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Why visit Romania?
Romania has a tale of vying empires and cultural glories to tell, from the vibrancy of its capital city to the ancient trade routes guarded by dramatic forest-encircled citadels. Enjoy a welcome that surpasses expectations in this land of wild places and untrumpeted wonders. This land-locked giant of Eastern Europe is steeped in a wealth of geographical wonders and fascinatingly turbulent history.
It was not until the end of the First World War that something of the make-up of the 238,000 km² of modern Romania took shape, uniting as it does Wallachia and Transylvania. The two kingdoms have very different physical outlooks: the central and northern reaches are largely highland and mountainous, centred around the Carpathian ranges which rise to a peak of 2,544m. Here is some of the wildest country in Europe. With Romania boasting 27% forest cover, the chances of seeing Eurasian brown bears in the Transylvanian region are good at such sites as Brasov’s forest observatory.
The majority of the 20 million population, however, is centred in the capital Bucharest and the lowlands of Wallachia and Northern Dobrogea, which bridge across Europe’s largest wetland area, the Danube delta to the rising hills of Moldavia.
This distribution is an historic one, since the 7th century B.C. days of Greek trade along the Black Sea and then the Roman conquest ofn102-106 A.D. under Trajan. The country is named after this period where the settling Latin people remained, intermarried and created this ethnic blend in the ‘Land of the Romans’. The pattern of the region being constantly under attack or threat of it was now established: the 3rd century A.D. saw incursions from the Goths and Carpians and yet, despite Bulgar invasions, Dacia remained part of the Roman Empire until the 7th century.
Meanwhile, the Slavic settlers that descended in the 500s were followed by Magyar Hungarians. Byzantine Christianity came to the Romanian people as late as the 940s and war between the local powers, now referred to as ‘Vlachs’ and the Byzantine Empire was a regular feature. However, with Hungarian interests now predominant in Transylvania, the then king invited Saxon settlers to colonise his frontier.
The result was the glorious walled town of Sighisoara, its 12th century ramparts still in evidence in many places. This medieval citadel, the jewel in the crown of the Carpathian highlands, also was home to the notoriously brutal, but highly successful defender of the region when the Ottoman Empire pressed on Romania’s borders. In the intervening period, the 1400s saw devastating raids from the Mongol ‘Golden Horde’ and expedience saw a degree of unity and cooperation between the three kingdoms of Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia.
Ultimately, to preserve their independence, all three were paying tribute to the Ottomans by the late 15th century. The infamous Bran Castle, supposed seat of Dracula, dates to this period, dominating the mountain pass below from its dramatic vantage point. Simultaneously, today’s 81% Orthodox Christian culture had its flowering in the establishment of the celebrated ‘painted monasteries’ of the north in Bocovina where simply stunning fresco work marked a zenith in sacred artwork. Ultimately, the Hapsburg fortunes waxed while those of the Turks, defeated in 1687, waned, and a period of Austro-Hungarian rule followed.
By the 19th century the new dominant player was the Russian empire and both Wallachia and Moldavia became protectorates, before the nationalist uprisings led in 1881 to a unified kingdom of Romania. Stability ensued until a combination of choosing the losing side in World War 2 and the progression to royal despotism led to the abolition of the monarchy and the rendering of Romania as a soviet satellite from 1947 until independence in 1989.
Modern Romania is now just beginning to recognise its vast potential for tourism and if you visit you will doubtless fall under this fascinating country’s spell. Our tours are delightful contrasts: firstly, we lead you on a tour dedicated solely to Romania and meandering through some of the least explored reaches of its mountains and the little vaunted, but idyllic Danube Delta, alive with a myriad of flora and fauna; our other encounter with this beautiful land eases you gently along railways that cling to sinuous valley contours that plunge through the heart of Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains, visiting mesmerising towns such as Sibiu and Brasov as part of an epic rail adventure from London to Istanbul.
In both cases, you will be treated to encounters with locals whose enthusiasm for the history and culture of their nation are simply irresistible and make for truly memorable exploration of the outer fringes of this land that has experienced some of the most tumultuous epochs in Europe’s story.