holiday in Romania?
A new, mountainous yet flat-busted member of the European Union,
Romania is an ancient place of magnificent soaring landscapes buzzing with wildlife and travelled
by peasants in horse-drawn carts, interspersed with primitive farms,
monasteries, medieval towns and dramatic castles inhabited by Dracula
Hosted by generally friendly and occasionally colourful people of
mixed cultural backgrounds, Romania is one of Europe's least-developed
countries, a place to step back in time - but be quick, Brussels
bureaucrats are already imposing daft and oppressive regulations,
while malls, office blocks, mobile phones and ski-runs are spreading
like fungus and country folk are rushing for better paid work elsewhere
in the EU.
- Beggars can be a whingeing pain.
- Taxi drivers are skunks in human form so carefully agree prices
beforehand but be prepared for still further demands. See 'Taxis' below.
- Neither gypsies nor gays are popular.
(though mid-summer can be excessively hot). Winter (December-February)
is good only for low-price ski holidays.
Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: Bucharest for a
couple of days or a long and weird medieval weekend in Transylvania.
Recommended: 14 days to explore the place properly with a hike or
**Bucharest, the capital, is a necessary
tourist evil and an integral part of the Romanian experience. It's
changing rapidly but still scattered with fine old architecture,
a couple of good museums, huge megalomanic relics of Ceausescu's
heavy handed rule, nutty pedestrian-threatening traffic, fine eating at the right price
and boisterous nightlife.
***Transylvania is a place of medieval streets and fortifications,
majestic mountains, multicultural traditions, caves, forests and
Of particular interest are:
the charming, hilltop citadel town of Sighisoara;
the fortified Saxon villages of and around Sibiu (and its superb open-air museum of Romanian rural life, Muzeul
Astra); the stunning gothic section of Brasov (as opposed to the unpleasant modern bit); the spectacular turreted
castle at Bran built in 1377 by the
Saxons and reputedly home to Count Dracula; another terrific, even
spookier fortress nearby at Rasnov;
and finally a new Carnivore Centre (zoo) at Zarnesti.
***The Carpathian Mountains, just a couple of hours from
Bucharest are a grand and pointy hiker's heaven scattered with quaint
villages and offering low-cost skiing in winter. (Picture top right).
***North Moldavia/South Bucovina regions are known for their
fantastically painted UNESCO Heritage monasteries, such as Voronet (the 'Sistine Chapel of the east') or Moldovita.
**The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta
village, Maramures region, sports gorgeously painted - and
often humorous - grave accessories that have been exhibited to great
acclaim across Europe.
**Timisoara in the far west of the country is perhaps the
most westernized of Romanian cities but still dominated by forts
and cathedrals and home to relaxed, cosmopolitan inhabitants.
*The Danube Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage site is a prime
target for anglers.
**Black Sea Resorts are hot to trot from spring to autumn.
The best facilities on the Romanian coast, including a 10km beach,
may be found in Mamaia.
Only take taxis with a numbered plaque on the outside, and even
then carefully check the cost of your trip before setting off.
'Private' taxis will probably be driven by demons freshly arrived
from the gates of Hell.
Although international flights to the country are frequent, so are
trains from most of Western Europe. The trains are low-cost, comfortable,
no vast check-in lines and you get to see stuff on the way!
Check out the good value Balkan FlexiPass if you plan to travel
a lot in the area.
Buses are available too, but not cheap.
Trains are also the best way to get around Romania.
Hiking and skiing: An excellent walking
country through wild and rural landscapes; the Carpathians are the
most spectacular mountains in Romania, relatively untouched by human
foot and barely two hours from Bucharest.
Bird watching and fishing: The Danube
Delta is home to over 300 species of bird as well as varied animals
and freshwater fish in its numerous lakes and marshes.
n.b. Folk music and dance is a major cultural activity in this country
so expect to see plenty of this activity during festivals.
- June, Fundata Fair in Fundata near Bran, a folklore fair.
- Mid July for 3 days, Mount Gaina Maiden Fair, a song
and dance about marriage; half-way up a mountain so climbing there
is the first step.
- June 23, Sanziene Midsummer Festival in Maramures. Fairies
in the ether and garlands of flowers everywhere else.
- 3rd week July for 3 days, East European Vintage Motorbike
Rally in Turda, a town with a lovely atmosphere, classic architecture
and a rich past.
- End of July for 3 days, Medieval Days in Sighisoara,
a delightful fortified town; two weeks of theatrical shows - professional
and amateur - all over the citadel, as well as painters, sculptors,
body painters and fantastic costumes.
- Third Sunday of August, Hora la Prislop in Maramures,
a celebration of traditional popular arts, with song, dance and
- September, Sambra Oilor, a sheepish event in Bran.
- September, Chamber Music Festival in Bran and Brasov.
EU citizens and nationals of USA, Australia and New Zealand do not
need visas for visits up to 90 days.
Electric sockets are 230v and take 2 round pin plugs.
Crime is rare but as usual take precautions against pick-pocketing
and bag filching. DON'T change money in the street.
Romanian cooks tend to focus on meats (especially in soups and on
grills, meatballs or sausages are big) but vegetarians won't find
life particularly difficult with vegetables appearing in soups,
stews or mixed and fried, while fish (grilled carp, herring or sturgeon)
and cheeses (fried in batter or inside pastries) are also served.
You will find a variety of ethnic eateries - especially in Bucharest
- as well as fast foods joints if you're dying for a artery-choking
Reasonable lager beers and wines are on the market though many locals
prefer - at any time of the day or night - a hit of the potent and
locally produced tuica, a plum brandy.
Romanian is the native language but many locals speak excellent
The currency is the Ron and prices are moderate-low. ATMs
are plentiful in towns, so DON'T change money in the street and
be extremely wary of extortionate commissions charged by exchange
Romanian workers are paid little and depend on tips, so tip waiters
(5%-10%), porters and even the rare good taxi driver, but not much.
The majority are professional, including children.
No problem in towns.
Left, Ramet Monastery, Apuseni Mountains. Right, Small Retezat Mountains, Carpathians.
Both by Falk Kienas.