Antarctica & Arctic
Exploring Transylvania in winter is like stepping into the pages of a storybook in Romania
a Destinations d > Scandinavia & The Baltics > Winter in Transylvania
7 nights accommodation, meals as indicated
08 Dec ‘18; 26 Jan & 02 Mar ‘19
The air is crisp and fresh, the sky a deep azure and the surrounding fields glitter with a fresh coat of brilliant white snow. The towering peaks of the Carpathian Mountains mark the backdrop for this fairy tale adventure into one of Europe’s most enchanted regions where horse-drawn carts make their way through woodlands and moors to gothic castles and Saxon villages. Discover Transylvania’s wintery charms, history and folklore and visit Christmas markets (in December) as we travel into the pages of a story book.
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Enjoy the tranquil beauty of the Carpathians in winter
Explore the Saxon towns and villages of Transylvania
Visit Bran Castle, the home of Dracula
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Start in Bucharest.
This morning we visit Bucharest, Romania’s capital city. With its tree-lined boulevards, belle époque architecture and Arc-de-Triomphe, the city has often been likened to Paris. We visit some of the main sites including the colossal People’s Palace. Now housing the parliament, this palace was built in the 1970s by Nicolae Ceausescu and is the 2nd largest administrative building in the world, after the Pentagon. The palace’s 12 floors, 1,100 rooms, 328-feet long lobby and four underground levels (including an enormous nuclear bunker), were built by an army of 20,000 workers and 700 architects.
We then leave Bucharest and drive towards Transylvania and the quaint town of Sibiu, stopping for a traditional lunch along the way. (B)(L)
When, in the 12th Century, the Saxons came to Transylvania, they built seven walled citadels. Sibiu was the largest and wealthiest of these and its old town retains some of the grandeur of those days when rich and powerful guilds dominated regional trade. Steep-roofed 17th Century buildings with gable overhangs flank narrow streets which lead into vast church-dominated open squares. The old town is surrounded by imposing mediaeval walls and protected by 39 towers and four bastions, some overlooking the River Cibin. We spend the morning exploring this Saxon gem before going to nearby Paltinis, a mountain resort outside of Sibiu in the Cindrel Mountains.
Paltinis was founded in 1894 as the first mountain resort in Romania and still is the second highest in the country. Because of its north-west position a layer of snow can be expected about 6 months a year. Here we will enjoy an easy walk in the fresh mountain air before finishing the day in a local restaurant for dinner, then return to Sibiu. (B)(D)
The next stop on our atmospheric journey through Transylvania is the UNESCO World Heritage site city of Sighisoara. Another Saxon town founded in the 12th Century, Sighisoara is one of Europe’s most beautiful and best preserved mediaeval cities with much of the current layout and architecture dating back to the 16th Century. Wandering the cobbled streets past ornate churches and burgher houses in the crisp winter air fills one with a sense of magic straight out of a story book to rival old Prague or Vienna. It is also believed that this is the birthplace of the infamous Vlad the Impaler, AKA Vlad Dracula, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s gothic tale of vampires.
In Sighisoara, we have time to sample some of the local brandy and wines. Less known than some other wine-producing countries, Romania has a long tradition in wine-making and is being increasingly recognised for the quality of its produce. (B)(D)
We continue our journey through Transylvania as we head to the village of Viscri, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a part of the world lost in time to an era before large-scale farming. The bucolic charm and serenity has enchanted many visitors, including the Prince of Wales who first came here in 1998 and now owns houses in Viscri and neighbouring villages and returns at least once a year.
We visit the village with its fortified church, experience the simplicity of village life and enjoy a traditional lunch at a farmer’s house.
We continue our journey and reach Romania’s most beautiful mediaeval town, Brasov. Situated at the intersection of trade routes between the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe, and with certain tax exemptions, Saxon merchants of Brasov amassed considerable wealth and exerted power over the region. Fortifications were erected around the city and expanded by various guilds whilst inside the walls buildings sprung up over the ages in gothic, baroque and renaissance styles. Cradled by the towering peaks of the southern Carpathian Mountains, Brasov is our home for the next three nights. (B)(L)(D)
In Zarnesti we visit Libearty, Europe’s largest bear sanctuary. The sanctuary, set in 70 hectares of oak and hazel forests, is home to nearly 100 rescued bears, many of whom suffered over many years in captivity as dancing bears or in circuses. From the bear sanctuary we will go on a gentle hike across meadows to the village of Vulcan. This region, around Brasov, is closely related to the history of the Transylvanian Saxons, settlers who immigrated 800 years ago from the Rhine-Moselle valleys. Their strong fortified churches have attracted international attention and some of them are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Vulcan derives its name from the Slavonic word ‘valc’, meaning wolf. In Vulcan we will be welcomed with coffee and tea in the yard of the fortified church. The churches in Transylvania were strongly fortified during the Middle Ages when the region was raided a number of times by Mongols and Tartars. Return to Brasov for the night. (B)(D)
This morning we explore Brasov before heading out to the village of Bran and Dracula’s castle.
Built on the site of a Teutonic stronghold perched atop a 200-foot-high rock, with imposing towers and fairy tale turrets, it’s easy to see why Bram Stoker (who’d never travelled to Transylvania) chose this place as the setting for Dracula’s castle. The character himself was based on Vlad Tepes, AKA Vlad the Impaler, a Wallachian prince from the 15th Century.
The castle was originally built in the 14th Century by the Saxons of Brasov as a citadel to defend the mountain passes from the Turkish and also served as a royal residence from 1920 to 1948.
After the visit to Bran Castle, we have a short hike in Piatra Craiului National Park, up to the mountain village of Magura, where our final dinner is served in a local guesthouse.
After dinner, we return to Brasov and enjoy the beautifully atmospheric Transylvanian winter. (B)(D)
We say farewell to Transylvania and drive the 3 hours back to Bucharest Airport.
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