic, Renaissance and Romantic influences, was transformed into a modern residence, which nowadays opens it gates to thousands of art and history lovers.
Peleş Castle, summer residence of the kings of Romania, is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Built in German Neo-Renaissance style, with an abundance of decorative elements adorning the façade, Peleș Castle is considered to be one of the most important monuments of its type in the second half of the 19th century Europe.
Owned by His Majesty, King Michael I of Romania, the castle serves as a museum which impresses the visitors at every step. The refinement breathes from every corner, be it from the castle’s gracious shape or an architectural detail, from an ornamental object or from the elegant gardens that surround the edifice.
From the outside, the castle captivates through its tall steeples decorated with coloured ceramics enamel, the clock tower and the stained glass windows. You can also admire the Italian gardens, decorated with fountains and statues, the monuments dedicated to King Carol I and Queen Elisabeta being the most impressive ones.
Once you get inside, you will be overwhelmed by the labyrinth of stairs, corridors and rooms, all decorated with works belonging to some of the most well-known artists in the world. The mixture of styles, ranging from the Arab to the German one, creates a world of artistic abundance.
Winter sports in the Prahova Valley resorts
Situated south of Braşov, in a wonderful mountainous area, Prahova Valley is home to some of Romania’s first destination resorts. When winter comes, the ski resorts in the Prahova Valley transform into a heaven for winter sports enthusiasts. These resorts are the ideal place for skiing and other winter sports, as the snow cover, which lasts for 100 to 120 days per year, has a depth that can sometimes reach a few metres.
In resorts such as Poiana Braşov, Sinaia, Predeal and Azuga, you will find not only slopes for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers, but also a well-developed network of cable cars, chairlifts, button lifts, baby lifts and other specialized transport installations. Here you can also try the slopes specially arranged for on and off-piste skiing, snowboarding, sledging and tubing and the bobsleigh runs.
Every year, new facilities have been added in the area, from hotels to restaurants, from ski slopes to cable car installations and from lighting installations to snow-making machines, in order to suit all needs.
Alba Iulia is one of the oldest Romanian cities, dating from the Roman period. Over the years, it was the capital of Dacia Superior (2nd century) and Transylvania (16th century), which led to its political, military, economic and cultural development. Here, in 1600, Michael the Brave announced the first union of the three historical regions, Moldavia, Transylvania and Wallachia.
The city is unique for its 18th century Vauban – style citadel, which now houses galleries, museums, palaces, cathedrals, libraries and a university. The six gates of the citadel, three of which are perfectly preserved, represent an important attraction, being true monuments of the Habsburg and European military architecture. They are remarkable for the ornamental wealth, specific to the Baroque sculpture, which displays battle scenes, coats of arms, weapons, trophies and flags. In front of the third gate, an obelisk was erected in 1937, in order to commemorate the Revolt of Horea, Cloșca and Crișan, the three peasants who rose against serfdom in 1784.
If you visit Alba Iulia, we recommend you to stop at the Orthodox Reunification Cathedral, the place where the monarchs of Romania, King Ferdinand and Queen Maria, were crowned in 1922. You should also not miss the Changing of the Guard ceremony, every day at noon at the citadel’s gates.
Transylvania offers the possibility for tourists to relax in one of its spas. Enjoy the great relaxation procedures, from thermotherapy to hydrotherapy, from mud-packing to electrotherapy and many more. You can also opt for a massage session, by choosing one of the different types of massage techniques made available at your hotel or spa centre (dry massage, stone massage or water massage), which will relax your muscles and make you feel like a whole new person.
While being perfect for recreation, the health spa resorts are also popular because of the complex treatment opportunities. The mineral, thermal and hyper concentrated salt waters, the mud and the air with curative properties contribute to a revitalizing and rejuvenating experience.
Get away from the stress of everyday life and recharge your batteries in Praid salt mine, one of the largest salt mines in Europe. Apart from visiting it and performing different types of activities, you can also take advantage of the salt air inside the mine, benefic for respiratory illnesses. Sovata Băi and Ocna Sibiului are other destinations where you can relax.
Challenging high altitude roads
The Transfăgărăşan road was written about, photographed and filmed, but none of these compare to living the experience of driving through the spectacular landscape of the surrounding mountains. This high altitude route holds a special place in the gallery of the most appreciated constructions of its kind in the world. The Transfăgărăşan was also proclaimed by Top Gear TV show’s makers as one of the most challenging and beautiful roads in Europe. The existence of this road through the Făgăraș Mountains has amplified the area’s touristic potential and eased the access to several important attractions, such as Poenari Castle, Vidraru lake and dam and Bâlea lake and waterfall.
Transalpina or the King’s Road, recently inaugurated, winds on the peaks of the Parâng Mountains and connects Transylvania to Wallachia. It is the highest altitude road in the Carpathians, reaching a higher altitude than the Transfăgărăşan, 2145m above sea level (Urdele Pass). Due to the astounding landscape, sense of adventure and mystery that surrounds the area, Transalpina is considered to be the most rewarding journey you can take in the mountains.