Over the years Romania has had a bad press because of economic migrants, I for one would happily head in the opposite direction. The area around the Carpathian Mountains is a complex cross between the picturesque Chilterns and Kananaskis Country in Canada. The photograph above is of the idyllic settlement of Magura, that nestles in the foothills of the Piatra Craiului Mountains. Who can argue against that Magura is not on a par with other more popular destinations? It has to be said that I have a soft spot for the fine people of Transylvania, they are kind and hospitable, the architecture is a cultural delight. The food is excellent, the wine is comparable to anything in France and the beer is better than most countries. For those who like to visit grandiose houses and castles then Romania is not short of a few castles and fortified churches that are well worth a visit. My favourite of all those that I have had the pleasure to investigate is Peles Castle.
Apparently, the first three design plans submitted for Peles were copies of other Palace’s in Western Europe. King Carol 1st, rejected them all as lacking originality and being too costly. German architect Johannes Schultz (1876–1883) won the project by presenting a more original plan, something that appealed to the King’s taste: a grand palatial alpine villa combining different features of classic European styles, mostly following Italian elegance and German aesthetics along Renaissance lines. It was documented during a visit by Queen Elisabeth of the Romanians during the construction phase, she wrote in her journal:
Italians were masons, Romanians were building terraces, the Gypsies were coolies. Albanians and Greeks worked in stone, Germans and Hungarians were carpenters. Turks were burning brick. Engineers were Polish and the stone carvers were Czech. The Frenchmen were drawing, the Englishmen were measuring, and so was then when you could see hundreds of national costumes and fourteen languages in which they spoke, sang, cursed and quarreled in all dialects and tones, a joyful mix of men, horses, cart oxen and domestic buffaloes.
Is there much change from today’s complexities of international commerce? Those who are less interested in the cultural aspects of Romania there is also a sizeable chunk on mountain chain that is definitely a challenging outing.
The wild beauty of the landscapes: a great number of prominent peaks, narrow crests, deep valleys and picturesque tarns prompted the French scientist Emmanuel de Martonne to refer to the Fagaras Mountains as the Transylvanian Alps. The main ridge forms a massive spine, which extends west to east in a fairly straight line for more than 70 km – the main crest never drops below 2000m over a distance of about 50 km. The route along the ridge is tough with minimal water and many a person has to descend 500+ metres to source water.
There is still more to see and do and the more I visit Romania the more gems I uncover. In the small village of Lisa on the Northern side of the Fagaras Ridge is this fascinating cottage industry. The “Whirlpools” using the power to water to wash incredibly hard wearing rugs that are also locally produced in theses improvised washing machines. The water is then used to turn a massive tumble dryer. The photo below shows the spinning cylinder that is about the size of a New Holland Combine Harvester.
So Romania has something to offer most people, those that are intrigued by Dracula will head for Bran.
Bran Castle evolved from the antics of The Teutonic Knights – a catholic religious order formed in Palestine during the late twelfth century by German crusaders. The Teutons erected a fortress in Bran (a Turkish name meaning “Gate”) before they were driven away from the area in 1226. Two hundred years later Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes) lead his army to Bran in early 1459 en route to attack Brasov, in order to settle a conflict between the Wallachia Voivode and the Saxons, who had requested higher customs taxes and supported his opponent for the throne. Vlad the Impaler burned the city’s suburbs and murdered hundreds of Saxons from Transylvania. Vlad never really took up residence in Bran Castle. However, Vlad appears to have been attracted the attention of Bram Stoker the author of Dracula. Although a purely fictional creation, Stoker named his infamous character after a Vlad Tepes who happened to have a taste for blood. However, if you are to visit Bran Castle, which is purely a tourist honey pot and nothing like the previously mentioned Peles Castle. If I can give one piece of advice, join the dots and visit Sighisoara. Founded by Transylvanian Saxons during the 12th century, Sighisoara still stands as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this perfectly intact 16th-century gem with nine towers, cobbled streets, burgher houses and ornate churches rivals the historic streets of Old Prague or Vienna for atmospheric magic. It is also the birthplace of Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler). His house is just one of the many attractions.
So this is my take on visiting Romania, I have only uncovered a small part of the fascinating country. I am still confused so few are interested in traveling to this fascinating place.