In Romania, 20 years after the end of the communist era, the 20th and 21st centuries continue to bump incongruously against the 18th and 19th. Sleek VWs and BMWs vie for space on the still mostly-2-lane highways with horse-drawn carts and the village shepherd is as likely to be talking on a cell phone as is the city teenager, indistinguishable from her counterpart in Paris or Houston. Thanks to decades, in some cases more than a century, of neglect, several city centers look almost as they did 200 hundred years ago and life in the village is only now, reluctantly, giving up its ages-old ways. Things are changing rapidly, of course, with modern buildings going up alongside the architectural atrocities of the communist era while the treasures of the past, thankfully, are protected and gradually being restored. Tourists are coming here, but not yet in huge numbers, so for a while at least, it is still possible to get a sense of how life used to be and to see the rich legacy of the past in various stages of disrepair and restoration.
We can offer lodging, breakfast, lunch or dinner each day, all transportation (window seats only), admissions and guide services for a group of 3 to 5 clients for $250 per day per person. Depending on your travel plans, we can collect and deposit you at Bucharest, Budapest, Cluj, Sibiu, or Suceava. You can fly into one airport and depart from another at little or no additional cost over a round trip fare—in most cases that will allow for a more varied and efficient route.
3-5 Travelers: $250 per person/day
1-2 Travelers: $300 per person/day
Single Supplement: $30/day
• Full breakfast and one major meal each day
• Ground transportation in a modern, air-conditioned mini-van, window seats only
• Admission fees to sites, museums, etc.
• Pick up and drop-off in Bucharest, Budapest or at any airport in Romania
Tell us when you want to come, how long you would like to stay, and select the sites you wish to include; we'll work out the perfect itinerary for you.
You can make your own flight arrangements or may prefer that we do it for you. We will charge you only the actual cost of the tickets plus a $50 service charge per passenger.
♦ ♦ ♦
If you wish to spend time in Bucharest or Budapest at the beginning and/or end of your time with us, we will be happy to make arrangements for hotel, transportation, and guides in either or both cities. The cost will depend upon the accommodations and programs you select. Our fee for those days will be a simple 10% of the actual cost of your selected program.
♦ ♦ ♦
Although a bit inaccessible, the Painted Monasteries of Bucovina are a must for every first time visitor to this part of the world. Built in the 16th century, they are unique in their rich exterior frescoing, that starts just above the ground and reaches to the very top of the walls. All are UNESCO World Heritage sites and we visit the three finest examples: Voroneț (yes, that shade of blue was named for the predominant color of this monastery), Moldovița, and Sucevița (the green one). We provide two nights here in order to dedicate a full day to the monasteries and use a lovely pension that boasts not only comfortable, well-appointed rooms and a good kitchen but a beautiful garden setting and orchard as well. We recommend beginning or ending your program here: there are early morning and late evening flights to and from Bucharest, making it easy to connect with transatlantic flights.
Another must is Sibiu, the best preserved of the seven “Saxon” cities that provide the German name for Transylvania, “Siebenburgen,” and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire city center is protected and major restorations were undertaken when Sibiu was named the European City of Culture for 2007. Virtually every building on the grand “Big Square” dates from the 15th to the 18th century with only a few 19th-century encroachments on the “Little Square” and elsewhere in the old “upper town,” which was contained by medieval city walls until well into the 19th century. There are several handsome churches and an 18th century private palace that has become an interesting museum where one can not only see lovely works of art but learn much of Transylvanian history at the same time. The main attraction, however, is the sense of being in an intact ancient city. Again, we recommend two nights here, to allow for a full day in the city.
Biertan was actually one of the most important from its founding in the 15th century till the 17th when the seat of the Lutheran bishop was moved. Since then it has been suspended in time, having been bypassed by the railroad and main highways. The great church, with its triple wall of fortifications and magnificent 15th century altarpiece, is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sighișoara is another Saxon town, perched on a hilltop and famous as the birthplace of Vlad Țepeș, “the Impaler,” better known as Count Dracula. It is a fascinating place to visit, just to walk the ancient city walls and narrow streets among medieval and renaissance houses. If you are interested in Dracula, we can also offer you a visit to Bran, supposedly his castle, on your way to or from Bucharest. Among the other sites we include, as possible, between the main stops are the following:
- The very impressive fortified church at Prejmer, which houses another astonishingly beautiful Gothic altarpiece within its four-story tall fortifications where each family had a small store-house/apartment where they could take refuge during raids by the Tatars and Ottoman Turks.
- Brasov, another of the Saxon cities and site of the famous “Black Church,” the world’s easternmost Gothic church with its impressive collection of tapestries.
- Dârjiu (Hungarian: Székelyderzs) is a village where 15th century frescoes were discovered beneath the plaster of fortified church.
- The salt mine at Praid where you can go deep underground to cool off, take the restorative salt-air, and see a cathedral, carved into the salt.
- Corund (Hungarian: Korond), the village noted for its traditional pottery and a great place to shop for Transylvanian souvenirs; we know the workshop with the best quality at the lowest prices.
- The natural beauty of the Bicaz Gorge, through which we drive when visiting the Painted Monasteries.
- Rimetea (Hungarian: Torockó), the picturesque Hungarian village, nestled in a valley beneath a huge limestone monolith where we have our own cottage. Although something of a Mecca for Hungarian tourists (most of the nicest houses offer tourist rooms) the villagers still maintain many traditions: the shepherd and goatherd, assisted by their dogs, watch over their flocks as they graze the ancient-terraced hillsides; the cattle parade out to pasture every morning and return, each finding the gate at her own house in the village, in the evening. Almost everyone maintains a kitchen garden, some chickens, and a pig or two. People get together to cultivate the larger fields and to cut and put up haystacks with hand scythes and wooden forks, as they have done for centuries. You can climb the 3500-foot “rock” or take a less arduous hike to the ruins of the Thoroczkay castle, built between the 13th and 16th centuries and destroyed by Austrian troops following a Hungarian independence uprising at the beginning of the 18th century.
- Sinaia, a mountain resort with ski facilities, is the location of the summer palace of the Romanian royalty. It can also provide a pleasant spot to spend a night or two to recover from jet-lag upon arrival or to spend your last night prior to catching an afternoon flight out of the Bucharest airport, just a couple of hours’ drive.
- Maramures, in the far northwest corner of Romania, is best-known for its wooden churches, unique architecture and costume. However, it is the Jewish heritage that brings many to the area, once nearly 50% Jewish. It is touching to visit the one remaining synagogue and ancient cemetery in Sighet, Elie Wiezel's birthplace, or the grand synagogue in Satu Mare; your guides will be leaders of the tiny remaining communities, with whom we have personal connections.
If you plan to begin or end your tour in Budapest, we would suggest a visit to Cluj-Napoca and perhaps Targu Mures, both with long histories and strong connections to the Austro-Hungarian Empire of which Transylvania was part from the mid 17th century until it was ceded to Romania when the empire was dismembered following World War I. It is now possible to fly into or out of Cluj with great international connections.
If you want more nature and less history, the Southern Carpathians (“Transylvanian Alps”) offer lots of opportunities for hiking, and, if you really want to see traditional village life, we could even take you along the Homorod Valley and arrange for you to spend the night with a village family.