|Country Information & Lifestyle|
A land of lingering mysteries
Romania is a country situated in the south-eastern part of Central Europe and borders Hungary to the northwest, Serbia to the southwest, Bulgaria to the south, the Black Sea to the southeast, Ukraine to the east and north, and the Republic of Moldova to the east.
Many consider Romania to be the most beautiful country in Eastern Europe. It boasts medieval towns, fairy tale castles, world-famous Painted Monasteries, majestic mountains, beautiful rolling hills, fertile plains, unspoiled beaches, and numerous rivers and lakes. Forests cover over one quarter of the country and the fauna is one of the richest in Europe, including bears, deer, lynx, chamois and wolves.
Ancient Tomis (present-day Constanta) has been associated with the legend of Jason and the Argonauts who embarked on a long voyage from Greece to Kolchis( Georgia) on the Black Sea coast in search of the Golden Fleece.
Come on a voyage of discovery with us to this beautiful mysterious country, cloaked in fable and myth and home to one of the most renowned legends ever told – Dracula.
Moldova rivals Translyvania when it comes to rich folklore, natural beauty and astonishing history. Nestling in the rolling hills of northern Moldova the Bargau Valley encompasses some of the most beautiful unspoiled mountain scenery in the Carpathians. It is not difficult to see why Hollywood chose Romania as the location for the film Cold Mountain.
Picturesque traditional villages and monasteries located in valleys and on hillsides, horses decked with red-tasseled bridles and folk wearing traditional dress on Sundays and holidays – this is Bucovina.
Bucovina is home to one of the world’s greatest art treasures, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Painted Monasteries. The town of Suceava is a good starting point for a trip to the monasteries. The best- preserved monasteries are in Humor, Moldovita, Patrauti, Probota, Sucevita and Voronet. These richly decorated houses of worship are unique in the world. Perhaps the most famous and stunning is Voronet, widely known throughout Europe as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the East’.Visitors to the Painted Monasteries will often witness a nun or monk beating a long beam with a mallet, tapping out a call to prayer.
Prundu Bargaului is the site of the first paper mill in Romania, Josenii Bargaului, a traditional center for black and colored pottery, Livazele with its small folk museum displaying Saxon ceramics, woodcarvings and folk dresses, and Vama, where the village women take their homespun wool cloth to be thickened for heavy coats against the harsh winters.
The village of Marginea is renowned for the black clay pottery crafted here, said to preserve a centuries-old Gaeto-Dacian technique, passed on from generation to generation. Winter festivals abound, with caroling bands of merrymakers dressed in handmade masks and costumes celebrating the New Year.
Neamt County, in the central-eastern part of the country, is blessed with many tourist sites. Century-old monasteries, fascinating museums, fortresses and strongholds, as well as many natural parks, and the beautiful and spectacular Bicaz Gorges Vanatori natural reserve.
From the province of Moldavia, head westward to Romania's most traditional region, Maramures, Brigadoon land, an area of the country known for its timeless tranquility. The region is home to many villages where century-old traditions are still part of daily life! The inhabitants of this area have preserved, to an amazing extent, the rural culture and crafts of their Dacian ancestors.
Spectacular mountain scenery, a unique museum smack in the middle of nowhere, the Museum of the Tree Roots, and picturesque villages. Ciocanesti, whose houses are covered with painted flowers and geometrics, is arguably Romania's prettiest village. From Sacel each village offers its share, and more, of wooden houses, many with sculpted designs on balconies and around entrances. Then there are the towering carved wooden gates, attached to fences half their size, rising before even modest dwellings.
The River Danube flows through southern Romania and is an important water route for domestic shipping, as well as international trade and tourism. Crisan is an excellent base for exploring the surrounding lakes and canals of the Danube Delta. Rent a boat and travel on the Old Danube Canal to Mila 23, a quaint traditional fishing village, or to Caraorman and Caraorman Forest, a strictly protected reserve. Owls, white-tailed eagles, falcons, wildcats, boars and wolves, as well as many rare plants, thrive in the area. Murighiol is a traditional fishing village and home to the ruined Roman city of Halmyris, one of the most important ancient sites in Romania.
Legend has it that during Sultan Mahmud’s visit to a fishing village in the Danube Delta, he fell in love with a local girl and asked her to marry him. Upon learning that the girl was in love with another man, the Sultan commanded the girl to weave him an embroidered shirt that was both fire- and water-proof or he would kill her lover. Sad and hopeless, the girl walked to the riverbank and started to cry. Hearing her sobs, the Danube fairy came out of the water’s depths and gave her an embroidered shirt. Before sunset, the girl presented the shirt to Sultan Mahmud, thus, saving herself and her fiancé. Since then, the village of Mahmudia has carried the name of the Sultan.
South of the Delta, the historical city of Constanta is a major port on the Black Sea. Featuring several museums, historical monuments, fine mansions and a grand casino, the city is the focal point of Black Sea tourism. A strip of fine-sand beaches dotted with seaside resorts named after women and mythological gods, such as Eforie, Jupiter, Neptun, Olimp, Saturn, Venus and Mangalia, stretches from Constanta to the Bulgarian border.
The Black Sea area has a warm climate, miles of sand beaches, ancient monuments, vineyards, and fine resorts and hotels. The Black Sea coast has long been known for cures of arthritic, rheumatic, internal and nervous disorders.
Walachia, Land of the Vlachs or Walachs, the ancient population of the area, is a mix of historical and natural attractions and promises a different experience each day. Discover heritage buildings and museums in the capital city, enjoy day trips to a royal palace or century-old monastery, hike the mountains or follow Brancusi’s art trail - the choice is yours.
Visit the Princely Court and Poenari fortress the authentic residences of Vlad the Impaler, the beautiful Orthodox monasteries built in Byzantine style tucked into the foothills of the Carpathians, and the 16th century Princely Court and monastery at Curtea de Arges.
Bucharest is the main city of the region and the capital of Romania. The best way to explore Bucharest is to take a stroll along Calea Victoriei to Piata Revolutiei, site of the Romanian Athenaeum and the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum of Art. The old city center is a must to understand why Bucharest was known as "Little Paris" in the 1920s. Also, don’t miss the Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world.
Sinaia is home to the magnificent Peles Castle, considered one of the best royal castles in Europe. Some of Romania’s most tranquil monasteries can be found in this region, including Horezu, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Beyond Bucharest, the foothills of Walachia give way to the Carparthian Mountains. Just an hour and half north of Bucharest is the beautiful Prahova valley where the popular ski resorts of Predeal is.
The Carpathian Mountains are home to one of the largest undisturbed forests in Europe with 400 unique species of mammals including the Carpathian chamois, and brown bear. Romania’s national and natural parks, displaying a unique variety of landscapes, vegetation and wildlife, protect some of the largest remaining areas of pristine forest in Europe.
The Apuseni Mountain range, in the western Carpathians,is a landscape of exquisite beauty and mystery. Here you’ll find ancient legends of mountain spirits and rare species of wildlife, along with 4,000 caves. The Scarisoara Glacier, is the second largest glacier in Europe, located in the Bihor Mountains 90 miles southwest of Cluj Napoca.
Villages in the Apuseni Mountains are even more remote and lost in time. The Ariesi Valley is where the inhabitants live in scattered villages and have preserved their century-old traditions and lifestyle. The Motzi people carve musical instruments, hope chests and houses from spruce wood. In Patrahaitesti, a little mountain village, you may hear the famous Bucium (Alps Horns), which have been used for generations in the Apuseni Mountains.
As a result of almost nine centuries of Saxon residence, Transylvania claims a cultural and architectural heritage unique in Europe. Some of Europe’s best-preserved medieval towns are located here, along with quaint villages, placed amidst lush farmland and green rolling hills, will give you a taste
Central Romania, surrounded by the arc of the Carpathian mountain chain, encompasses Transylvania ‘the Land Beyond the Forest’ – a place that immediately brings to mind the legend of Count Dracula. It is easy to get caught up in the tale while driving along winding roads through dense, dark, ancient forests and over mountain passes. Some say that Transylvania sits on one of Earth’strongest magnetic fields and its people have extra-sensory perception. Vampires are believed to hang around crossroads on St.George’s Day, April 23, and on the eve of St.Andrew, November 29.
The legend is certainly intriguing and a genuine tourist attraction. Snagov Monastery, where according to legend, Vlad’s remains are buried, the ruins of Poenari Fortress (considered to be the authentic Dracula’s castle), the village of Arefu where Dracula legends are still told, the city of Brasov where Vlad led raids against the Saxon merchants and of course Bran Castle.
But the region has much more to offer than long-gone medieval times. Colorful centuries-old traditions are alive and well in these small villages where people still make a living at such time-honored occupations as shepherds, weavers, blacksmiths and carpenters.
The medieval city of Sibiu is lined with colorful houses on cobblestone streets and bounded by imposing city walls and defense towers overlooking the river Cibin. A short drive takes you into the pastoral landscape of Marginimea Sibiului, one of Transylvania’s best-preserved ethnographic areas.
Located at the foothills of the Cindrel Mountains, Marginimea Sibiului is a string of 18 villages, rich in architecture, history and heritage. Age-old traditions, customs and celebrations, as well as the traditional occupation of shepherding, have been carefully passed down from generation to generation in the villages of this area.
Transylvania is home to the exquisite medieval town of Sighisoara built on top of a hill and surrounded by forests in the valley of the Tarnava Mare rive. Sighisoara is a perfectly intact 15th century gem and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walking through Sighisoara, with its has picturesque streets with their original medieval architecure, magical mix of winding cobbled alleyways, steep stairways, secluded squares, towers, turrets and enchantingly preserved citadel, is like stepping back in time.
Sighisoara is also the birthplace of Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad the Impaler, ruler of Walachia from 1456 to 1462. It was Vlad who inspired Bram Stoker’s fictional creature Count Dracula. The Vlad Dracul House located in the Citadel Square is just one of the many attractions and is now a restaurant. The quaint small square lies at the heart of the citadel. In the old days, street markets, craft fairs, public executions and witch trials were held here. During July a medieval festival is held at the Old Citadel and near the Monastery Church is the house where Dracula, the Wallachia King, was born and is now a restaurant.
The Ropemakers' Tower is one of the oldest buildings in Sighisoara. Its role was to defend - together with the Goldsmiths' Tower - the northwest corner of the hill. Nowadays, the tower is the home of the caretaker of the Saxon cemetery, located next to the Church on the Hill. The 14th century Tailor’s Tower was restored in 1935 and the Cobbler’s Tower dates from the 16th century.
In the nearby countryside, another UNESCO World Heritage town, 13th century Biertan, stands high on a hill as one of the largest and most impressive medieval strongholds in Transylvania.
The History-rich provinces of Crisana and Banat have exquisite natural scenery and a unique mix of architectural and cultural heritages. The towns of Timisoara, Oradea and Arad provide the traveler with an insight into this region’s long past and colorful traditions.
Timisoara ‘the Garden City’, frequently referred to as ‘Little Vienna’is an important trade and university town. Open squares, parks and gardens, elegant boutiques, cafes, restaurants, museums, Hunaide Castle, ruins of a fortress, Dicasterial Palace and the Palace of Justice are just some of the places to visit. Johnny Weissmuller, the original Hollywood Tarzan, was born in the city of Timisoara.
The city of Arad lies on the Mures River banks and has cathedrals and churches spanning four centuries. Oradea is one of the most picturesque towns of western Romania, as well as an important cultural center. Stroll around the Old Downtown, visit the baroque palace, Western Romania is a heaven for active travelers and adventure seekers, with abundant opportunities for trekking, mountain climbing, hunting, fishing, horseback riding and more.
Baile Herculane, within driving distance of Timisoara, is an ancient Roman spa, developed in the 19th century as a fashionable resort. Legend has it that Hercules himself bathed in the strength-giving natural springs.
The Bihor Mountains, descending from east to west, hold some of the best-hidden treasures of Romania; explore the cave tunnels, underground waterfalls, hidden lakes, canyons and glaciers.
Fringed by the peaks of the Carpathian Mountains and resplendent with Gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture, as well as a wealth of historical attractions, the medieval city of Brasov provides a great introduction to the region. Visit Brasov’s many historic and archaeological gems before heading for the medieval town of Sibiu.
Located at the foot of the Bargau Mountains, not far away from Borgo Pass which connects Transylvania to Bucovina, the town of Bistrita is one of the oldest in the region. The old town’s quaint 15th and 16th century merchant houses, the remains of the 13th century fortress walls, and the city’s unhurried pace have preserved some of Bistrita’s once-thriving medieval atmosphere.
The village of Biertan, first mentioned in an official document in 1283, is home to one of the largest and most impressive medieval strongholds in Transylvania. Surrounded by quaint streets and vineyards, the 15th century fortified church at Biertan is perched high on a hill in the middle of the village. Couples seeking divorce were locked in the Prison Tower for two weeks. Sharing one set of cutlery and one bed, the couple had to make a final decision. In 400 years only one couple decided afterwards to go through with the divorce!
Surrounded by an aura of mystery and legend and perched high atop a 200-foot-high rock, Bran Castle is a Gothic fairy-tale structure and owes its fame to its imposing towers and turrets as well as to the myth created around Dracula. The castle overlooks the picturesque village of Bran, which has an open-air museum consisting of old local-style village houses complete with furniture household, objects and costumes.
The greatest Gothic-style castle in Romania, Corvinesti, was built by the Anjou family on the site of a former Roman camp. The castle served as a fortress until the mid-14th century when it became the residence of Transylvania's ruler, Lancu de Hunedoara. Lancu upgraded the fortress transforming it into the most stunning castle in Transylvania. The beautifully preserved structure features a sumptuous Knights’ Hall, an impressive drawbridge, high buttresses, inner courtyards, a chapel and some 50 rooms resplendent with medieval art.
Fagaras, built in 1310 was considered one of the strongest fortifications in Transylvania. The fortress was surrounded by a deep moat which, in times of war or social unrest, could easily be filled with water from a nearby mountain brook. A bridge over the moat provided the only access point. Throughout the years, Fagaras Fortress functioned mainly as a residence for various princes and their families.
Nestled at the foot of the Bucegi Mountains in the picturesque town of Sinaia, Peles Castle is considered to be one of the most stunning castles in Europe. The castle served as the summer residence of the royal family until 1947. Also worth exploring in the town is Sinaia Monastery which served as the residence of the royal family until Peles Castle was built, and now is home to a monastic establishment. Sinaia, a well-known ski resort, and the surrounding towns of Busteni, Azuga and Predeal provide many facilities for an active vacation – from ski and hiking trails to wildlife viewing.
Rasnov Fortress, built by Teutonic Knights as protection against invading Tartars and Turks, is located on a rocky hilltop in the Carpathian Mountains, 650 ft. above the town of Rasnov. Strategically located on the commercial route linking the provinces of Transylvania and Walachia, Rasnov differs from other Saxon fortresses in that it was designed as a place of refuge over extended periods of time. As such, it had at least 30 houses, a school, a chapel and other buildings more commonly associated with a village.
Recently, the old fortress has been restored to its former glory and today, you can visit the impressive remains. There is also a museum here, hidden behind the ancient walls, where you can find a skeleton buried beneath a glass floor, as well as some other interesting artifacts. The inner rooms are maze-like, with several wooden ladders linking them and a few so-called secret passages which should keep you busy for quite awhile.
Take a short trip to Brasov where nearby is Bran Castle, built by the Teutonic Knights around 1211 and known to the world as Dracula´s castle and also visit Hunedoara castle where Vlad was imprisoned for seven years by Mathias Corvin. Brasov is home to what is said to be the narrowest street in Europe and the largest Gothic church east of Vienna. The Black Church was built between 1385 and 1477 and got its nickname after the Great Fire of 1689 blackened its walls.
The town of Bistrita in northern Transylvania is the region accurately described by Bram Stoker as he chose forested Bargau river valley to be the setting of Dracula´s castle.
Transylvania and in fact all of Romania is so beautiful, rich in forests, bears sill roam in the mountains, lush valleys with waterfalls, medieval towns, castles and so much more.
Every visitor to Romania should try the excellent and delicious local dishes. Every area has their own specialty these are just some to whet your appetite.
The central characteristic of the Romanian cuisine is its great variety. The main ingredients are pork, beef and lamb, fish, vegetables, dairy products and fruit. Romania is one of the world’s leading producers of cabbage so make sure you try the delicious “Varza a la Cluj” – the Romanian version of lasagna - prepared from several layers of finely shredded cabbage and minced pork or veal mixed with rice and bacon and baked in the oven.
The famous sour soup – ciorba made from fermented bran, bacon, potatoes, beef or chicken is really tasty, Modlo Veneasca is a hearty meat stew and Mititel are small grilled sausages perfumed with aromatic herbs.
Transylvania's cuisine displays a variety of flavors with dishes spiced with thyme, red pepper or tarragon. Meats, such as pork, mutton, veal, are among the most popular ingredient in Transylvania’s cuisine. The soups, to which sour cream and egg yolk are often added, also include flour dumplings or homemade pasta.
The cuisine of Dobrogea is mainly based on fish as the region is close to the Black Sea, the Delta and the Danube River. One of the traditional dishes is tripe soup, beef tripe mixed with carrots, onions, pepper and garlic, flavored with vinegar or sour cream. The delicious local salad, called Salata Dobrogeana, is made of fresh vegetables – pepper, cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, to which boiled eggs, grated cheese, minced dill or parsley are added. The Sarailie cake, with walnuts or almonds dipped in syrup, makes an excellent dessert.
In the Muntenia region it is not unusual to find an earthen oven in the backyard. Here knot-shaped bread and pies are baked and delicious stews are slow cooked in clay jars. Popular dishes include chicken with homemade noodles, meatballs soup, grilled fish in pickle sauce served with polenta and giblet sour soup, to name just a few.
In the Oltenia region local specialties are Chulama – chicken cooked in white sauce, cheese or pumpkin pie, prune and meat stew, and the famous sausages of finely chopped beef and pork meat mixed with garlic, pepper and salt, and of course beef ragout.
Romantic Romania you must visit - 'We Draculs have a right to be proud… I am the last of my kind”