Beyond legends of vampires and gypsies, Romania is a magical land vastly underestimated by many.
From the untouched Transylvanian countryside and the beautiful mountain scenery in the Carpathian Mountains, the wooden churches and painted monasteries of Maramureș, the medieval towns of Brasov, Sibiu and Sighișoara, to the Danube Delta’s abundance of birds and wildlife, and the magnetic buzz of the fast-paced capital of Bucharest, the variation and richness across Romania is staggering.
Traveling to Romania is like stepping into the legendary land of milk and honey, where time seems to slow down and age-old tradition unravels itself. Life is beautifully simple here, a world apart from our own hectic lives and materialistic desires, which makes a visit to the region a breath of fresh air in every sense of the word.
You will discover again the real taste of a tomato, sample freshly made cheese, and pick a peach right from a tree along the road.
But take my advice seriously and hurry up because as a part of the European Union, Romania is moving forward and sooner or later the rest of the world will discover its stunning treasures, the old villages will disappear, and Western civilization will place the first fast food restaurants on every street corner. This is your last chance to visit a real fairy tale land.
Surrounded by mystery and legend, Romanian castles represent this country’s reach into history and heritage.
Transylvania’s most famous castle, Bran, is known as “Dracula’s Castle” for its tangential association with Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, or Drăculea. Posthumously named “Vlad the Impaler,” his name and reputation served as inspiration for Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula.
Romania owes its dreamy landscape to the Carpathian Mountains and scarce population. If you add to it the abundance of wild life, bears being quite easy to spot, shepherds guarding a huge herd of sheep and free running smiling pigs (see picture below for proof), the idyllic scenery is almost complete.
Hidden in a small village in the valley of Maramures you will come across the Cimitirul Vesel, or “merry cemetery.” Colorful, hand-painted crosses depict the deceased in a funny or thoughtful way, telling of life stories and secrets.
Sub această cruce grea
Zace biata soacră-mea
Trei zile de mai trăia
Zăceam eu și cetea ea.
Voi care treceți pă aici
Incercați să n-o treziți
Că acasă dacă vine
Iarăi cu gura pă mine
Da așa eu m-oi purta
Că-napoi n-a înturna
Stai aicea dragă soacră-mea
Under this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother in-law
Three more days should she have lived
I would lie, and she would read (this cross).
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
Cause’ if she comes back home
She’ll criticise me more.
But I will surely behave
So she’ll not return from grave.
Stay here, my dear mother in-law!
Rich, Diverse Communities
Romania is home to a diverse multi-ethnic heritage where a melting pot of Hungarians, Saxons, Germans and Roma or Romani “gypsies” make a strong mark on the architecture, cuisine and even names of towns which are often referred to in three different languages. The result is a wonderfully diverse landscape speckled with groups of remote communities that live and breathe their own very distinctive traditions and customs, many of which have disappeared over the centuries throughout the rest of Europe.
If the spectacular castles, colorful ethnic groups, and relaxed lifestyle aren’t enough to convince you of Transylvania’s appeal, then its collection of medieval old towns will surely lure you in. Perfectly preserved with charming cobbled streets and colorful houses with traditional roofs, the three most famous Saxon towns form a triangle across Transylvania and represent some of the finest examples in Europe. These villages of the Transylvanian Saxons are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Transylvanian villages with fortified churches provide a vivid picture of the cultural landscape of southern Transylvania. They are characterized by the specific land-use system, settlement pattern, and organization of the family farmstead units preserved since the late Middle Ages, dominated by their fortified churches, which illustrate building periods from the 13th to 16th centuries. – UNESCO, Villages With Fortified Churches in Transylvania
First up is Brașov with its beautiful baroque architecture and citadel ruins, then there’s Sibiu with its cobblestone streets and handful of quaint squares, and finally, you’ve got the hilltop citadel of Sighișoara which boasts a labyrinth of narrow passageways and a fairytale clock tower dating back to the 14th century.
The Transfăgărășan is the second-highest paved road in Romania. It was built as a strategic military route stretching 90 km with twists and turns that run north to south across the tallest sections of the Southern Carpathians, between the highest peaks in the country, Moldoveanu, and the second highest, Negoiu. Constructed between 1970 and 1974, during the rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu, it was built as a response to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Ceaușescu wanted to ensure quick military access across the mountains in case the Soviets attempted a similar move in Romania.
Adding to the mystery and intrigue of Romania, prices are about 1/3 of what you pay in the US and Europe, there are few tourists so you have the castles all for yourself, and it is a very safe and friendly country.
Ready to experience more of Romania? We would be happy to help organize your next faculty-led trip or educational tour.