In south eastern Europe lies the former Communist state of Romania. The county was freed from the Iron Curtain in 1989 and has since become an affordable and popular destination for European tourists. Bucharest, the capital, was once known as Paris of the East, and the countryside boasts some of Europe’s most spectacular castles and landscapes. Home to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Romania is a country offering many types of experiences, from city breaks and beach holidays to historical excursions and sight seeing explorations.
Wherever you fly from you’ll be landing in Bucharest. The capital area was inhabited since the Palaeolithic era, first noted as a residence of Vlad the Impaler in the fourteen hundreds. The city houses many mansions from the mid eighteen hundreds built in the French villa style and north of the city centre is the outdoor Romanian architecture park museum. In the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum you can explore the country’s history and see many fine examples of traditional Eastern European building as you stroll around the large grounds and by the lake. Many houses are build in simple brick and wood and you’ll feel like you’re walking through the past, expecting to see farmers and Russian granny’s milking cows. The museum is entered through Bucharest’s Arch di Triumf and Hotel Herăstrău, built in the grounds of the museum, offers three star accommodation in an affluent area of the city.
The Palace of the Parliament is the city’s most famous landmark, a structure larger than the Pentagon and formally housed the Dictator and his government. The enormous palace faces the city’s main boulevard, making both a sight to see and a walk to remember under the trees in the spring or summer sun.
Bucharest is home to many large lakes and you can enjoy a picnic under a blazing golden sunset as you sip locally made wine and dip craft bread into olive oil and vinegar, a Mediterranean treat and beautifully delicious.
Castelul Peles in the town of Sinaia was the Royal family’s winter residence. The excessively ornate, impressive wooden structure was completed in 1914 and you can gaze upon the faces of Romanian royalty painted on the outside of the castle in the courtyards.
A large statue of one of Romania’s most famous Queen’s, Queen Marie, sits in the grounds and you’ll have a spectacular view of the Carpathian mountains, Dracula’s speculated residence, as you stroll around the grounds. The Gothic Revival palace mirrors Bavaria’s detailed castles and houses one hundred and seventy rooms. Tours take about an hour to complete and a visit to the castle is a treat in the autumn months when the trees are changing colour to match the shades the palace is decorated in.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula supposedly lived in the village of Bran, north west of Bucharest and the winter palace. The surprisingly small castle was also home to a Princess Mary, a Romanian noble who lived in the eighteen hundreds, who never married. The less spooky story tells of her longingly looking out the castle windows as she pined for a great love, dying alone and adding a touch of romance to the castle’s history.
Built in the late thirteen hundreds, Bran Castle was once a defence against the Ottoman invasions of Europe, with Vlad Tepes Dracula being a member of the Order of the Dragon, a monarchist society pledged to defending Europe against invasions. Queen Marie, last Queen of Romania, favoured the castle and her daughter, Princess Ileana ran a hospital from the stone structure during World War II. There is however no evidence that Dracula ever lived in Bran Castle and the location was never under his rule. Historians claim the castle was linked to Stoker’s fictional vampire because of its spooky exterior rather than because of historical linkage to Vlad Tepes. Markets are held outside the castle in Bran village selling false designer goods and vampire trinkets and the castle makes a fine example of medieval Eastern European architecture.
The south east of Romania boasts many sea side towns, growing in popularity with European beach going tourists. Facing on to the gentle waves of the Black sea, you’ll find towns named after Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. Many affordable and good quality hotels can be found beside the sheltered man made bays and become quite busy in summer.
Romanian summers can reach 45 degrees and nationals flock to the beaches. Walking distance south along the beach you’ll find open stretches of sand bordering fields for a quieter sea side day. The town of Varna Veche, close to the Bulgarian border, is small and quieter than the resort towns of Constanta and Mangalia. Buses and trains travel from Bucharest in four hours and cost under ten euros.
Constanta, on the Black Sea coast, was inhabited since six hundred BC. It belonged to the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Bulgarian and Russian Empires. The city boasts a fabulously designed abandoned casino on the sea front. The Art Deco and Neo Classical structure was completed between the World Wars and is a fabulous photo opportunity. Constanta houses a diverse population of Romanians, Tartars, Turks, Greeks, Jews and Bulgarians, a mix typical of this part of Europe and the reason the region is such a melting pot of culture, folklore and cuisine.
The Dacians, who resisted Roman invasion, once lived here and the city is now home to the locally famous bright pink buses running throughout the city and long stretches of beach to the south. The Roman poet Ovid once lived in the city and Constanta was so called after Emperor Constantine’s sister, Constantina. Legend states that Jason of the Argonauts landed here during his search for the Golden Fleece and open air bars, night clubs and cabarets line the sea front. You can enjoy an early morning sunrise stroll along the coast and gaze out over the calm waters listening to sea birds crowing as they dive in looking for their breakfast.
Brasov, a medieval city nestled in the southern Carpathian Mountains, is home to the mysterious Black Church. Local lure says that if you run around the church at midnight backwards chanting “Bloody Mary”, the devil will appear to you.
The town is an excellent example of Transylvanian, traditional Eastern European and medieval architecture and boasts a Brasov Hollywood style sign on the mountains overlooking the small city. A large forest park situated beside the city allows for tree top walks inside rounded open air tunnels and fine churches, forts and Renaissance style buildings fill the terracotta roofed city.
European river cruises are a great way to see the continent. The Danube, Europe’s longest river, borders Bulgaria and there are many three to five star river cruises lasting from a day to a month to choose from. Views are spectacular and you’ll find yourself immersed in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere as friendly locals narrate the local history and culture to you as you lounge on the deck sipping locally famous, mixed fruit Romanian tea.
Romania offers many attractions for all types of tourists. From family beach holidays and water parks in Brasov and the Black Sea coast, to nature adventures in the breath-taking Carpathian Mountains. Whether shopping in Chanel in Bucharest for an expensive city break or learning about European folklore from locals at any of the many castles, Romania will cater to all tastes. When talking to those who’ve been there, the friendly people and memorable experiences are what all visitors smile about the most. All agree that Romania is a place they’d love to return to.