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Five things... day trips from Brasov, Romania

Brasov is a wonderful place with plenty to do (see our top tips here), but there are some fantastic day or weekend trips you can take from the city. Here are some of our favourites!

 

Peles and Pelisor Castles

In the very attractive small town of Sinaia are two must-visit ‘castles’ – really grand country houses – built for the Romanian monarchy at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Peles, the larger of the two, boasts incredible neo-Renaissance architecture, and the interiors are so rich in detail that we were slightly overwhelmed; it’s almost too much! Peles will eat up at least a couple of hours of your day, and probably much more.

Pelisor is the ‘little sister’, finished around 1903, and has possibly some of the best interior decoration of any country house we’ve visited – and we’ve seen a few! The glowingly beautiful arts and crafts schemes are magical. Pelisor was designed for King Fredrich I and his wife Marie, or Missy as she was known – a grand daughter of Queen Victoria of England, Missy was popular and politically active, even attending the Paris Peace Conference and campaigning there for an enlarged Romanian state. Quite the woman!

When you visit, take a walk around the lovely parkland and check out the former lodges where there is a restaurant. Sinaia itself is also worth a wander, with elegant architecture and excellent cafes the highlight.

To reach Sinaia from Brasov, use the train which takes around one hour. 

 

 

 

Bran Castle

Bran village is an odd place. It is so commercialised by the Dracula industry it’s almost ridiculous, but like many slightly crazy places, it can be a lot of fun – who doesn’t love a creepy haunted house attraction and endless gift stalls… But the castle itself is interesting even without the Dracula connection, telling the story of the women of the Romanian royal family and how Romania as a nation was formed. In fact for us the more recent history is more fascinating than tenuous Vlad Tepes myths (note, no-one is sure if he even stayed here!).

The myths and legends exhibition gives a flavour of how the ‘Dracula’ myth arose out of folk tales – stories of the undead and life suckers, Strigoi and Moroi, come from across the Balkans. Bram Stoker never actually visited Romania, but he no doubt read the myths, took in the history, and saw descriptions in guide books of the time!

The main point is – try and put Dracula out of your mind when visiting the castle. That’s not necessarily what you’re going to get! If that’s what you really want, then visit on Halloween weekend and book one of the parties. We visited on October 31st, it was incredibly busy but plenty of folk were dressed as vampires and drinking in the atmosphere. If that’s your bag, why not!

To get to Bran, get a bus from the bus station Autogara 2 – though always double check where the bus you have booked goes from as some private bus companies may use Autogara 1! The bus takes around 45 minutes.

 

 

Bear spotting

When in Brasov, you should go and see bears! Romania has a high concentration of European brown bears in the Carpathians (around 6000) and many live around Brasov – no-one leaves their bins outside in this city! We went with a guide booked through the Romanian Friend website, to a small hide in the forest beyond Zarnesti. The National Park rangers in this location actually put out biscuits for the bears; this is a long tradition to keep the bears in the forest, and away from settlements. We were told that one year the authorities thought they would save money and stop the practice, and there were bear attacks in the city that year - they quickly restarted the biscuits!

 

We saw three bears, absolutely beautiful animals, and learned about the conservation efforts that have been made by the ecologists and biologists to keep the ancient forest as it should be. We also learned how to keep safer in bear country… and it’s not bells, which the bears associate with cattle and therefore dinner!

The other way to see bears is at a sanctuary but we chose not to do this. It was explained to us that there is some question over how the sanctuaries have cubs, given that they neuter all the bears that are taken into their care. Whilst there is no doubt a place for the sanctuaries in the conservation of the animals we definitely preferred to see our bears in the wild.

Our tour to see the bears was booked with Romanian Friend and filled an afternoon. Tours run from April to October.

 

The Transfagarasan Road

The Transfagarasan road is well known, frequently written about but still – it really is worth doing. If you want to do the drive, you’ll have to hire a car – easily done in Brasov – or get a tour which is easy to organise (again, we recommend Romanian Friend). Open only from Around April to November, depending on the weather, the road is very beautiful and very scary. It was built in the 70s under Ceauchescu and intended to be a military road through the mountains. In fact it is a folly, but a spectacular feat of engineering with its tunnel through the mountain peak. From the north, you can also choose to drive half was up and take a cable car to the top – this is the only route up in the winter.

It's a long day of driving but the scenery is spectacular and the views from the top photogenic! We went to the top and back rather than do the full circle which takes you north - south and then east across to Bran. This latter route is the one most tours will take and is reputedly beautiful.

We rented an automatic estate car from Redax Rent for our trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sighisoara

It was a misty evening when we arrived in Sighisoara for a two night trip, and this place couldn’t be more atmospheric. The hilltop citadel forms the heart of the town, and you get a real sense of the Saxon guild’s role in Transylvania in Medieval times. A walk around the bastions, each built by a guild, takes you up all the best lanes and to all the best view points, and in Casa Bresleor there is a museum of the guilds which has really clear exhibits of what they made and how. It’s also worth going up the clock tower next door – some interesting stuff in there about the Romanian designer of space rockets, Hermann Oberth, and again wonderful views.

The hill in the middle of the citadel (the 'upper part') is approached by the scholar’s steps, a covered stairway (176 steps, was 300) from around 1650 which allowed students to get from the lower citadel to the school on the upper. You can imagine the sons of the guild members using the passage when the snows came. The church of St Nicholas houses some awesome Medieval wall paintings that have been uncovered during restoration, the earliest dating from the 14th century! There is also a crypt which is quite grim – two of the graves have a clear glass windows and you can see the collapsing coffins inside.

 

A special mention has to be made of Mystical Transylvania, a new exhibit in the town which explores some Transylvanian history. First, the life of Vlad the Impaler – was he a hero or monster? Second, a series of installations alongside story telling charting the early history of the city. The artwork is very effective and it’s a fun way to learn something. Note that one of their taglines is ‘No vampires in Transylvania’ – Vlad Dracula is a real historical figure, a hero in Romania, and to be respected.

Sighisoara certainly merits a couple of days of your time. We travelled there by rail which takes approximately three and a half hours; the bus journey from Autogara 1 is shorter.

Peles.jpg
Bran.jpg
Bear.jpg
Transfagarasan.jpg
Sigisoara clock tower.jpg

Peles Castle

Bran Castle

A bear in the wild!

View from the top of the Transfagarasan

Sighisoara clock tower

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