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12 unique things in Transylvania: Chasing Dracula myths and History

Transylvania is more than just its cities, you have to visit the surroundings and the outskirts in order to really immerse into it. You have to chase the myths, filled with Dracula’s stories, you have to chase the traditions of the Saxons, the bravery of the medieval voievods, its roman roots and the coexistence of 3 ethnicities, to fully understand its uniqueness. Transylvania, even though under constant occupation, played a significant role in the development of the Romanian people. Its beauty doesn’t just come from the unique nature surrounding it, but from a century old culture and tradition. You will definitely enjoy this journey!

Talk about Philosophy at Paltinis

This is the oldest Romanian mountain resort, situated at an altitude of 1442m. Its is only 32 km from Sibiu and you can easily get there via bus, company TURSIB. It has 4 stations in Sibiu: Gara (train station)- Constituiei Street- Coposul boulevard and Unirii square. Price of a return ticket is 16 lei (3.7EUR). The bus leaves at 7:00, 11:00 and 16:00 from Sibiu and returns at 9:00, 13:30 and 17:30 from Paltinis. If you are more into sports, then you can also choose to take the bike there. It is a bit of a steep climb, but you will be able to enjoy better the meandering roads with beautiful views over the Fagars Mountains.

Paltinis is the perfect place for both  winter and summer. In winter you can ski in Arena Platos, a well equipped ski resort. This is a perfect place also for beginners as the slopes are not that steep. In summer, Arena Platos transforms in an outdoor adventure park, with a summer sleight slope, bike tours and much more outdoor fun. You can also visit the small wooden monestray and the Constantin Noica memorial house, a famous Romanian philosopher, who spend the last 10 years of his life in Paltinis in a small 10 square meter room and mentored many soon to be great Romanian writers and philosophers. If you are curious about Romanian culture and philosophy I would recommend reading ‘The Paltinis Diary’ by Gabriel Liiceanu, a mentee of Constantin Noica, who tells  Noica’s story of resistance during the reign of Ceausescu.

Learn about Tradition and culture at Astra Museum

This museum is one of the largest outdoor museums in Romania and is an homage to Romanian tradition and culture. The museum brings to life traditional houses from different regions of Romania and truly represents a walk through the past. The houses are reconstructed in accordance to their original architecture. It is also a beautiful nature walk, as the museum is located in a small forest at the outskirts of Sibiu, called ‘Dumbrava’ forest. The museum is open from 9:00-17:00 and the cost of a ticket is 17 Lei ( 3.6 EUR). You can find more information here.

The Saxons and the Fortified Church of Cisnadioara

The church is situated in Cisnadioara, 12 km from Sibiu. In order to reach the fortification, you have to climb the stoned stairs, for about 15 minutes. It is actually a very beautiful walk up, since it leads through a forest. Once to the top you will see the exterior walls surrounding the church. The church itself is a stone construction, built between 1162-1223, in roman style. Some medieval murals, ornaments and arcades are till this day preserved and can be viewed inside the church. There are many fortified churches in Transylvania, as their main role was to protect the people from attacks an predators. Before an incoming attack the village people would secure themselves inside the fortified walls of the church, where they would remain out of harm’s way for weeks, since food and water was always kept inside the fortification. Outside, in the church yard, well hidden behind the fortified walls, you can glance at the beautiful Saxon village below, with its small colorful houses.

The entry ticket is 7 lei (1.7 EUR). In the winter season (November to February) it is open only on weekends, between 10:00-18:00, March- May, it is opened between Tuesday and Sunday, from 10:00 to 18:00 and during summer time, it is opened daily between 10:00-18:00. The best way to reach it, is either by biking or renting a car.

Divorce was impossibility at the Biertan Fortified Church

Biertan lies 86 km from Sibiu, approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes by car. The fortified church is built in Gothic style and was constructed between 1490 and 1520. For 300 years it was used by the Saxon community as an interesting type of prison: married couples which decided to divorce would be held inside the church inside a small room, where they would only be given one plate, one bed, one chair. They would have to leave in this conditions, with only bread and water until they would renounce the idea of divorce. For this reason there was only 1 registered divorce during this period. You can visit the church in the weekend, during the period of April to May, from September to October, opening hours are 10:00-17:00; June to August from Monday to Sunday, between 10:00 and 17:00; November to April from Tuesday to Sunday, between 11:00- 15:00.

Chasing Vlad the Impaler (Darcula) to his birthplace Sighisoara

Sighisoara is one of the most beautiful medieval town in Transylvania and deserves its own piece of blog here. It is situated 95 Km from Sibiu and is considered to be the birthplace of Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), the inspiration for Dracula, novel by Bram Stoker.

The citadel was built in the 12th century by Saxon settlers. The church and the school are built on a hill (a beautiful partially wooden staircase will take you there). From there you will see the colorful houses of the citadel. The town is surrounded by a fortified wall, constructed in the 14th century, as tall as 14 meters, with defense towers belonging to the different guilds of the city. Out of the original 14 towers only 9 are still preserved, the most famous being a beautiful clock tower. If you like medieval festivals, the  you are in luck, since Sighisoara houses one of the most famous Romanian medieval festivals, at the end of July. The charming and authentic setting is perfect for this kind of festival and will definitely transport you in a different time.  Find out more about Sighisoara here.

The voievod and the Impaler in Corvin Castel

Corvin Castel is one of the most beautiful and well preserved medieval castles in Transylvania. Built in Renaissance-Gothic style, the castle was residence of the voivode of Transylvania, Iancu de Hunedoara. There are many things to be admired inside the castle, one of it being the Knights Hall, and impressive drawbridge, a chapel and many rooms decorated with medieval art. The courtyard features a 100 meter deep well, dug into stone, form the 15th century. The legend says that Vlad Tepes, was held there prisoner by Iancu de Hunedoara. Because of this, the castle is sometimes mentioned as an inspiration for Dracula’s castle. But, you know, the whole Transylvania is paved with stories and myths about Dracula and his historical inspiration. The castle is situated about 127 km from Sibiu, and you can reach it by car in about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Sarmizegetuza Regia – a fortress from before our time

Sarmizegetuza Regia (or ‘the Royal’) was the military, political and religious center of the Dacic civilization. The Gauls (‘Dacii’) were contemporary to the Romans and were an evolved civilization themselves. The beautifully preserved ruins of a once powerful fortress will completely transpose you into a time, long ago passed. You will discover how this ancient civilization lived their spiritual and day to day lives. It’s a journey that will completely fascinate you. Read more about it, in my post dedicated to this beautiful hidden gem.

Visit the heart of Romanian history at Alba Iulia Citadel

Alba Iulia is a city with a very important historical significance for us Romanians. In 1918, on the 1 of December it sign the Big Unification under the name of Romanian Kingdom (Regatul Romaniei). This is almost the Romania you know today, except at that time, it also included Republic of Moldavia, which is now an independent state. The citadel is an emblematic symbol of historical and cultural development that lead to the formation of the Romanian nation. The citadel was renovated and is now one of the top touristic attractions in Romania. It is the biggest fortress, constructed in Vauban style in south-eastern Europe. The roots of this historic city date back actually to the roman times, and you can even admire some roman archeological remains within the city walls. You can admire the old city gates, the statue of Mihai Viteazu, the first Romanian voivode who attempted to unite the 3 regions of Romania: Tara Romaneasca, Moldova and Transylvania, as early as 1599, only to be decapitated 2 days later in his tent. Also you could visit the orthodox Cathedral of Coronation, constructed after the events of 1918, the roman-catholic cathedral St Mihai, dating back 1000 years, the Unification Museum and the Unification Hall. This citadel offers a lot to do for one full day and you will learn a lot about Romanian history and everything that made us what we are today. It is a must see for everybody who wants to immerse themselves in the history of a country. Find out more about this fortress here.

Transalpina – at the highest altitude

Transalpina is a century old road, built by the Romans as a way to get to Sarmizegetuza. The road has only been recently rehabilitated and paved (actually currently only a small portion of the road is paved). It is currently the highest highway in Romania, with a maximum altitude of 2145 meters. It is still slightly unknown even to the Romanians themselves, as the road was in such poor condition. Only recently the reconstruction of the road has begun, enabling people to see the transcending beauty of the surrounding mountains.

The Dictator and Transfagarasan Highway

Transfagarasan Highway is probably the most known road in Romania, due to the Top Gear episode which was filmed there. However, it completely deserves the attention! The view of the Fagaras Mountains is breathtaking, the nature is amazing and you will find beautiful places for stops along the way. It is definitely worth the ride! Definitely! Actually you cannot say you have visited Transylvania without a ride through the Transfagarasan Highway.  The road is 150 km long and connects Sibiu region with Arges region. It was constructed between 1970- 1974, during Ceasusescu times and has cost numerous lives (official count says 40, workers that have actually work the roads, tell a different story, which put the loss of life in the incredible thousands!…(and it’s not hard to believe under Ceausescu). Read here more about what you can explore and admire along your adventurous way!

Underground Adventure Park in Turda salt mine

Turda salt mine is one of the most spectacular touristic underground attractions in the world. The salt mine dates back to the 17th century. Its harmonious combination of modern minimalistic design and the natural medium of a salt mine create a unique atmosphere. Amongst the main attractions you can see Franz Josef gallery, the echo gallery, Rudolf mine, Terezia mine. The salt mine is open from 09:00-17:00, with the last admission is at 16:00. The entry ticket is 40 lei (8.5 EUR) and you can also purchase them online here.

Scenic drive through Turzii Gorge

The Turzii Gorge is a natural reserve, about 150 km from Sibiu, in Cluj County. The gorge contains one of the most beautiful karts landscapes in Romania, with a very rich fauna and flora, more than 1000 plants and animals call it a home. There are also about 60 caves, quite small in size, waiting to be explored. It will be an amazing and scenic drive!

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