Category Archives: Nature

An out of the beaten path trip: trekking in Romania: countryside, wildflowers and hearty food

I’m a nature lover, and every time I have spare time I venture in the countryside or high up in the mountains for a portion of fresh air and the chance raise the optimism level with the delightful natural scenery. And not least, is a good occasion to discover new routes, that can be transformed into new ideas for tours for my futures guests. This is how I came up with the idea of a new tour, mixing walking in nature, wildflower and birds watching, and local food.

Some domestic animals
Some domestic animals

 

It is also an opportunity to meet the people of the countryside in their own environment.  And it’s interesting to chat with them, as for them is a little bit weird that a stranger like me is interested in wandering like a lunatic from one village to another, when is so much work to do in the fields. After the first phrase ( and probably from the first glance), they understand that I’m from the city. And when I’m telling them and I’m organising guided tours in Transylvania their curiosity is mounting, as they want to know why a foreigner from the other corner of the world is interested to visit their land.

Wild orchid
Wild Orchid

 

But is not only the interaction with the locals. As you walk outside the villages, you find yourself surrounded by a rich variety of wildflowers and birds that can be spotted by the curious eye of the nature lover.

Goldilocks buttercups and myosotis
Goldilocks buttercups and myosotis

Some wild animals ( deers, foxes, rabbits) can be seen too but is preferable not to stumble on bears or wolves.  From the fauna, the easiest can be seen the birds, as their trill is revelling their position, but you need binoculars, to see them in the tiniest detail.

A Finch resting on a rosehip
A Finch resting on a rosehip

Regarding vegetation, Transylvania is blessed with a wide floral variety, as some of the meadows from the plateau and mountain pastures are either used for grazing ( mostly sheep and sometimes cows and buffalos) or for hay ( which is mowed by hand with scythes).

The best moment to spot the explosion of colours and scents is late spring – early summer (May -June). I prefer to wander mostly in May, as nature has that lush green colours,  and the weather is still not very hot. Bonus: nothing can be compared with a walk in the edge of a blossoming acacia tree forest. The delicate perfume of the flowers is sensuous, and it is especially searched by honey bees.

Carthusian Pink and wild thime
Carthusian Pink and wild thime

June has its charm as well, as the number of wildflowers is at the peak, from the low Transylvanian plateau meadows to the fresh alpine pastures.  Is the moment when the hay season starts, and the landscape is adorned with perfectly arranged conical haystacks, waiting to be transported in the barn.

Haystacks
Haystacks

The tracks I’m usually following aren’t very long, as I want to keep a leisurely pace, giving time to admire the scenery at its maximum. So, I habitually walk between 8 to 15 km, depending also on the difference in altitude and the difficulty of the terrain. I either walk around villages or following marked trails in the mountains.

 

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Discovering Transylvania markets and fairs

If you are a foreign tourist who wants to feel the beat of a country, I think you need to try as many experiences that will bring you closer to the daily life of the locals. You can look for accommodation in family owned guesthouses, search for restaurants popular among locals, but unknown to the outsiders, you can explore the remote villages off the beaten paths or you can visit the local markets, flea markets or fairs. Or you can hire a private guide who will introduce you to all of this and facilitate the interaction with the locals.

Today, I guided 2 guests from China who wanted to see some old castles, traditional villages and nice nature view. Difficult? Not really. 🙂 The area around Sibiu gives you large variety of possible destinations for tours. So I just adjusted the Corvin Castle Tour and added some sights that are usually part of “The villages tour”. So we started early in the morning, with a visit to the villages from Marginimea Sibiului. And because it was Saturday, we were able to explore the weekly market of Rasinari, the largest village from the area.

We arrived there at 8 am and the area on the central square and around the church was already very animated.

One of the narrow cobbled streets near the church was the place of the small flea market: old and rusty metal tools, second-hand clothes and antiquities.

The flea market section of the weekly fair in Rasinari
The flea market section of the weekly fair in Rasinari

The usual market place in the main square was occupied whit stalls selling local cheese (Marginimea is the capital of cheese in Romania), meat cuts (sheep and pork), vegetables and fruits. The type of cheese seen below is obtained from sheep milk, it is usually matured in sheep stomach or sheep skin, it has a strong flavour and slightly soft and crumbly texture. It is a perfect match to polenta.

Sheperds selling cheese
Shepherds selling cheese

The street near the river was the place of the cereal merchants (mostly corn, but also wheat or sunflower seeds). It was interesting to see that the measurement unit for cereals wasn’t the kilogram, but an ancient type of wooden bucket of around 20 liters in volume.

Unit of measurement for cereals
Unit of measurement for cereals

My guest perfectly matched the decor. Dressed in a shirt with Romanian traditional motifs, posing in front of the gate of a house in the village:

The best time to visit Romania

Romania is a touristic destination open all year round. Situated in Eastern Europe, with a temperate continental climate, Romania is an area with four full seasons: winter, spring, summer and autumn. Each person has a particular preference for a season or another, so this post will not try to convince you to visit Romania in a certain period. From my experience, I can tell you that the decision for the specific season to come to Romania is depending also on the corner of the World my tourists are coming from. For example, travellers from warm climate ( like Brasil or South East Asia) would choose to come in Romania in winter, in order to experience snow or cooler temperatures they might not find in their countries. And also, each seasons has its charm: winter is about snow and Christmas, spring is about nature rebirth and Easter, summer is by definition a holiday season and autumn is about crops, wine making and an explosion of amber colours in the forest.

may flowers
may flowers, near Sarmisegetuza Regia

But, if I would be a tourist planning to come to Romania, I would choose 2 intervals for my vacation in Romania. First I would choose the second part of May and mid October. In these periods, the temperatures are mild, ranging around 20 to 25 degrees during the day, the chances of 2 continuous days of rain are slim and nature is at its best. More than that, is the low season in tourism, so, besides the higher chances of better prices, you don’t have to worry about spending to much time queuing to enter at the most important touristic attractions.

First, the end of May: the landscape is lush green, the air is fresh and scented with spring flowers ( insider tip: search the places with acacia trees: you will be mesmerised by their perfume). There is still some snow covering the mountain caps, so a great chance for photo opportunities. And, let’s not forget the seasonal fruits: cherries and strawberries.

Transfagarsan road, at the end of May
Transfagarasan in May: mountain flowers, fresh grass and spots of snow.

Second, mid October. I already argued in another blog post about this period of the year as the best time to see the autumn colours. More than that, the atmosphere is perfumed with a perfect combination of dried leaves and fruit aromas coming from orchards and vineyards. And let’s not forget October fest! 🙂

Brasov in October
Brasov in October

The best time to see the autumn colors in Romania

In Romania,  autumn is consider to be the period between September to November. The weather in September is pleasantly warm with high temperatures ranging between 25 to 30 degrees Celsius ( 77 to 86 F) , and low temperature ranging from 0  to 15 degrees Celsius ( 32 to 59 F) during the night. September is the month when the leaves from the treas are starting their transition from green to rust, but the clorophil is still existing in large amounts in the foliage, masking any other pigment that might dare to challenge its supremacy in the melting pot of colors.

Nature colors in Romania in mid September
Colors of nature in Romania in mid September – ASTRA Museum in Sibiu.

 

In  October, the weather it’s starting its shift to cold season, with some nights with freezing temperatures, but with still a lot of warm and sunny days. The predominant color is green at the begging of the month, but the signs that it is starting to loose the battle with the army of amber are more and more present.

Transylvania at the beginning of October
Transylvania at the beginning of October

But the wonder  of autumn is starting to appear in mid October, when the battle between emerald tones and orange hue is ending with an explosion of a stunning array of browns, pinks, ­oranges, auburns, yellows and ochres. Is the period when the leaves are still decorating the trees, and the joy of life doesn’t show any sign of weariness.

Mid October colors in Romania
Mid October colors in Romania – Transfagarasan road, the south side

November is the month when winter is waiting at the corner,  the night are freezing cold, the mornings are bathed in mist, and the trees are naked, with the  leaves resting at their feet, like a rusting blanket.

So, if you want to tour in Romania, for admiring the autumn colors, my suggestion is to choose the mid October. Look for the forest with different type of trees ( linden, birch, walnut, beech, sycamore, maple, oak,) in order to get the whole array of colors. There are good chances of pleasant weather in this period (this year for example we had 2 weeks of Indian summer ).

A tour on Transfagarasan in this time of the year gives you the opportunity the contrast between the birch trees and the fir trees on the north side, or the kaleidoscope of orange, red and brown of the deciduous forests from the South side. A tour in the country side would be also a good option, as you’ll find there a lot of walnuts, linden or acacia trees.

For more information about fall colors, you can also check this blog post from our partners.

Transylvania: a guided tour

I’m always wondering how many days you need to see Transylvania. The answer is as simple as it is complicated: as many as you need or as many you as have. Two days tour is possible too short, 7 days can be too long. For this reason I designed a tour that gives to the tourist interested to see the essential places of Transylvania in 4 days: http://sibiutourguide.com/complete-transylvania-tour-private-guide.html

The tour can start in Bucharest, but the optimal starting point is Sibiu, due to its location in the heart of Transylvania (and the local airport has very good connections with Munich, London or Vienna). The hub for exploring Transylvania can can be Sibiu or Brasov, as from those cities is easy to reach the most popular touristic attractions of this part of Romania. And the charming set of the medieval old towns of Sibiu and Brasov is also an important element to take into account when the travel plans are made. If you decide to start in Bucharest, you have to take into consideration the option to finish the tour in Sibiu or Cluj, so you can save half a day that you would otherwise lose on the road back to the capital of the Romania.

So, the introduction being made, what are the places not to be missed when visiting Transylvania? First the castles: Bram Stoker’s Dracula made Transylvania a top destination on the touristic map of the world, so the castles are coming first on the list. The best known is Bran Castle, due to it’s links with Dracula, but the truth is that Dracula never lived there, as Dracula is a fictional character! But there is another castle, less known as Bran Castle, however much more impressing and important: the Corvin (Hunedoara) Castle. You will need two days to visit the 2 castes, and the best place to do this is from Sibiu, located at almost equal distance between them. Number 3 on the list is Peles, not because is less important, but because, if you have seen Bran and Corvin, you will not consider Peles a castle. In my views, Peles is a palace, and in term of architectural richness, elegance, originality, history, preservation and background scenery is the first touristic attraction of Romania. And, if we want to be very strict, Peles is not in Transylvania, but is just a few kilometers south from the former border with Wallachia.

Hunedoara Castle
Corvin Castle

Then, there are the cities. I mentioned before Sibiu and Brasov: vibrant cultural cities, with romantic squares and rich history in their CV. We have to add to the list Sighisoara, a charming medieval town, listed on the UNESCO World heritage list, which has preserved basically untouched its medieval walls and defense towers. Add to this the pastel houses and the cobbled streets and you have the perfect recipe for enchantment. I usually visit Sighisoara, when I’m on my way to Sibiu from Brasov or vice versa. I don’t recommend to spend a night there, if you are in a hurry as 2 or 3 hours can be enough to explore the citadel. If you are on extended visit to Transylvania, you can add to the list Alba Iulia ( due its extremely important significance in Romanian history and the Vauban fortress) and Cluj ( the largest city in Transylvania).

Sibiu
Sibiu

The fortified churches: an unique architectural phenomenon that appeared due the geographical and historical circumstances of Transylvania in 15th-16th century. There are around 150 villages with fortified churches, spread around Transylvania, and 7 of them are listed on UNESCO World Heritage list. I will not recommend to see all of them, if you aren’t an architecture and medieval enthusiast, but I strongly recommend to see at least Prejmer, Biertan or Viscri. All of them are near Brasov, Sighisoara and Sibiu, so is not difficult to put them on the travel map.

Biertan
Biertan

The landscape: mountains, countless flock of sheep, horse driven carriages, rolling hills, remote villages lost in the past, lofty fortresses, this is Transylvania! A must do experience is to drive on Transfagarasan, the mountain road that connects Transylvania with Walachia, over the Carpathians mountains. In summer time, Transfagarasan can be an alternative to drive to Bucharest, if the plan is to leave Romania from the capital city.

Transfagarasan south side

The Romaniacs experience

I have to admit, until a few weeks ago I wasn’t a big fan of enduro motor sport. I knew that in Sibiu, every year in July is organised the toughest hard enduro motor bike rally in the world, but so far I was watching only the Prologue, which was taking place in one of the main boulevards of Sibiu. I did’n knew who were the winners of the last years, I didn’t knew what the rules were, I didn’t pay too much attention to the off road stages in the mountains. A couple of month ago I was contacted by an Australian lady, asking me the possibility to organise a tour for her and her friends  before the race, and during the race, to drive them through the mountains around Sibiu, to see the race. The first days of touring with them were like any other tour: we went to Bran Castle, saw Brasov and visited the Rasnov fortress. Then we drove over the Carpathians twice, on Transalpina and Transfagarasan road. But the best part of the trip was yet to come. Finally the Red Bull Romaniacs started, with the spectacular prologue I already knew:  rocks, tractor tyres, giant logs, concrete blocks, all of those obstacles preparing the riders for the next off road day. Since 2 guys from our group were competing, my guests were watching the race with an infinitely greater emotion and passion. And all this effervescence also contaminated me. I began to stay with my eyes on the race mobile app, checking the time of our riders, counting the minutes until they will show up at the spectator point or the service point, being anxious  every time they were late to appear to our sight. In the four days of the race I discovered a new universe, with superstars, with incredible life stories, with people extremely passionate about this sport, with riders from all over the world, coming to Romania, to cross the race off from their bucket list. Looking forward for the 2018 edition.

This is not a Castle Tour

I have to confess that almost all of my tourists are wanting to visit the Bran Castle on their way to Brasov, from Sibiu. But the last excursion to Brasov was different, as my guests had already seen the famous Transylvanian Castle, also known as Dracula Castle. So, I tried to built an itinerary  with attractions less know by tourists, a little off the beaten track.

So, the tour was about people, about experiences, about local tradition and rural life. We visited an complex installation for processing the wool into fine fiber and in a same time a very efficient washing machine: the whirlpool ( valtoare in Romanian). The second stop was at a water mill, 150 years old, using the original flint stones to finely grind the cereals and obtain a high quality flour. Amazing traditions kept alive by faithful and hard working families, with a lot of sacrifice in the Communist time, and a lot of perseverance today.

Between the whirlpool and the mill  he had a picnic, on a shore of a river at the foothills of the Carpathians. Much better option than a lunch at a restaurant.

Picnic on Transfagarasan

Transafagarasan road tour is an unforgettable experience: breathtaking views, pure air, endless curves and sheer drops. In some days, you can literally touch the clouds. This summer is was one Transafagarasan_tourof the most demanded tours by my tourists, and even I drove on this road dozens time, I’m still enjoying each time, because the road is an amazing driving experience as well, besides the stunning  mountain scenery. In summer time, the road can be very crowded, so it’s better to start the tour early in the morning. At least this is I’m doing, when I’m organizing my tours with my guests. In order to make the Transfagarasan experience complete, I can organize for my guest a picnic on the mountains. The last picnic was organised for my guests from Florida, US, and, I think that the assortment of 5 types of Romanian cheese, sausages, home made bread and a glass o Romanian wine delighted their taste buds.

A few impressions about my tours to Sarmisegetuza

In July  I met Barry, a retired priest from USA, who was visiting Romania for the fourth time, in his effort to learn Romanian language. We had a tour to Sarmisegetuza (Regia and Ulpia), Densus Church and the next day to Marginimea Sibiului. We spent hours discussing about religion, Latin languages, Romania’s history, Dacians and RomansSarmisegetuza Regia, and I have to admit, the tours were also an enriching experience for me as well. This year, the road to Sarmisegetuza was having a new layer of asphalt, and this allowed us to save time and we were able to linger more at Sarmisegetuza Ulpia Traiana, were we had the chance to participate at the Roman festival who was taking place in the amphitheater. At Densus, Barry discovered that his  friend, an Orthodox priest and teacher from Sibiu, was the former teacher at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology of  the father Alexander, the priest from Densus. We finished the day in the Small Square of Sibiu, having dinner together and having a very interesting discussion about religion and the differences between the  Christian churches.