Spotlight on a Romanian Region: Transylvania
Transylvania is a fairy-tale region brimming with picturesque sceneries, majestic citadels, and boasting a warm and welcoming population. Every place in Transylvania is filled with stories and myths that charm even the seasoned traveler. While most of the visitors come lured by Dracula’s myth and his magic castle, Bran Castle, the region has a lot more to offer. Discover Transylvania with its vivid and charming cities, natural wonders, and lively events.
European Youth Capital in 2015, Cluj-Napoca is one of the youngest and most dynamic cities in the country. Featuring a marvelous art scene, including one of the most remarkable art projects in Romania, the Paintbrush Factory, several cultural events worldwide are renowned, like the Transylvania International Film Festival or the UNTOLD Festival. Cluj is a city where you can never get bored. A walk into the city will reveal its diverse architecture, from majestic Gothic churches to beautiful Renaissance buildings to Communist apartment buildings, hidden cobbled streets, beautiful squares, and chic restaurants. Don’t miss the charming panoramic view from Cetatuia Hill.
Sited at the footsteps of the Carpathians, Brasov is the perfect blend between monumental landmarks, breathtaking views, and a relaxed atmosphere. A walk into the Old Centre will reveal the century-old walls of the former Medieval Citadel, the biggest Gothic church in Eastern Europe, the Black Church, and the narrowest street in Europe, the Rope Street. Add to this the fantastic winter resort, Poiana Brasov, situated at just 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the city, a paradise for winter sports lovers. Don’t miss a cable car ride from Brasov to Tampa Hill or from Poiana Brasov to Postavaru Peak. The views are awe-inspiring.
Were you searching for an idyllic place to live? Forbes made a list in 2008 and Sibiu was included in “Europe’s Most Idyllic Places to Live.” A city that exerts a particular charm, Sibiu is filled with strikingly beautiful squares decorated with classical and baroque buildings, little streets adorned with colorful houses, and picturesque passageways that connect the Upper Town with the Lower Town, where the walls of the medieval citadel lay. The culture lovers can enjoy an array of museums, including the first museum opened in Romania, the Brukenthal National Museum, located in an astounding baroque palace.
In the multicultural region of Transylvania, Târgu Mureș was, over time, the center of the Szeklers Land, an ethnic group that cohabitated over centuries with Romanians, Hungarians, and Saxons, shaping the region into a mosaic of cultures. Today, the city houses the biggest Hungarian community of Romania. Some of the most important landmarks are the 17th-century citadel that stands as a witness of the defense role the city used to have, the Fortress Church, the oldest church in the city, and the Culture Palace, representative of the Belle Epoque period.
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For the culture lover
If there is something that Transylvania is not missing, that is a fantastic history, marvelous castles, citadels, and unique fortified churches. While the Bran Castle is the most famous because of the legends related to Dracula, the blood-thirsty vampire, Corvin Castle is nothing short of impressive. Erected in a Gothic-Renaissance style by one of the strongest families in Transylvania, the Corvin Castle is one of the largest in Europe and is known for being one of the most haunted places in Romania.
The magnificent citadels of Romania are scattered all over the region, but there are some that are really outstanding, like the 18th-century citadel of Alba Iulia, a star-shaped fortress with massive bastions and impressive Baroque gates where every day, at 12 p.m., Austrian-dressed guards parade through its precincts. Alba Iulia is also the historical capital of Romania, as the Great Union of Transylvania, with Romania, was declared in the Union Hall.
In Sighisoara, the best preserved inhabited medieval citadel in Europe mesmerizes the travelers with its cobbled streets, colored houses, and magic atmosphere. Each summer, the Sighisoara Medieval Festival lures travelers to re-live Medieval times.
Perched on a hill, the Rasnov Citadel was both a fortification that served to protect the inhabitants of the close villages against outside invasions and a dwelling used as a refuge during long-term sieges. The citadel features a mystical well carved in the rocky soil. Rasnov Citadel is part of a larger fortification system, formed by citadels and fortified churches built by the German settlers, the Saxons. Dotted in southern Transylvania, in villages like Prejmer, Biertan, Mălâncrav, or Cârța, they had both a spiritual and a defensive role, displaying a unique architecture.
For the nature lover
Surrounded by the Carpathians, Transylvania is dotted with awe-inspiring sceneries. The main attractions for the nature lovers are to be found in the Apuseni Mountains. With a great variety of landscapes, the Apuseni Mountains are a perfect destination for those who like to hike, climb, paraglide, horseback ride, and discover quaint villages located at more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) high. Narrow canyons, picturesque meadows, spectacular caves, pristine forests, and some amazing views await to be discovered.
For those who like below-ground fun, there are two places where you can travel underground: Turda Salt Mine, a former salt-mining pearl and a unique attraction at 120 meters (400 feet) underground featuring a subterranean lake where you can take a boat ride and the Praid Salt Mine, a place both for curing respiratory diseases in the treatment base and a touristic place with a playground, tables, banks, small shops, and a chapel.
The underground of Transylvania doesn’t just house salt mine, but also mineral and thermal springs and lakes. The mineral waters from Borsec are drunk daily by the Romanians, while the baths from Tusnad and Sovata are used for therapeutical purposes. Tusnad Baths are well known for their thermal waters, recommended for the treatment of cardiovascular and nervous system diseases, and the nearby Saint Ana Lake is the only volcanic lake in Romania. The Sovata resort is known for Lake Ursus’ salted waters and treatment bases.
The Transylvanian Cuisine is a mix of Romanian and Hungarian dishes. While some plates like sarmale—cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and meat, mititei—a mix of minced pork, beef and lamb meat, or cozonac—a sweet bread filled with cocoa or walnuts are Romanian traditional dishes that you can find in any traditional restaurant and surely, for every Christmas and Easter meal on the local’s tables, there are some that you will mainly find in Transylvania.
Influenced by the Hungarian cuisine, the Transylvanian dishes are hearty and very rich in meat. One of the main local specialties is the goulash, usually cooked in a cauldron in big quantities, with vegetables, meat, and spices, mainly paprika. While some cook it like a stew, others prepare it more like a soup. Another tasty plate is the bean soup with smoked pork meat served in a wheat bread bowl, perfect for a cold day when all you wish for is a savory, hot meal. If you prefer something lighter to take out, try the langos, a pie-like pastry product that can be served both salted and sweet. The best ones are those filled with cream and garlic sauce.
For dessert, try the kurtoskalacs, a cone-shaped roasted pastry made from sweet dough rolled in sugar or nut powder.