Fortified churches and painted monasteries stand regally amid a pristine landscape. In the cities, former Saxon settlements such as Sibiu and Braşov ooze charm, while vibrant Bucharest is all energy.
The Carpathian Mountains draw a wide arc through the centre of the country, leaving a swath of exposed rocky peaks surrounded by groves of pine and deciduous trees, and stretches of bright green meadow below. Hiking trails skirt the peaks, and a network of mountain huts provides somewhere to rest your head at night. Europe’s second-longest river, the Danube, marks Romania’s southern border before turning suddenly northward and emptying into the Black Sea. The Danube Delta is a vast and unique protected wetland, perfect for hiking, fishing, boating and birdwatching.
A country is only as good as its people, and you’ll find Romanians in every region to be open, friendly, proud of their history and eager to share it with visitors. While tourism is growing, Romania is still considered something of an off-the-beaten-track destination for foreigners, and you’ll get kudos from the locals just for showing up. While Romanians themselves decry what they see as the brashness, even rudeness, of their countrymen in Bucharest, even there you’ll discover plenty of friendly faces and impromptu drinking buddies if you make the effort.
Castles and Medieval Villages
The land that gave us Dracula has no shortage of jaw-dropping castles pitched precariously on rocky hilltops. There’s spooky Bran Castle of course, with its spurious connection to Bram Stoker’s fictional count, but don’t overlook beauties such as Hunedoara’s 14th-century Corvin Castle or King Carol I’s sumptuous 19th-century pile, Peleş Castle. North of Curtea de Argeş, you’ll find the ruins of a fortress that really was the stomping ground of old Vlad Ţepeş. In Maramureş you’ll discover towns and villages that seemingly stepped out of the Middle Ages, complete with hay racks, horse carts and stately wooden churches.
Romanian history is filled with tales of heroic princes battling fierce Ottoman warriors. That’s all true, but it partly obscures the reality that much of Romania, for centuries, was a productive peasant culture. The hilly geography and lack of passable roads necessitated the emergence of literally hundreds of self-sufficient villages, where old-school crafts such as bread making, pottery, tanning and weaving were honed to an art. These days much of the country has moved on to more modern methods, but a fondness for that ‘simpler’ way of life persists. Folk museums, particularly open-air skansens, are a must. In smaller villages, many old folkways are still practised.