Romania - The Land that Time Forgot
Romania - The Land that Time Forgot
Romania is one of the most exciting parts of Europe, tucked away in a remote corner where few visit and fewer still have much knowledge of. Blessed with large swathes of virtually untouched countryside, much of Romania follows a way of life that has been extinguished elsewhere in Europe, and the centuries old folklore and traditions still thrive in its picturesque villages. Our tour goes right to the heart of this captivating country – rather than simply skim over its highlights we take you not only to important cultural gems such as the medieval towns of Sighisoara and Sibiu in Transylvania, but spend time getting to grips with life in the villages, often staying in rural communities as guests of local families, where local culture is at its strongest. We traverse the spectacular Carpathian Mountains, home to bears and wolves, and devote to the Danube Delta the time that it truly deserves, staying at an isolated settlement deep within its backwaters. Taking in the gorgeous painted monasteries of Bucovina and the Saxon village of Viscri, this trip encompasses the very best that Romania has to offer. But Romania cannot simply be experienced by ticking off its sites – it is the genuine cultural encounters that we have with local people that make this tour so very special, and will leave you with enduring memories of this truly enchanting country.
Fitness ●○○○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●● | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●●●○○
- Sibiu, one of the best preserved medieval cities in Romania
- Bran Castle
- The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina
- Viscri UNESCO World Heritage Site
Accommodation: Mix of hotels and local homestays
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum of 12
Start Point: Bucharest
End Point: Bucharest
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour. On our Romania tours, we have a combined driver/guide for groups of seven or less.
Day 1 - Bucharest
Arrive in Bucharest. Depending on arrival, you may have a chance to explore the city. Overnight Capitol Hotel or similar.
Bucharest all too often has a bad reputation, perceived by many to be little more than a grey and soulless city, full of gloomy Soviet architecture. To dismiss Bucharest like this is to do it a grave injustice and ignores its lively cultural life which led to it once being nicknamed ‘Little Paris’. Of course it does have its fair share of concrete block style buildings, many of which sprung up during Ceausescu’s regime but it also contains a marvellous collection of ancient churches, neoclassical and Art Nouveau buildings, parks and lively markets as well as some excellent museums. Bucharest’s historic quarter is perhaps its highlight, founded as a citadel by Vlad (the Impaler) Tepes and with 16th century churches and narrow streets reminiscent of times gone by. In direct contract to this is Ceausescu’s ‘civic centre’ with its wide boulevards and imposing Palace of Parliament. Bucharest dates back to the 15th century when it was a summer residence for the princely court, and during its time has been sacked by the Ottomans, invaded by Russians, Austrians and Germans and suffered a number of earthquakes. Recovering now from the rule of Ceausescu, Bucharest is starting to quietly assert itself as one of the major cultural capitals of Eastern Europe.
Day 2 – Azuga, Brasov and Wild Bears (150km)
We start the day with a short tour of Bucharest before we drive to the small village of Azuga and visit the Rhein wine cellars, which produce a renowned sparkling wine. There is a tour of the cellars followed by a tasting. We have lunch at the cellars before continuing on to one of Transylvania’s major towns, Brasov. Close to Brasov we visit a special observatory in the forest accompanied by National Forestry Administration representatives. Here, if we are lucky we hope to see wild European Brown Bear in their natural habitat. We return to Brasov late this evening.
Overnight in city centre hotel (BD)
Also known as Kronstadt due to the presence of German colonists as early as the 12th century, Brasov is still a mix of minorities, like Hungarians and Gypsies, with a mediaeval centre boasting colourful facades, old ramparts, secret narrow cobbled streets, guard towers and the largest gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul. Long under Saxon rule, the town betrays hints of its previous inhabitants in many of the buildings, with fine examples of merchants’ houses and an impressive Byzantine style cathedral, and it is still possible to see the old fortifications which once protected Brasov from invaders.
Day 3 – Bran and Viscri (160km)
This morning we explore the city of Brasov before travelling for 45 minutes to Bran village. This is home to Bran castle, tenuously linked to the legend of Dracula. We have a tour of the castle and discover its colourful history. From here we continue to the delightful village of Viscri, a Saxon village and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we stay for two nights in a carefully restored Saxon house. (BD)
Day 4 – Viscri
Spend the day exploring the village and surroundings, and learning about local life. We visit the fortified church in the village, and then enjoy a horse and carriage ride through the surroundings. Along the way we will meet people specialising in traditional crafts and gain an insight into the customs of this part of the country. Overnight local house. (BLD)
Day 5 – Sighisoara and Sibiu (150km)
Today we travel to Sighisoara with its beautiful medieval citadel. We explore the fortress and also visit the house where Vlad the Impaler was born. We then head to Sibiu, one of the best preserved medieval cities in Romania and carefully restored in recent years. We have time to explore the old centre with its ramparts, churches and narrow alleys.
Overnight in Sibiu hotel (B)
In a region full of spectacular architecture, Sighisoara manages to stand out. Its fortified old town is a mass of medieval houses, testament to its previous existence as an important centre of commerce, with artisans from throughout the Holy Roman Empire visiting the settlement. The town was dominated by Saxon artisans and craftsmen, who also built the fortifications protecting it. Most impressive is the old clock tower, constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries as part of the town’s defences and today containing a museum giving an insight into Sighisoara’s history.
Sibiu’s colourful old town is a spectacular sight to behold, with its fantastic old cathedrals, merchants;’ houses and public squares – it positively exudes medieval atmosphere. Sibiu itself is divided into an old and new quarter, although to be fair even the new quarter contains impressive buildings dating back to the 16th century. The city is known to exist from the 12th century, rising in prominence to become an important trading town. Like Brasov it was inhabited by Saxon merchants who formed themselves into guilds, fortifying the town to protect its wealth. Sibiu is packed full of fascinating sites to explore, from its ramparts and towers to its passageways linking the two parts of the town together.
Day 6 – Alba-Iulia and Cluj (160km)
In the morning we drive to Alba-Iulia, a city with a high importance in Romania’s history, being the place where the Romanian Principalities and Transylvania united to form Romania after the First World War. The city is also home of the best preserved Vauban fortress in Europe. It was designed by an Italian architect in the early 18th century, modeled on a star shape with seven points. With its arrow-shaped bastions, the fortress is outstanding both for its baroque decorative elements and for the beauty of its six gates. We then continue to Turda salt mine. The salt mine that we see today dates from the 17th century and it is now a fascinating underground entertainment area, described as ‘the coolest underground place in the world’.
This evening we will arrive in to Cluj, the former capital of Transylvania.
Overnight in Cluj hotel (B)
Day 7 – Vama (250km)
We explore Cluj this morning, a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. We then depart Cluj, travelling through the Carpathian Mountains and via the Tihuta mountain pass. This was the pass described as the ‘Borgo pass’ in Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel. Our drive takes us to the region of Bucovina, located on the northern slopes of the central Eastern Carpathians. We arrive at our destination for the evening, Vama village, where we will have a traditional dinner prepared by our hosts.
Overnight in traditional guesthouse. (BD)
The Carpathian Mountains stretch across a wide part of Eastern Europe, encompassing parts of Romania, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Serbia. Rich in wildlife they are home to some of Europe’s last remaining populations of large mammals, with bears, wolves and lynx to be found prowling through the forests. The birdlife here is equally spectacular, with raptors such as eagles a frequent sighting. This is one of the most pristine environments to be found on the continent, with superb views to be had from every angle and the possibility of seeing wildlife adding further excitement.
Day 8 - Painted Monasteries of Bucovina
In the morning we visit Moldovita Monastery, a wonderful masterpiece of Moldavian Gothic architecture adorned with lively exterior frescoes dating back to the beginning of the 16th century. Then we visit an egg painting workshop where we are shown the special technique required in this extremely delicate operation. We also see an exhibition of these local treasures. Later we visit Sucevita monastery – the largest of the painted monasteries – before we visit Voronet monastery with its exterior frescoes dating to the 15th century, also named the Sistine Chapel of the East. We arrive back in Vama in time for dinner with our hosts.
Overnight in traditional guesthouse. (BD)
Painted Monasteries of Bucovina
The impressive monasteries of Bucovina, Romania, with their fine exterior and interior frescoes, have been preserved and handed down from mediaeval times, and because of their uniqueness and artistic value, were added to UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List in 1993. Most of the churches are fortified with strong defensive surrounding walls as protection against Turkish invaders and they sheltered large armies of soldiers awaiting battle. The exterior walls of the monasteries are richly decorated with vivid frescoes depicting dramatic Biblical scenes, intended to teach Christianity to the illiterate by means of pictures. The artwork has amazingly survived harsh exposure to the elements for over 450 years and the intense colours have been well preserved. The best of the monasteries are generally considered to be Voronet, Sucevita, Moldovita and Arbore.
Day 9 – Popa Museum and Agapia Monastery (180km)
This morning we travel to the village of Tarpesti and the remarkable Popa Museum. At his home, Nicolae Popa had gathered an incredible collection of Romanian folk art and handicrafts, giving us a fantastic insight into the ancient traditions of this region. We visit the museum and have a home prepared lunch here. We then travel to the Agapia Monastery before ending the day in Piatra-Neamt where we have time to explore.
Overnight in Piatra-Neamt Hotel. (BL)
Day 10 – Danube Delta (340km)
We leave Piatra-Neamt and continue via the Siret valley to Galati, on the ancient commercial road that connected the Orient, through Constantinople and the Black Sea, through the middle of Moldavia then Poland, to the wealthy cities of the Hanseatic League on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Here we cross the Danube by ferry and on towards Tulcea, the gate to the Danube Delta.
Overnight in Tulcea Hotel (B)
The Danube Delta is the best preserved of Europe’s delta regions and a wetland paradise for wildlife, with over 300 species of birds in its numerous lakes and marshes. Species include storks, egrets, pelicans, eagles and numerous species of ducks. Birds are not the only inhabitants of the Delta though, and there is also a rich community of fish and animals, from wildcats, foxes and wolves, and even an occasional boar or deer. The region is also home to some very traditional villages, many of them, like Mila 23, home to Lipovani descendants of the ‘Old Believers’ who left Russia in the 18th century to avoid religious persecution. We avoid the ‘floating hotels’ that most companies use as these are unable to reach the most interesting parts of the Delta, but stay in a delightful village as guests of a local family who are able to show us all the intricacies of traditional delta life.
Day 11 - Danube Delta
In the morning we visit the Danube Delta Museum and then take a boat from Tulcea and enter the Danube Delta - the second widest Delta in Europe and included in UNESCO’s world heritage list. We travel to a typical fishermen village where there is plenty of free time to explore. There is the option to hire a kayak if you wish. (Payable locally)
Overnight in local guesthouse (BLD)
Day 12 – Danube Delta
Spend the full day exploring the lesser visited channels of the delta by small boat, allowing us to reach some of its most beautiful parts. There are superb opportunities for spotting some of the region’s spectacular wildlife, as well as seeing some of the isolated communities deep within the backwaters, some of which still contain traditional houses built with reeds. Depending on the weather and Danube water, we will spend the whole day away, having a picnic lunch and came back in the afternoon or we may have a morning ride of about 4 hours, come back for lunch and a short rest and have a 2nd ride in the afternoon. Traditional dinner in the evening and accommodation in guesthouse. (BLD)
Day 13 – Tulcea - Bucharest
We leave the Delta behind and travel by boat back to Tulcea, arriving at lunchtime. From there we head back to Bucharest (280km) for our final night.
Overnight Capitol Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 14 - Bucharest
Tour ends. (B)
Arrival and departure transfers
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader - we have a combined driver/guide for groups of seven or less.
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Any airport taxes