All Travellers have a Home and mine is Romania…being my home soil, a part of me thinks of it every day of course… I admit, it was hard to pick from what I know as everyday Life, to show you here on Journey To Places the essence of Romania. A view straight to its’ heart to understand the history and cultural heritage, the way people go about their day to day lives and what makes it a wonderful place to visit. Introducing you to Brasov County also known as the Land of Dracula…
Brasov city is the first place I visited as I started to travel around my home country. You can find it in the geographical heart of Romania, at the junction where two major trade routes have intersected historically, the Ottoman Empire and West Europe. Brasov is a medieval town at the foot of the majestic Carpathian Mountains, built on an elevated plateau, overlooking three picturesque mountainous peaks within the proximity of Romania’s main winter sports resort destinations dotted around Prahova Valley…sounds familiar? Yes, this was Transylvania at one time, also known as the home of the legendary Count Dracula, a wildly popular Global Tourist Destination, mostly for its natural beauty and for being the home of some of the Best Medieval cities in Europe.
Built by the Teutonic Knights in the 11th century, Brasov was colonised by the Saxons who, after seeing major trade opportunities in the region, decided to settle and live peacefully with the natives of Daco-Roman origins. The Saxons, trading back to Germany, were instrumental in shaping the architectural essence of the city, which is today superbly represented in the Old Town of Brasov.
A Bavarian atmosphere has been maintained ever since, making this place one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. The city centre is marked by the Mayors’ former office building (Casa Sfatului), while the surrounding City Hall Square (Piaţa Sfatului), which includes the Black Church (Biserica Neagră) and the two remaining gateways to the city (Poarta Ecaterinei and Poarta Șchei) are considered to be the main attractions and great places to immerse yourself in the beauty of the panoramic scenery… During summer, a multitude of outdoor cafes open up, while at Christmas time, the entire square turns into a fairy tale winter market. There are various concerts, music festivals (e.g. Golden Stag), Jazz and Opera events that take place in this famous old square.
HOW TO GET TO BRASOV
The city has good road and rail connections to the rest of the country’s regions, meaning you can easily make your way to all of the European trade centres, via three major rail lines, with direct links to Vienna, Budapest, Munich, Sofia, Thessaloniki and even Istanbul.
What makes this charming place an unforgettable experience?…It could be a Medieval air, pushed along by a variety of Castles, Palaces and Churches that are nestled in its immediate proximity, coupled with a deep cultural heritage that goes back to the first traces of human settlement of the Neolithic age, roughly around 9,500BC. If you add to that clear and clean air, woodland trails and high altitude villages, you’ll quickly see a place where nature and humans have been living harmoniously for thousands of years, exactly the same way they do… today. Romanian villages are exceptionally beautiful and the locals welcome all peoples, with traditions that have been preserved through generations.
The Black Church was built in the 14th century right in the heart of Brasov, and could be a superb Gothic church in SE Europe. Its name derives from the Great Fire that took place in 1689 when the church walls and the interior were heavily affected and partially burnt down.
I was 13 when I first visited The Black Church in Brasov city and I remember vividly how impressed I was with both its greatness and its darkness, shadowed by a stigma that has kept through the centuries.
If you have an appetite for hiking you can check out Tampa Mountain, a natural landmark of Brasov that divides the old and the new part of the city, offering spectacular views from 900m above. The hiking trail is a low difficulty one and takes about an hour… Nonetheless, if you can’t carry yourself up to the top, there’s a cable car that can shuttle you to a stunning panoramic view of the entire city and its surrounding mountains. Apart from being a place of refuge, prayer and homage for over a century now, Tampa is also the “recreational park” for the citizens of Brasov and a picturesque tourist attraction.
Brasov is one of the most picturesque cities in Romania to sits alluringly among major Cultural European centres.
WHERE TO STAY
So let’s talk Hotels…, Brasov can satisfy even the pickiest of the bunch by offering luxury hotel alternatives, low-range hostels, mountain view villas, urban and rural guest houses or unique homestays, placing it as the no. 1 Romanian tourist axis.
For eating out you can choose from a variety of Cafés & Teahouses in Brasov (Hof Cafe, Dr Jekelius – Pharmacy Cafe, Tarot Cafe), German bakeries (Come Back), premier fine dining bistros (Belvedere, Bistro de l’Arte) or organic farm to table restaurants. The Sergiana restaurant is one of the places to check out: excellent Romanian gastronomy mixed with an authentic cultural experience. Coupled? Well, how about impressing your partner with a romantic wine cellar dining experience from a visit to Bella Musica. The local traditional Romanian cuisine is meat heavy with a potato base, accompanied by a multitude of salads and dips. One thing is for certain since most food is organically grown, everything in it is Fresh as the Air around it.
EXPLORE MORE OF BRASOV COUNTY
Just 12km (7 miles) away from Brasov city is one of Romania’s’ most famous winter sports resorts, Poiana Brasov, where the ski season opens early in December and lasts until April. Great hotels and restaurants, modern winter sports facilities and numerous ski runs..if memory serves: there are 23km of ski slopes in Poiana Brasov, enough to keep any skier happy. The best time to visit is during weekdays: beat the crowds, and claim that powder, people!
For the active and adventurous, there is always alpinism…. Mountaineering, climbing or hiking some of the most sensational mountain peaks will not only give you your Challenge but also offer spectacular majestic views of Romanian scenery filled with just so much natural beauty. The most impressive mountain trails to start from nearby Brasov city, are based on the level of difficulty and are in this order: Tampa Mountain, Piatra Craiului, the National Park Bucegi, Piatra Mare Massif and Postavaru Massif.
BEST CASTLES IN ROMANIA
About 45km (28 miles) from Brasov, more splendid mountainous views for you? Sinaia is one of the oldest and most famous mountain resorts, and is often referred to as “The Pearl of the Carpathians”. It used to be the summer residence of the royal family, later becoming Romanian aristocracy’s most preferred retreat place.
In Sinaia lies the breathtaking Peles Castle and Pelisor (Little Peles), built between 1873-83 by the first king of Romania, King Carol I, as his summer residence. The castle is considered by many as one of the most beautiful castles in Europe, built in a German Renaissance style, including elements from the Italian Renaissance, German Baroque and French Rococo styles. Today it is a museum, opened to the public all year round, comprising more than 160 rooms, the most outstanding of them being the Big Armory Room, the small Armoury Room, the Florentine Room, the Reception Room, the Moresque Room as well as the Imperial Suite.
Peles Castle shelters one of the most important and valuable painting collections in Europe, almost 2,000 pieces of them.
Several other buildings, annexed to the castle, were built simultaneously: Pelisor, The Guard’s Chambers, The Foisor Hunting House and The Royal Stables.
THE LEGEND OF DRACULA
Bran Castle, built in the 14th century, also known as „Dracula’s Castle”, is 30km (18 miles) away from Brasov city and nested between two mountainous peaks – Bucegi and Piatra Craiului, on the Rucar-Bran pass. Bran Fortress was initially subordinated to the Hungarian King, having played an essential role in protecting his kingdom against the invasion of the Ottoman and Tartar Empires, coming from Walachia and crossing through Rucar-Bran pass. The Castle was built by the Brasovs and was used by merchants, mainly for trading of cheese, milk, livestock and wood… Trade meant money, and money meant Defence… so it also had a permanent defensive garrison, complete with archers and ballisters. In the 20th century, the Castle was donated by the council of Brasov Town to Queen Maria of Great Romania, who lived there with the Royal Family until 1947, when it was opened for public visiting.
The walls are built with stone blocks and bricks and while centuries passed by, renovations have been made to the castle, built mainly with elements of the Romanian architectural style that conjure up the perfect Gothic fairy tale castle, drawing crowds of tourists from far and wide every year.
Many legends connect Bran Castle to Dracula’s Myth and to Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) also known by his father’s name, Knight of the order of Dracul (transl. ‘the Devil’ or ‘the Dragon’). As a revered ruler and as Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476) he obtained a mystic reputation by being a dreadful enemy of the Ottoman Empire and merciless towards those who went against him and his totalitarian leadership, enforcing the death penalty and actually impaling robbers, treacherous noblemen and cunning priests. He strengthened the army and encouraged trade with countries in its vicinity.
CITIES NEAR BRASOV
Other major cities and important landmarks in the proximity of Brasov, and within a distance of less than 160km (100 miles) or 2 and ½ hours driving, are the medieval cities of Sibiu and Sighisoara, the fortified fortresses and citadels around Brasov, such as Rasnov Citadel, Rupea Citadel, Fagaras, Brasovului and the fortified Prejmer church.
So that’s Brasov.. a candidate for the 2021 European Capital of Culture title, and one of the most desirable Romanian cities due to its prestigious history, strategic geographical positioning and cultural richness. Go visit…and who knows: maybe I will even see you there 😉