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Did You Know … ?
- Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament is Europe’s largest office building and second in the world after the Pentagon.
- The Danube annually deposits 67 million tons of alluvia at the Danube Delta.
- Johnny Weissmuller, known for his Tarzan movie role, was born in Timisoara (1904).
- Gymnast Nadia Comaneci scored a perfect 10 in the Olympics (1976) when scoreboards couldn’t display 10.00.
- In 1917, Romania printed the world’s smallest banknote, the 10-bani note (1.08 X 1.49 inches).
Romania is a central European country with breathtaking mountain scenery and a 150-mile Black Sea coast. It also has a traditional heritage and medieval towns that attract travelers with culture and history on their minds. There is the bonus, for some travelers anyway, that selected sites and events are connected with the fictional Count Dracula.
Yet, most travelers don’t put Romania on their must-see lists when contemplating European destinations. There are drawbacks for the less venturesome: Hotel quality varies, and one must travel winding mountain roads to get to some of the country’s most distinctive destinations and activities. As a result, for now, Romania appeals most the adventurous among us.
For visitors who respond to natural features, nearly a third of the country is mountainous. The Carpathians — with their lakes and rivers — extend like an arc for 600 miles in Romania.
Active travelers come for diversions like hiking, rafting, rock climbing and especially skiing. The Black Sea is a bird-watcher’s paradise, and it is a beach destination complemented by sites of historical and archaeological interest.
Admittedly, Romania has some drab socialist architecture, but it boasts countless unique traditional buildings, too. Take a cue from UNESCO, which has accepted for its heritage lists eight wooden churches in Maramures; seven fresco-covered Orthodox churches in Bucovina, and seven medieval fortified churches in Transylvania.
The historic center of Sighisoara, a fortified town, is on the lists, too, but it is the tip of the iceberg. Saxons, who were invited to settle Transylvania in the 12th century, built seven such citadel towns, including Brasov and Sibiu.
Visitors can connect with folk culture at open-air museums and folk festivals. More casually, they may see locals in traditional dress, especially in Maramures, and many traditionally decorated houses alongside the roads.
Tourism associated with Dracula is generally focused on Transylvania, although Vlad Tepes, the presumed model for the fictional character, was prince of neighboring Wallachia.
Finally, the capital Bucharest is a wild combination of the traditional, with fragments of an Old Town on view, and new construction — most notably the huge Palace of the Parliament.
Things to do for Venturers
- Hike in Retezat National Park in the Carpathians. In winter, make that a ski-and-snowboard holiday in the mountains.
- Rough it a little. Spend a few nights camping beside one of Romania’s many rivers. The tourism ministry licenses nearly 70 campsites in the country.
- Spend Halloween in Romania with Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes, considered the inspiration for the fictional Dracula). Several tour operators offer options, with varying fright factors. The scariest parts could be the “fiery spirits” poured into your glass and “medieval three-star hotels.”
- If you like rock climbing, head to any of these gateways for the sport: Busteni, Petrosani, Sinaia or Zarnesti.
- Cerna, Crisul Repede, Jiu and Nera are the most popular rivers for whitewater rafting. Sign up if this is your idea of fun.
- Rent a mountain bike for a short, or long, ride into the mountains, following marked bike trails.
Things to do for Centrics
- Pack plenty of memory into your camera and photograph the valued painted churches in Bucovina, an area in the country’s northeast. The best are at monasteries in Humor, Moldovita, Patrauti, Probota, Suceava, Sucevita and Voronet.
- Book an August trip, timed for the National Festival of Folk Traditions in Sibiu. Meet experts on traditional ways of life, and poke your nose into buildings at Sibiu’s open-air museum. Also, note the centuries-old layout and buildings in the city itself, given it was a 12th century Saxon citadel town.
- Pick up the binoculars and enjoy the bird-watching on the Danube Delta. Look for black pelicans, among many other species.
- Attend one of the weekly produce markets in rural Maramures. Look for women in traditional black skirts and striped apron-like panels. Also, look for the wooden churches for which Maramures is famous.
- Visit Bran Castle near Brasov. The hilltop fortress, associated with the fictional Dracula for no known reason, is worth a visit anyway for its dramatic site atop a 200-foot rock and its impressive towers and turrets.
- Plan a self-drive tour with Saxon fortified churches as the theme. Seven are UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Biertan, Calnic, Darjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Viilor and Viscri), but there are nearly 200 in Transylvania.
Things to do for Authentics
- Shop for traditional hand-embroidered sheepskin-lined vests in Maramures.
- Join a guided tour of Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament.
- Eat lunch in an outdoor cafe at the heart of Brasov’s old city center. Admire the gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture in this downtown and walk into the Black Church (blackened by a 1689 fire), which is Romania’s largest gothic church.
- Saunter through the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, and be amused and touched by the humorous figures carved on each of the wooden crosses that mark the graves. Each carved scene was meant to capture salient features of the deceased’s life.
- Spend quality time in Sighisoara, founded by Saxons and one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval towns. Study the towers, churches, burgher houses — and a substantial house that is described as the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, the presumed model for the fictional Dracula.
- If just a little beach time appeals, consider Constanta on the Black Sea because, with a 2,500-year history, it offers more than sand. It offers ancient ruins, an Old Town at its center, museums, shops and a grand casino.
For more information, consult the Romanian National Tourist Office at www.romaniatourism.com