Transylvania conjures up a vivid landscape of majestic mountains, meadows, forests and fields dotted with haystacks. The region boasts four national parks, two biosphere reserves and three of Romania’s five natural parks so there’s plenty to do for lovers of the outdoors when they’re not visiting the region’s enchanting towns, villages and castles.
If you’re off to Transylvania soon, here are some of the attractions you won’t want to miss:
Transylvania is surrounded by mountains, most of which are the Carpathians, where Transylvanians flock to for winter sports as well as caving, rock climbing, cycling and hiking. Once the first snowfall arrives, many people head for Poiana Brasov, the best-equipped resort in Romania. Meanwhile, Sinaia, the “Pearl of the Carpathians” is dotted with several cable cars swaying up 2,000 metres to the peaks. For a spot of pampering, you may enjoy Busteni, a quiet health resort and gateway in the dramatic Bucegi Mountains and Natural Park. And don’t miss camera-clickingly beautiful Predeal, the highest town in Romania, at 1,033 metres.
The quintessential medieval castle, Peleş Castle, is perhaps the most magical of all Transylvania’s castles. Fairytale turrets tower over the green meadows and the castle’s reception halls can’t fail to impress with their Moorish, Florentine and French styles, wood-carved ceilings and gilded pieces.
Is your ideal Transylvania castle a creepy, Gothic one, complete with drawbridge over a rushing river? Corvin Castle satisfies most people’s yearnings for horror stories and nightmares. Play ‘shoot the cabbage’ with a bow and arrow; or wander through the dark, unrestored downstairs chambers and past a hunter’s gallery of wolf, lynx, bear and boar skins. Alternatively, live out your inner fantasies of Monty Python’s Holy Grail dressed from the fancy-dress wardrobe as a knight or a maiden.
Imposing Bran Castle, also known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, is one of the country’s leading tourist attractions. It was built in 1382 by the Saxons from Braşov to defend Bran against the Turks. It’s connection with Dracula? Vlad Ţepeş (aka Count Dracula) is believed to have sheltered here for a few nights when he was fleeing the Turks. Your castle visit ticket includes entry to the open-air museum including a dozen traditional buildings at the base of the castle.
Transylvania is rich in medieval sites: it contains about 100 castles and fortresses and about 70 fortified churches dotted across the region along with some of Romania’s greatest and best preserved historical monuments.
For the curious traveller, small Saxon villages like Biertan and Viscri and towns such as of Braşov, Sighişoara and Sibiu are packed with ancient houses and fortified churches, many of which date back some 500 years. An attractive mix of architecture and chic pavement cafes punctuate many of these towns while the vibrant, old student town of Cluj-Napoca is also famous for its vibrant nightlife.
The old City of Sigisoara is truly romantic and unique. Walk through this compact town and admire the old walls with bastions and medieval dwellings, along with a famous wooden staircase leading to a pretty church and cemetery on the hill. Cobblestoned streets and fresh flowers adorn the higgledy- piggledy old balconies and you’ll find plenty of little hand-made wooden toys, made locally and sold in the streets.
The Transfagarasan Highway
Rising to 2,034 meters, the highway that BBC Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson labelled “the best road in the world” twists and turns dramatically through the southern Carpathian Mountains. Connecting the cities of Sibiu and Pitesti, the breath-taking views come at a cost as hairpin bends and incredibly steep descents make the Transfagarasan Highway a challenge for drivers, cyclists and motor-bikers alike.
When planning a drive along the Transfagarasan Highway, allow plenty of time for the unexpected as shepherds use the same route with their very large flocks and once they enter the road, they block it.
Beautiful Balea Lake
If you are touring along the Transfagarasan Highway, Balea Lake is not to be missed. Some of Romania’s most breath-taking alpine scenery backs the crystal clear waters of this magnificent glacial lake. Just 80 kilometres from Sibiu, the area is excellent for hiking, climbing and skiing territory and even hosts Eastern Europe’s first ever ice hotel during winter months.
Balea Lake is situated 2,034 metres above sea level in central Romania’s Făgăraș Mountains. It’s currently one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, despite not being ideal for bathing – the water’s temperature rarely reaches 10 degrees centigrade, even during summer. However, the unforgettable views and outdoor activities more than make up for it.
The Turda Salt Mine
The 2,000 year old Salina Turda Salt Mine was sealed off once it had served its purpose in 1932. But by 1939 it was reopened during World War Two as a massive underground bomb shelter for the residents of Turda. By 1992, the city had turned the historical salt mine into a tourist attraction to include a salt mining museum and an amusement park. Today it is a spectacular destination.
Descend 400 metres down the lift shaft to the underground salt mine areas, now an amusement park like no other on this planet! An underground giant Ferris wheel, mini-golf, tennis courts and even an underground boating lake are among the attractions. And that’s not all – a concert hall, swimming pool and spa create a subterranean resort like no other.