Wednesday, October 07, 2009
5 places tourists to Romania should visit
1. The monasteries of Bucovina. Absolutely stunning places. If you have to pick only two then I would recommend Voroneţ and Suceviţa. Really you cant fail to be blown away by them. They'd be stunning if they had been created last week, but to think these paintings were done 500 years ago and have been exposed to the elements ever since, then it's impossible to fail to be impressed.
2. The Saxon villages (and especially the fortified churches) located in the old German dominated area roughly demarcated by Sibiu to the west, Brasov to the east, Sighisoara to the north, and the Fagaras mountains to the south. Again these places are incredible. Biertan in particular is just out of this world, but many of the others too are simply spectacular, and unlike anything you will find anywhere else in Europe.
3. Maramures Beautiful traditional villages, great scenery, interesting wooden churches, people wearing folk costume just because they damn well want to and not because it attracts tourists, weird stuff like the "Happy Cemetery", and possibly the best museum in Romania (The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance).
4. Sighisoara Arguably you could include this as being part of no.2, but I think it's worth giving a section to all on its own. Stunning mediaeval city, that would only be improved if they stopped allowing traffic up there. Wander round the German cemetery, the church, the clock tower, sit on the walls, eat a delicious meal in one of the restuarants up there and then stay in one the expertly renovated old houses in the main square. Central Brasov and Sibiu are also very nice, but something about the quiet atmosphere of Sighisoara makes it, for me, the best city to be in in the country.
5. Driving around Now there are lots of downsides to driving around in this country, not least the fact that it's really hard work (bad drivers, bad roads, horse carts, cows, drunk people on bikes, villages with no pavements so children etc are all walking on the road etc etc), but there are also a lot of upsides. These include some spectacular views and scenery, gorgeous villages, and the fact that because there are no motorways to speak of you see it all without zipping by it in a blur (that's a bit of a double edged sword obviously). I recently drove up the Bistrita valley and over the Prislop pass, for example, and it it just amazing. Then there are all the other passes over mountains (Bicaz Gorge being possibly the most incredible). If the difficult bits scare you, then perhaps get someone else to drive you. Whatever, it's worth it.
Other places which might make the list but I haven't been to them - the Danube Delta, The Iron Gates, areas of the Apuseni mountains, and more.
Next up: "Places that tourists often do go to in Romania but shouldn't bother with" (liable to be significantly more controversial)