Last year, I tacked a little “Best of Romania” guide on to the end of the local equivalent, but it got rather lost. So this year, I have devoted an entire thread to it. It should be pointed out that this is a best of list which involves only places that I have visited, which isn’t that many really. I’ve done most of the cities, or at least the ones that people refer to as being worth doing (I haven’t been to Drobeta-Turnu Severin for example, but then I’ve never heard anyone talk about it as being worth going to. In fact the only reason I’ve heard of it is that I know someone who comes from there (and she can't stand it). This happens quite frequently with Romanian cities in Oltenia – only yesterday I noticed a town called Resita on the weather forecast that had not previously impinged on my consciousness. I feel quite ashamed of myself when this happens). But with that proviso, here we go…
Best city to visit as a tourist: Sighisoara. The only cities that didn’t have their central bits destroyed by Ceaucescu are the three major Saxon ones – the middle of Brasov is also great, but the endless miles of hellish urban sprawl beyond the walls mark the city down. Sibiu is my nemesis and couldn’t buy my vote. If they have actually finished doing it up for its position as Euro Capital of Culture it probably (he grudgingly admits) looks quite nice.
Best restaurant in Romania (fancy): Bella Musica, Brasov. Really great job in doing up the old wine cellars, and providing top quality food in romantic surroundings. And fantastic service too – why have I never been to a restaurant before which has a little button beside your table so you can call over a waiter when YOU want? Excellent place (and they give you free palinka and free chips and salsa when you sit down too)
Best restaurant in Romania (homestyle): Hanul Dracula not far outside Sighisoara – though it is 4kms off the road down a rutted track – they have great food in a very nice location. Rubbish name, obviously, but you can’t have everything. It’s also a great place to stay if you’re visiting Sighisoara, have a car, and can’t get a room at…
Best hotel in Romania: Casa Cu Cerb, slap bang in the main square in Sighisoara, done up by a German foundation under the supervision of Gabriel Lambescu. Very romantic, very understated, and very very reasonable.
Best trendy bar: Bit of a fake category this one, since I go into trendy bars about as often as I walk around in a tutu, but I was taken to a fairly heavily trendy one in Cluj when I was last there – Diesel – situated in the main square (or what I think of as the Hungarian main square – i.e. the one with Matyas Kiraly in it rather than the one with Avram Iancu), also in old tunnels and cellars – there’s clearly a bit of a pattern here. The music was too loud, but that’s because I’m virtually geriatric, but they mixed a mean Mojito (and a mean Caipirinha – I really did have to try them both to check, obviously).
Best Car Hire Company: To be honest I've only ever used one - Eurocars in Brasov. But they were so incredibly helpful when this happened, that I feel they deserve a mention.
Best beer: Csiki Sör obviously (that's Bere Ciuc to any Romanian readers). Silva Dark is good too. This year, the geniuses (or genii, whichever you prefer) at the company (Heineken, basically) have brought out “Ciuc Winter” to cash in on the town’s reputation for, well, winter. I’m not a fan of strong beer, usually, but this one is surprisingly good.
Best wine: "Prahova Valley" – Pinot Noir. Good wine and at $2 a bottle you can't go wrong. Romanian wine in general is excellent.
Best bread: All bread here is fantastic. Except in restaurants curiously. For some reason, when you go to a bakery, you have loads of delicious crunchy loaves to choose from, from all regions and with various little twists – potato bread, brown bread, rye bread, bread from Cluj, bread from the Banat, etc etc. But when you go a restaurant, as often as not they give you a basket of rubbishy pre-packaged soft, white pap. Where do they get it from? Is there some kind of “crap bread for catering” franchise dealing in it? I think we should be told
Best English language blog: Modesty forbids and all that. More seriously, I’ll give a three way tie to Shrinkmamma, Gorgeoux, and Romerican. (The funniest one is Albino Neutrino, but he never updates, so he’ll have to wait for his prize)