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Romania is enigmatic and enchanting, where nothing is as it initially seems. You will experience cobbled towns from a fairytale, surreal Transylvanian castles, an inimitable capital city, and serene Carpathian landscapes. In this part of Europe, you must journey to the heart of the puzzle and discover for yourself. For a while the suggestive photos pull you in, it is the atmosphere and authenticity you will most remember.
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Romania’s castles come from fairytale and legend. Location sets the scene, some perched on mountain ridges, others rising up from thick forests. Just walking up to the fortresses gives the impression of a time of invaders. Imposing locations give way to contrasting interiors. The older castles are brutal in style, seemingly impregnable. Those from the 19th century onwards are almost opulent, filled with timeless art. Bran Castle, the legendary setting of Count Dracula, dates to the 14th century and was the source of many legends before Bram Stoker wrote his book. It is the most famous on the list of sights, complemented by the sumptuous Peles Castle and the lesser-celebrated Corvin Castle.
Monks beat on beams, creating a call to prayer in the Bucovina monasteries. It is a practice that has replaced the ringing of bells and harked back to Byzantine times. Following the drumbeat, you enter monasteries painted in improbable scenes, the rhythmic nature of life and religion flowing across the walls. Preserved as World Heritage Sites, these monasteries are masterpieces from Byzantine times, the frescoes distinct from anywhere else in the world. Saints meet prophets between heaven and hell, as demons and angels look on; then you continue to another monastery to see the tale of another Orthodox saint. Seven painted monasteries make a loop through the Bucovina region, with Probota and Moldovita the most famous.
Romania can dazzle all year around, although spring and fall are widely considered to be the best times to visit. Summers are hot, especially in Bucharest and along the Black Sea coastline, although you will find relief from the heat up in Transylvania and the Carpathians. Autumn colors combine with cultural festivities to make fall a good time to visit with a pleasant cool climate. Spring is a time of flowers, with valleys carpeted in vibrant hues. It is the wettest time of year, but that is counteracted by the lack of other tourists, especially in Transylvania’s famous medieval towns. Travel in winter, and there is snow on the mountains, enough to create antelope tracks in the forests and ski slopes in the Carpathians. This is the quiet time for tourism, and you are likely to have the whole of Romania for yourself, including Bran Castle.
Romania’s accommodation is always memorable. You might stay in a 19th-century manor house surrounded by parkland, a neoclassical hotel designed by Gustave Eiffel, or boutique guesthouse that peers into Transylvania’s heritage. There is old-world grandeur, especially in Bucharest, where five-star hotels come with elegance and no shortage of old architectural styles. Some are now owned and operated by major international chains, bringing contemporary professionalism to sublime buildings. Travel beyond the capital and most destinations have something unique to offer. Like an ice hotel built each year on Balea Lake, Saxon farmhouses restored to late 18th-century styles and manor houses that form fine examples of traditional Romanian architecture. Summer palaces have been converted to high-end hotels while small boutique hotels are perched above the cobbles and squares of Transylvania’s towns. The grand old styles are not always ideal for families – Saxon farmhouses are romantic rather than child-friendly – but a general uplift in hotel quality means you now have a good choice over where to stay with the family. The location should be an important consideration, as you may not want to require a taxi to go out for dinner. That is more applicable in Bucharest than it is in the smaller towns, where boutique hotels can be found within the pedestrianized area.
Citizens of the U.S. and Canada do not need an entry visa to visit Romania. Since ascension to the European Union in 2007, Romania has also been part of the Schengen travel zone, allowing borderless travel to its neighbors. Your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond your date of departure, and you should carry a passport copy with you at all times. Some Romanian attractions like the Palace of Parliament require you to present your passport for entry. Domestic airports are making travel easy here so do not feel restricted to entering and departing through Bucharest, with Cluj in Transylvania one of the potential options. Domestic flights reduce travel time, although you miss out on the villages and landscapes that make travel so endearing here. Cruising is another option, from the Danube Delta north into Ukraine, where Odessa and Kyiv await. You may also want to travel south, combining the highlights of Romania with Bulgaria.
Health and safety in Romania can be compared to most of Europe. As long as you retain your common sense, it is unlikely you will run into any difficulties. Petty crime is not common even if Bucharest has its fair share of scams and annoyances. Your guide can advise on neighborhoods to avoided after dark, although it is highly unlikely you will be staying near such an area anyway. Scams tend to target drunken foreigners, and they usually revolve around swindling a few dollars; violent crime is rare. Bears are a potential nuisance, albeit an interesting one, especially those that come down from the forests to Transylvania’s towns. Romania has Europe’s largest bear population, and their tracks can be spotted in the Carpathians, always a delight when you visit one of the region’s national parks. Hospitals and clinics range from modern establishments to communist relics, but for the most part, their quality is excellent. It is rare that you will be too far from a hospital and your guide can help translate, as doctors may not speak English.
Fun and full of enthusiasm, the Romanian people are often a highlight of travel in the country. Like Bucharest the capital, you may find them a little ragged around the edges, but that is just part of the facade. These people are pure of heart and very proud of their country, especially the challenges overcome in the late 20th century. You should find them friendly and gregarious, and eager to converse with foreign visitors. Language can be a barrier as Romanian is not something you will pick up easily. However, the proportion of English speakers is rising dramatically, particularly in towns visited by tourists. Restaurant menus are being translated, and you can get by without knowledge of Romanian. As with all of Eastern Europe, having a guide dramatically increases your interaction with local people, who have exciting stories to tell and rarely regard a topic as off bounds.
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