Transylvania and the South Carpathian Mountains

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A big thanks to Susanne from Travel Zentric for contributing this great article to The Wild Trail and sharing her experience in Transylvania and the South Carpathian Mountains.

This summer I spent two weeks in Romania, in Transylvania to be exact. Spending time in a small medieval town (Brasov) with one day or two-day excursions into the Carpathian mountains was a great mix of culture and hiking. And highly recommended if you like to hike and be in nature. I cannot give detailed advice on multi-day trecking routes yet, but would like to show you some highlights I have seen around the area of Brasov. I hope you like it and go there for one of your next trips. Romania and the South-Carpathian Mountains are certainly worth to be explored!

1. Brasov – Medieval Town

For me it was a family trip. My sister-in-law is from Brasov and we spent quite a few days there. Which was great, because Brasov is a cute little medieval town. I am sure you will like it as well. It’s equally well located to undertake some day trips into the Carpathian mountains and to nearby cities.

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Be sure to visit the old town of Brasov:

  • have a look around the old town and the huge main square (Piata Sfatului)
  • relax in one of the many cafés or restaurants
  • visit the black church (Biserica Neagra)
  • the black and white towers (Turnul Negru and Turnul Alb)
  • the Rope Street – the narrowest street in Europe (Poarta Schei)

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2. Tampa Mountain – Hiking Trails just outside of Brasov

This is a great and easy excursion which you can design to your needs. Tampa Mountain is located just outside of Brasov. So depending on how much exercise you want to have and time you wanna spend, you can either walk both ways (or in a circle) or take the gondola one-way. For us it was a great choice in the summer heat to take the gondola up, have a look around and hike back down through the cool forest. A good choice for families with kids as well.

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Directions to the Brasov “Hollywood“ sign

If you are getting off the gondola (white dashed line on the map), follow the sign to „Belvedere“ (viewpoint). The road takes you after a 15 minutes walk to the Brasov sign. Don’t be disappointed if you can only take photos from behind the sign. If you want to get the huge letters into a photo, be sure to bring a selfie-stick with you. I didn’t bring mine so can’t say if that works. Let me know if it does!

Don’t miss out on the Belvedere, from which you have a fantastic view over Brasov as well. If you want to extend your trip you can continue from here along Tampa mountain on the other route to Brasov (the pink one on the map).

We took the yellow zigzag route down back to Brasov. The trail is clearly marked by a red and outer white triangle.

If you are looking for a longer hike, check out the map for other trails.

3. Bran – Dracula’s Castle

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Bran Castle is often referred to as Dracula’s castle. Wikipedia tells you everything about the background of this legendary castle. Nowadays it’s a big tourist attraction. If you go in the summer, go as early as possible in the morning. We had to queue in the heat for about half an hour at the ticket booth which was ok, but avoidable. I was wondering at this point if it is worth going inside, but I do recommend to go there once if you are in the area.

I actually liked the outside views of the castle much better than the inside. The way through the castle was rather small and full of people which made it a bit strenuous at times. If you are looking for signs of Dracula, you can find him in one of the last rooms up in the attic where there is a room dedicated to Dracula, Bram Stoker and Vlad the Impaler.

4. Poiana Brasov – Skiing Area Close to Brasov

Not far away Brasov there is a skiing area which is a great destination not only in the wintertime. In the summertime, you can enjoy plenty of trails down in the valley and the forest around Poiana Brasov or up in the mountains. (The Article First Image features Poiana Brasov)

From the village you can easily take the cable car up to approx. 1000 metres. Not all of them are open in the summer. So you will have to check which one is available. For us it was the Kanzel Cable Car. The costs for that one were 35 Lei up and down or 20

Lei one way. Once up there you have a great view over the mountains and into the valley. You can take a winding way down to the valley, which is great for mountain biking or on foot. Or you can relax up in the mountains or check out other trails in the area and return later by cable car.

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You can get to Poiana Brasov by car in 30 min (14km distance). The bus takes about an hour from Brasov.

5. Transfagarasan – Famous Mountain Route

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Transfagarasan is a stunning mountain route which connects the regions of Transylvania and Wallachia. It is paved well and was built in the 1970s for military reasons. Nowadays it’s a big tourist attraction as it offers good views and access to to the Balea Lake, the Balea Waterfall and to the mountain ranges around.

The Transfagarasan route is usually open from July to October, but that depends also on the weather conditions. So it might close earlier for winter or stay open longer if conditions allow.

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The route gets extremely crowded in the summer and I highly recommed to go there early in the day! We arrived around 11am and were lucky, although we had to wait for around 30-40 minutes in a long queue with other cars, we were able to get a parking spot in one of the two parking lots near Balea Lake. Since there are cars arriving from the other side of the pass/tunnel as well, it seems to be pretty chaotic at times. In the early afternoon there were so many cars on the road up there that the queue was several kilometers long and it must have taken hours for some people to get up there.

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But then again, it is definitely worthwhile to make your way up there, especially if you plan on hiking some more in the area. Balea Lake is at approx. 2000 metres altitude and there are many trails to choose from. See here for suggested trecks in this area.

6. Sibiu – Another Medieval Town

To round up our trip to Transfagarasan we decided to also spend some time in Sibiu, which was a great choice. It is similar to Brasov in a way, also a medieval town and full of cafés and restaurants. Some of us (I only had a water and arrived later on) didn’t have the best experience in one of the restaurants in the main shopping street: waiting time of an hour for ice cream and a dessert – typical for tourist areas like that I guess.

Other than that it was nice to walk around the old down of Sibiu. Some of the attractions are pretty close by. I didn’t have anything prepared and just had a quick look what sights were usually recommended and decided for a short tour around the main square, the Evangelic church and the bridge of lies.

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And this is actually the route as well I would recommend. If you like to visit museums, you should probably check out the Brukenthal museum, which is a group of museums which hosts among others the historic museum and the museum of natural history.

What I liked best, although I was almost scared to death, when the church bell rang to the full hour when I was just getting up the stairs right next to the bell, was the view from the Evangelic church tower. See for yourself why.

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Another tip: the ASTRA Museum of Folkloric Traditional Civilization is situated just 4km outside of Sibiu and hosts outdoor original monuments that stand for the values of a traditional Romanian village. We had planned to visit the ASTRA museum, but couldn’t fit it in timewise. It was highly recommended to us. But since we knew that it is 10 kms long and that even half a day is not enough time to see everything we rather skipped it, but I would definitely love to go another time.

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We did go on the way back to Brasov to the Castelul de Lut, which is a hotel with traditional houses in a remote setting alongside a river. In the background you can see the Carpathian mountains and it must be fun to spend some days and nights in this natural place.

7. Sinaia – Royal Castles

On the way back to Bucharest from Brasov, one stop is recommended. In Sinaia you can visit the Peles Castle, its little brother Pelisor Castle and the Foisor hunting lodge (the last one we didn’t see).

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Peles is a neo-renaissance castle build in the 19th century and well worth the visit. The inside and outside are equally impressive. Don’t let yourself be disturbed my the masses of people again and try to be there early. This time we had to wait only about 10 minutes to buy the tickets. I read on another blog that the blogger went away, because the queue was too long. Don’t do that here! If you made your way to Sinaia, you should definitely go inside (as opposed to Bran (see above)).

Brasov Tips:

  • Shake Coffee: café close to main street in the old town, but tucked away in a side alley away from the tourist hustle
  • The cable car (teleferic) to Tampa Mountain costs 10 Lei one way or 18 Lei both ways; cable car opening hours are hard to find online and may vary; when I was there in August 2017 the teleferic operated from 9:30am – 6pm Tuesday to Sunday and 12 noon – 6pm on Mondays
  • Romania is the land of bears, wolfs and lynxes. If you plan on hiking for several days, be sure to check out the warnings about the wildlife.
  • The Romanian language is based on latin and some other languages were mixed in such as French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. To be honest although I know some French and Spanish I still didn’t understand anything, but in the written form at least I was able to guess some words sometimes.
  • If you are intested in visiting a zip-lining park or a stalactite cave near Brasov (they are at the same place), go to the Valea Cetatii Cave. The Valley of the Citadel is situated in Brasov County near the Rasnov Citadel. The guided tour lasts about three quarters of an hour and ends in the Great Hall of the cave. Here you can even see classical music concerts as it has an impressive acoustic.
  • Visit the Rasnov citadel
  • With kids, visit the Dino Park in Rasnov
  • Also recommended for hiking:
  • Mountain Moldoveanu in the Fagaras mountains. Roads also to less known valleys are usually well maintained.
  • Easier access than to the Fagaras mountains is the Bucegi mountains close to the cities of Vrasov, Busteni und Sinaia.
  • The locals also like the Retezat mountains in the Western Carpathians.
  • Make a day trip to the Seven Ladder Canyon (famous for its ladders and waterfalls), located in the Piatra Mare range of the Carpathian Mountains
  • Recommended accommodation close to Transfagarasan: Motel Castel 2000 or next door apartments Casa Neagoe. They have excellent food. Fresh bread and eggplant dip – yummy!
  • This I found on the Internet and it looks like a cool retreat inbetween Sibiu and Cluj in case you are planning to go to that area. They plan on opening in 2018, check out this links for more info. Heart of Transylvania
  • You can conveniently reach Brasov in 2.5 hours by train from Bucharest (Station Bucuresti Gara de Nord A) 70 Ron (approx. 16€)
  • Uber works like a charm in Bucharest and Brasov. They are slightly less expensive than Taxis and from my experience safer, although not always available. In Bucharest it was no problem to get an Uber at 4am to the airport, but in Brasov it was not possible to get one outside of the city centre. But taking one from the city centre was no problem.
  • About taxis in general: search online for a taxi number from a recommended taxi company and use that. You should compare the prices on the side of the taxis (usually from Lei 1,40 – Lei 3,90 per km depending on the city). Be sure to check if the price is ok and if the meter is working right. I once got scammed and reverted to using Uber wherever possible after that.
  • Recommended Taxi company in Sinaia: Taxi Yri Sinaia 0722 714 186

About the Author

Susanne writes on TravelZentric.com about individual travel. If you are looking for tips about worldwide trip planning, information about local prices or just a bit of inspiration for your next travel destination, have a look at TravelZentric.com