Indagare member J.W. recently traveled to Romania. Here, she shares her impressions.
Having just returned from 12 days in Romania, I want to share my enthusiasm for this beautiful and interesting country. I arrived in Bucharest, the capital, but didn’t linger; instead, I quickly drove into the far reaches of this land, which (in some places) is still untouched by the modern world. There is much to explore including regions that are rich both in natural beauty (meadows thick with wildflowers, dark virgin forests full of wildlife) and in traditional culture (crafts, music, art and architecture). But with Romania’s entry into the European Union, progress is occurring at a fast pace.
I spent most of my time in Maramures, the remote, northwest corner of Romania near the Ukrainian border. With the high Carpathian Mountains as a backdrop, I hiked the hills of Maramures, watching entire families together cutting hay with scythes in their fields and then loading it onto their horse-drawn carts. I visited some of the exquisite wooden churches of the area (100 of them still exist!) including the Barsana Monastery. Indagare tip: stay at Şesuri, a gorgeous cottage estate. sesuri.com
I got up early one morning to see the weekly Ocna Sugatag market, where people, many in traditional dress, come from all over the area to socialize and buy items they are unable to make or grow on their own farms—from little pink piglets and tiny yellow chicks to beautifully handcrafted wooden pitchforks and rakes for the fields. The market is a photographer’s delight! In this remote area, accommodations are simple and little English is spoken, but an adventuresome spirit is rewarded with friendly people, wonderful meals, strong hornica (homemade, 90-proof plum brandy) and scenery that visitors will never forget. The village of Breb offers charming accommodations in the form of a traditional wooden house, Pensiunea Marioara (marioara.ro).
In Transylvania, I visited the very remote town of Zalanpatak, located down a seemingly endless dirt road, where I stayed at the Prince Charles Guest House (zalan.transylvaniancastle.com). This small, simple village of Hungarian origin is on the ancestral property of Count Kalnoky who, with Prince Charles (a strong supporter of Romanian heritage) began this hotel venture. The Guest House is set in a traditional wooden house with period furnishings.
I was then on to two of Transylvania's medieval towns: Sibiu and Sighisoara. Both walled villages are worth visiting, although Sighisoara, with its romantic cobblestoned narrow streets, may be my favorite of the two. The nearby restored villages of Viscri and Malancrav have beautiful fortified churches. Malancrav has a wonderfully restored manor house that can be rented and has a view of the walled church and organic apple orchard (another venture involving Prince Charles) (zalan.transylvaniancastle.com).
Three hours north of Bucharest is Bran Castle (home of the fictional Dracula), which is the only place in Romania where I saw other Americans (Strada General Traian Moșoiu 24). Be sure to visit the castle early because it can get extremely crowded. Nearby, with spectacular mountain views, is the peaceful Balaban Inn, which offers lovely accommodations and terrific dining. Its hilltop alpine setting is a great place to set off for hikes or to relax after sightseeing (gobtf.com/innonbalaban).
Be sure to read William Blacker’s book Along the Enchanted Way about his time spent in rural Romania. You are sure, like me, to book your tickets immediately after reading this love letter to the country.
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