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Transylvania - Calendar
August is a great time to go for a drive along Europe's most exciting highway © Rechitan Sorin, Shutterstock
Frighten away the winter in the Fagaras Mountains
In January, make sure you’re in a village in the mountains to see the young men dressed in sheepskins, banging drums and dancing to frighten away the winter. Transylvania preserves ancient traditions like nowhere else and the hospitable locals make visitors feel at home with hearty pork dishes – because the pig snuffles forward and represents progress – and red wine to refresh the blood. Little children go around the villages wishing everybody a Happy New Year with a sorcova, a green branch of an apple or pear tree decorated with coloured paper ribbons and flowers.
Cosy up by the fireplace with a real-live Transylvanian count
You’re sure to get a warm welcome at any time of the year at Count Tibor Kálnoky’s elegantly restored guesthouse in Micloşoara, but in February it’s wonderful to sit by the roaring fire, sipping vintage wine from the Count’s 17th-century wine cellar and listening to his tales of noble families and battle-scarred Hungarian history. After a day-trip to the Seven Stairs waterfall, the cave where the Pied Piper of Hamelin re-emerged or a horse and cart ride to a medieval forest, visitors can enjoy delicious Hungarian home cooking with organic fruit and vegetables.
Soak up the Saxon sights in Sibui
The historic city of Sibiu was European Capital of Culture in 2007 and the whole town has been tastefully renovated. Sibiu is packed with fascinating museums and architectural treasures and it makes the ideal base for travellers wanting to explore the Saxon fortress churches in surrounding villages. Linger on the Bridge of Liars and admire the view, around every corner is a breath-taking photo opportunity, or a cosy café or sophisticated bistro, where you can try Transylvanian cuisine – and catch your breath!
Do as Romans do at the Sarmizegetusa ruins
Visit Sarmizegetusa Regia, the capital of pre-Roman Dacia, an intriguing complex of sanctuaries, situated in the Orăștie Mountains on a 1200m-high hill. The Great Round Sanctuary and the ‘Sun of Andesite’ are remarkable relics. You can also see the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Orăștie Mountain Dacian fortresses nearby. They’re mysterious and an atmospheric link to the misty Romanian origins. To complete the set, pop by the Corvin Castle at Hunedoara; it’s the archetypal Transylvanian castle and no trip to Romania should omit it.
Watching wolves with an award-winning guide
At Transylvanian Wolf, Dan Marin and his wife Luminița provide one of the best travel experiences in all Romania; offering a guesthouse with divine home-cooking and classes, plus fantastic walking tours of the Piatra Craiului National Park. Dan is incredibly knowledgeable about the flora and fauna; he reads animal footprints, spots soaring birds and recounts legends. Dan also arranges bear-watching and wolf-tracking trips. Visitors can meet a shepherd in his isolated mountain hut or take part in a Roma music and dance evening, meet the bulibasha (Roma leader) and get to know their way of life, beyond the usual stereotypes.
Party at the pageant
The lively city of Braşov is guarded on three sides by three high hills giving it a secret, fairytale appearance. The old town centre has been beautifully restored yet retains much of its medieval charm. The best time to appreciate this is at the ‘Days of Braşov’ and ‘Junii Pageant’ when a colourful parade moves through the historic streets to the Schei district. The colourful main square is a perfect spot from which to watch the world go by. One of the sophisticated boutique hotels makes an excellent base for exploring the many castles and fortress churches, mountains in the vicinity.
Playing ping-pong in a salt mine
One of the weirder ways to cool off in the heat of a Transylvanian summer is to take a rickety bus-ride down a dark 1.5km tunnel that emerges into a vast cavernous chamber 120m under the surface. Children run around the giant, black-walled, marble-floored ‘playground’ and visitors play badminton, billiards, handball and ping-pong in the mineral-rich air. There’s even a therapy centre for those with lung problems. Salt has been mined here for centuries and it attracts 3,000 visitors a day!
Getcha motor runnin’ on Europe’s most thrilling highway
The Transfăgăraşan Highway twists and turns for 90km through the highest peaks of the Carpathian mountains. The snaking lane was built by soldiers in 1970–74 during Ceaușescu’s rule. Nowadays, the road attracts motorcyclists and car drivers – the Top Gear trio have whizzed along it too! – and, if you dare take your eyes off the road for a second, the views are spectacular. Near the highest point, at Bâlea Lake, you’ll pass the unique Hotel of Ice, while along the southern stretch is the Poienari fortress; a hideout for Vlad III the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Get down and boogie with the students of Cluj
Cluj-Napoca is the student city of Transylvania, packed with colleges, museums, bars and cafés. It’s the liveliest city in the region, yet is filled with history and some of the best museums and a fabulous botanical garden. Chill out with a heart-stopping Romanian coffee and a pastry on a sunny café terrace and watch the world go by, then party till dawn at one of the trendy clubs or late-night restaurants. It also makes a superb base for exploring the 40 Hungarian ‘embroidery’ villages of Kalotaszeg or the unique musical village of Szék/Sic.
Find a fiddle at the flea market of the year
On the second weekend of every October, the ‘Black Lake’ village of Negreni turns into a vast open-air market and fair when people arrive from all over Romania and Hungary to meet up with their mates, buy farming equipment, catch up on gossip, eat mici (spicy skinless sausages) and toast everyone’s good health with endless shots of Țuică. Many traders turn up on the Thursday and Friday, and there is an animal market on the following Monday; however, the best day is Saturday, especially if you’re looking for folk crafts, antiques or unusual, ancient musical instruments.
Guarding the garlic in Dracula’s hometown
Sighișoara is a trip back in time to the Medieval age, to an era crowded with vampires, wolves and peasants. Walking along the ancient cobbled streets, you imagine yourself on a film set for a creepy Transylvanian thriller – at any moment Dracula might swoop down from the belfry and sink his teeth into your neck. This image becomes a reality when you turn a narrow corner and spot a plaque announcing that Vlad Dracul was born in this building in 1431. This is actually Vlad’s dad. Vlad III the Impaler was the inspiration for Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. St. Andrew’s Eve (29 November) is ‘Vampire’s Night’ when suspicious traditions like ‘guarding the garlic’ are followed.
Skiing with the little ones in Poiana Braşov
Located at the foot of Mount Postăvarul, Poiana Braşov is the best-equipped ski resort in the country. Modernisation in 2010 expanded the ski area and lengthened the slopes. The resort is an excellent destination for families with young children, who can learn to ski on the gentle Bradul slope. Beginners soon progress on to the main ski area and, by the end of the week, most will be skiing all the way back to the village on the long, confidence-building blue run from the top of Christianul Mare. Romanians adore children and this is the perfect, and well-priced winter break destination.