Trip to Romania – Part II: from Transfagarasan to Maramures and back to Bucharest
If you have not read part one yet, go back and start here :Trip to Romania part I
8. Transfagarasan road (read Trans-fuh-guh-ruh-shan) – 1 day
The most popular road in Romania, Transfagarasan road was declared in 2009 “the best road in the world” by the extremely popular television show Top Gear. So how can a road trip to Romania not include this, right?
Transfagarasan means “over Fagaras”, Fagaras being the mountains that the road is crossing. The full length of Transfagarasan highways is open only about 3 months a year, depending on weather conditions (usually during July-Sep). We went there in May when the highest portion of about 25km was still closed. But we wanted to see as much as possible, so we went from both directions (north and south) up to the portion that was closed.
We made our way to the south portion, where Vidraru Lake is located, through Curtea de Arges, coming from Brasov.
Then we did the north portion from Sibiu. The north portion allows you to reach the glacier Balea Lake on the top, by a gondola. You leave the car at the base (where the road is closed) and from there you take the gondola. This gives you stunning views over the most dramatic portion of the road, with 180 degrees hairpin turns!
9. Sibiu – 2 days
Sibiu is one of the best cities in Romania in my opinion. I actually call it the fairytale city in the heart of Transylvania.
The city itself is not very big, however, I suggest to spend minimum 2 days, if not 3, as there are a lot of things to do and see there and you can also take some side trips too. One of these, which I fully recommend and which has become one of the most “instagrammable” places in Romania lately, is Castelul de Lut (Clay Castle), located about 30 km from Sibiu.
I went there for the first time 2 years ago and like every popular attraction, I found it changed now. 2 years ago there was no entrance fee or line and there were a lot fewer people. Granted, we also went at midday this time, which meant more people, but you can clearly see that it had gained a lot of popularity. Nevertheless, it is a unique place in Romania (and not only) and definitely worth visiting during your trip.
For example, my picture of the Clay Castle from 2 years ago is still my most popular picture on Instagram and it continues to be featured a lot, even 2 years later.
Hotel Continental Forum was our home while in Sibiu. The hotel is perfectly located, right at the entrance of the old city center and the beginning of the pedestrian area. Continental Forum Sibiu has been renovated recently in a modern style (glass bathroom walls being one of the new elements) and we found it very comfortable. In addition to that, the hotel has its own parking which was perfect for us.
10. Sighisoara – 2 days
Very few people take a trip to Romania without going Sighisoara. And this is for a good reason, as you can see from the pictures below.
I always refer to Sighisoara as a fairytale city (I know! I use that a lot 🙈). Its old city center is a UNESCO World Heritage and you feel transported back into the medieval times.
The best things to do there are to stroll through the cobbled stoned streets, admire the architecture and the explosion of colors and at the same time, imagine that you are living in a different century. It is not difficult to let your imagination run free in Sighisoara.
You should also make your way up to the clock tower, but try to do it either early in the morning or near the closing time, as you might have the place all to yourself… as we did.
Usually, tourists stop only for a few hours in Sighisoara, en route to another destination. I strongly recommend you to spend at least one night (2 is even better) and enjoy a less crowded city in the morning and late afternoon/evening.
Accommodation: Taschler Haus Boutique Inn
This was one of my favorite accommodations from our trip through Romania. The guest house is perfectly located, right in the heart of the old city. We could admire the famous clock tower right from our courtyard while enjoying a nice bottle of wine from their cellar.
We had a very charming apartment that offered us views on both sides of the city. The room and service were excellent and we were even welcomed with typical Romanian drinks: tuica (plum spirit) and visinata (an alcoholic drink made of sour cherries)
As I mentioned earlier, the guest house has its own cellar where you can also find a dining area. At the moment at our visit, the guest house did not offer restaurant services but you can order food and enjoy it either in the courtyard or in the cellar (depending on the weather).
11. Bistrita – 1/2 days
Unfortunately, this was just a stop (actually 2 stops) on our way up to Viseu de Sus, Maramures.
However, these stops just gave us a taste of Bistrita and we want to come back to spend some time there too.
Our first stop there was at Taverna Dogarilor, probably the most famous restaurant in Bistrita, where we had a fantastic lunch. It is there where we also felt a bit famous, as we were interviewed by local media about our road trip Romania and we made an appearance in the local newspaper.
Our second stop in Bistrita was at Miss Virginia Linul, an artisan that is keeping the art of manufacturing old Romanian costumes alive. I managed to buy only one piece of clothing, although I set my eyes on half of the shop 🙈.
Over tea and cookies, Virginia entertained us with many stories. One of them was how they got into the Guinness World Records Book with their gathering of more than 9500 people, all wearing traditional Romanian costumes (“ie”).
12. Maramures (read Mah-rah-moo-resh) – 4 days
Maramures county is far up north and it is one of the most beautiful places in Romania, not only because of its gorgeous landscape but for the culture and its very unique traditions. I know I say that a lot, but it is only because Romania is extremely beautiful. So each place you see will surprise you. This part of Romania was less touched by the communism, so, fortunately, many old traditions are still kept alive.
After spending 4 days here, we realized that a minimum of one week would do much better justice to the place. Therefore, we are planning to return to Maramures in another Romania trip.
We spend 2 nights in Viseul de Sus and 2 nights in Breb, as we wanted to see different parts of the county without having to drive too long back and forth.
Viseu de sus – 2 days
I wanted to stay here because one of the main activities that I had planned for us in Maramures, was to go on the Mocanita steam train. But the weather had other plans for us, so we had to skip the scenic train ride due to heavy rainfall that morning.
However, there are a lot of things to do and see in the region and, as soon as the weather got better, we drove to Borsa Maramures to hike to Cascada Cailor (Horses Waterfall). Everything about this was as scenic as it gets: the drive to Borsa, the chairlift ride up to where the hike started, the hike itself and finally, the waterfall.
I am one of those people who love chasing waterfalls so when I hear about one, I try to make my way there. There is something about waterfalls, don’t you think?
The next day we went to one of the top attractions in Maramures and a unique place in the world: The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta.
I went there many years ago and I remembered bits and pieces so I was very happy to see it again, this time “armed” with my camera.
The Merry Cemetery is a UNESCO World Heritage protected site and it was ranked second in the world in the Funeral Monument Symposium held in 1998 in the United States. The Valley of the Kings in Egypt came in the first place.
The Merry Cemetery is famous through its unique blue crosses where clever and funny epitaphs are carved about the life of the person buried there.
More than 70 years ago, Mr. Stan Ioan Patras came up with the idea and established this settlement. Today only one person is continuing this tradition: Mr. Dumitru Pop Tincu. We felt very fortunate to interview him in his workshop, while watching him carving these unique pieces.
We stayed at Pensiunea La Cassa which was a very comfortable place. They have their own restaurant which was really cozy and a very charming courtyard for al fresco dining.
Breb (2 days)
We then went to another part of Maramures county and established our base in Breb.
If you ask me, I think Breb is one of the most beautiful villages in Romania. And I say that even when we went there in the pouring rain and had to drive up on an unpaved road that looked more like a river than a road.
Breb is part of the Green Trail or Maramures Heritage Trail, which comprises 7 villages from that eco-touristic area. This trail connects the 7 protected areas and it aims to preserve the cultural heritage of the region including nature conservation. The full length of the trail is about 88km and you cannot drive it. Preserving the local culture means also using the local way of transportation which is horse and carriage. Alternatively, you can bike or even walk on shorter trails. Unfortunately, due to the weather conditions and the short time available, we could not do the trail. So we have to come back there, most probably in the summer.
Instead, we visited Barsana Monastery, one of our favorite sites from our 3-week road trip itinerary through Romania. We felt like we died and went to heaven.
Made entirely of wood, as all churches in Maramures, Barsana monastery dates back from 14thcentury. The religious complex is made up of a few buildings, surrounding a colorful flower garden. They are very well taken care of by the nuns at the monastery.
We chose Casa Maramureaseana Larisa for our 2 nights stop in Breb and we were very happy with it. This is a newer guesthouse but built and decorated in the pure traditional Maramures style. The hosts are a young couple and their little daughter Larisa (hence the name of the guesthouse). They are extremely welcoming and accommodating. We would definitely go back there.
13. Alba Iulia -1 day
Although not so popular with foreign tourists, this town holds a special place in the hearts of Romanian people. Also called the Capital of the Union, this is the place where Romania was recognized as a modern nation (December 1st1918). Alba Iulia was also the first capital of the Kingdom of Romania in the Middle Age and the coronation place of the first king of Greater Romania.
As such, Alba Iulia hosts the largest citadel in the country, Alba Carolina. This citadel is the heart of the Romania National Day celebrations.
On our way to Alba Iulia, we also visited Turda Salt Mine (Salina Turda), which after its big renovation in 2010 has been gaining more and more popularity. And it deserves its popularity, as today the salt mine is not only a real-life museum but also a huge entertainment and wellness center. Pay a visit and I guarantee that you won’t regret it.
Well I know this was a long post but it was also a long itinerary. As usual, I hope this guide is useful if you are going there. If you’ve already been, I would love to know what you think
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