Located in Eastern Europe between Bulgaria and Ukraine, Romania differs from its neighbors by speaking a language with Latin roots, a vestige of its having been part of the Roman Empire. One of the most geographically diverse nations of Europe, it’s a culturally rich and hospitable country that features magnificent landscapes every bit as enchanting as those of Tuscany or Provence. Its capital, Bucharest, was badly damaged by megalomaniacal projects during the communist Nicolae Ceauşescu regime, but renovations of some of the surviving historic buildings have transformed the city into an appealingly lively place.
Enchanting Transylvania is one of the last preindustrial landscapes in Europe. Expect beguiling panoramas of villages filled with pastel-painted houses, fortified hilltop churches and small farms practicing traditional agriculture. It deserves to join the ranks of Europe’s great destinations.
Today, Bucharest’s most high-spirited neighborhood is the Lipscani district, which is also called Old Town. This is where the locals come to relax and enjoy themselves, and it bustles with cafés, bars and restaurants, including one of the most atmospheric addresses in the city, Caru’ cu bere, a popular 1898 neo-Gothic tavern with a striking interior that serves some great Romanian brews, including unpasteurized Timișoreana, a real beer lover’s beer.
Written by the late English writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and widely considered two of the finest travelogues ever penned, “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water” make a perfect read before, during or after a trip to Transylvania. We also highly recommend Count Miklós Bánffy’s sprawling and elegiac “Transylvanian Trilogy.” The first volume, titled “They Were Counted,” bounces between Budapest and turn-of-the-century Transylvanian and Hungarian country estates, where Bánffy brings to vivid life a lost world of grand banquets, hunting parties and formal balls with gypsy bands.
Bran Castle, 18 miles southwest of Brașov, styles itself as Dracula’s Castle but in fact has only tenuous connections with Vlad the Impaler. Perched on a rocky crag, however, it certainly looks the part and is the former summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Corvin Castle, a spectacular 14th-century Gothic fortress 90 minutes west of the Transylvanian town of Sibiu, has more of a Dracula connection, because Vlad the Impaler is rumored to have been imprisoned in the castle’s dungeon for seven years. It is very much worth visiting.
Our favorite months for a visit are May, June and September, avoiding the chilly winters and summer high season.
7 hours ahead of New York (EST).
To phone hotels and restaurants in Romania, dial 011 (international access) + 40 (Romania code) + city code and local numbers.
Bucharest, Tel. (40) 21-200-3300.
Leu (RON). Fluctuating rate valued at RON4.14 = US$1.00 as of October 2020. Hotels quote rates in euros (€); €1.00 = US$1.17 as of October 2020.