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Romania: Deep dark forests, fortified churches and Stalinist architecture
July 16, 2017, 12:29 pm

A vast, remarkably diverse country, Romania packs in an outstanding synthesis of natural and cultural heritage, from majestic mountain ranges and Europe’s most extensive wetlands to startlingly pretty medieval towns and timeless villages.

Add to the mix some of the continent’s most impressive ecclesiastical monuments, invigorating treks and an abundance of spectacular wildlife, and you have got yourself one endlessly fascinating destination.

Exploring Bucharest: Capital of Romania, this city combines the old with the new. Visitors might come across a centuries-old building, a modern high rise, and a Communist-style building all in the same block. This modernizing European capital boasts the largest Parliament building in the world with 3,100 rooms and 12 stories high. Tours of this impressive building, constructed in 1984, are given frequently throughout the day. Also not to be missed in Bucharest is the old town center with its narrow cobblestone streets and old buildings, including medieval churches.

Wonderful wildlife: From bears to birds, Romania rates some of the continent’s most memorable wildlife. Thousands of brown bears roam the Carpathians, and while it is not inconceivable that you will chance upon one if out hiking, you are better off joining an organized bear-watching trip.

There are both lynx and wolves, too, but good luck trying to spot these notoriously elusive creatures, though you will see red deer and chamois.

Meanwhile, the wonderfully remote Danube Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers up an array of winged fauna unmatched anywhere else in Europe; expect egrets, herons, red-breasted geese and white-tailed eagles, but best of all, the great white and Dalmatian pelicans. Even if you are not here to twitch, these stunning wetlands merit several days’ exploration.

Thrilling treks: The beguiling Romanian landscape affords marvelous hiking opportunities, and, better still, the chances are that you will have them all to yourself. The two most celebrated mountain ranges are the Făgăraş and Retezat. The former boasts most of the country’s highest peaks, including Moldoveanu, which tops out at a very respectable 2544 meters, while the latter offers up more demanding, and scenically more rewarding, hikes.

Also corralled into this stunning corner of the Carpathian redoubt is the awesome Piatra Craiului ridge and the Bucegi massif. For something a little gentler, head to the glorious, beech and fir-cloaked Bucovina hills.

Seek out ecclesiastical treasures: First port of call for most visitors are the gorgeous painted monasteries of southern Bucovina, in particular Suceviţa, Moldoviţa and Voronet, all of which look utterly resplendent with their imposing, fortified walls and dazzling medieval wall frescoes.

The outstanding, eighteenth-century wooden churches of Maramureş, meanwhile, are flamboyant, Gothic-inspired works of art, distinguished by steeply-pitched shingled roofs and fairy-tale spires; those at Bârsana and Surdeşti are perhaps the finest examples.

Then there are the fortified Saxon churches of southern Transylvania; usually set atop a hillock and quartered within a ring or two of walls, these erstwhile strongholds are occasionally austere but always impressive; the churches at Hărman, Prejmer and Mălâncrav are particularly fine specimens.

Stunning architecture: Despite the monochrome concrete form of many urban centers, most Romanian cities still showcase some outstanding architectural heritage. Star billing goes to Sibiu, whose handsome trio of conjoined squares is worth seeking out any time of year, as is Sighişoara thanks to its iconic clock tower and immaculately preserved medieval citadel.

Braşov boasts an elegant Baroque core dominated by the awesome Black Church, while Timişoara – the catalyst for the 1989 revolution – ranks highly for its wonderful confection of Secessionist and Hapsburg-era architecture.

Hunt down the haunts of Vlad the Impaler: The sadistic fifteenth-century Wallachian ruler and warrior upon whom Bram Stoker’s fabled 1887 novel, Dracula, was based. The Romanian landscape is littered with Vlad’s old hangouts – check out his birthplace in Sighişoara, the dramatically sited Poienari Castle near Curtea de Argeş, or his erstwhile lair, Princely Court in Târgovişte. Then there is also what is widely believed to be Vlad’s tomb, located inside the monastery at Snagov.

Marvelous music: If gypsy music is currently one of the hottest sounds on the planet, then the Romanians have a lot to answer for; from the mesmerizing polyphonic grooves of the Taraf de Haidouks, to the blistering brass beats of the Mahala Rai Banda, this is one sonic experience that you do not want to miss.

Try and catch a concert or, better still, visit a music village, such as Clejani, where, for a few leu you should be able to find a group of musicians willing to bash out a few tunes.


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