When you think about Romania, what do you think of? Ugly communist buildings? Shaven-headed children in run-down orphanages? Oppressed people ruled by a tyrannical megalomaniac?
Or do you think of jagged mountain peaks, lush pine forests, pretty medieval towns, and gothic castles? Because you should.
Romania has certainly had some bad press over the years, but how many people realise that this is the Romania of the past, and that the country is now a great destination for the action-seeking or culture-hungry traveller?
Since returning from my trip, a number of people have expressed surprise that Romania is a destination worth considering, but the truth is that Romania has some of the most dramatic and beautiful countryside in Europe.
And it has some of the most impressive castles.
Peles Castle in Sinaia is located 135 km from Bucharest, close to the pretty medieval town of Brasov. It was commissioned by King Carol I after he fell in love with the mountains surrounding the valley, and Peles was designed as a palace featuring classic Italian Renaissance architecture.
With its stunning mountainside location and surrounding forests, it is the perfect example of a fairy-tale castle.
It is possible to take a day trip from Bucharest, but probably best not to be in too much of a rush as the trains are notoriously slow and unreliable. Take the Brasov train from Bucharest’s Gare du Nord station and get off in Sinaia—a small skiing town in the foothills of the Carpathians. The journey takes about two hours, and after a 70 minute delay, we were finally on our way.
The castle is a pleasant walk through the park and up through the valley, from the station. Colourful market stalls sell traditional handicrafts and the usual array of tacky souvenirs but, refreshingly, the vendors are not at all pushy. I stopped for some gingerbread and would definitely recommend it!
Although the weather was rather grey and misty, the trees still gleamed golden in the gloomy light of late autumn, and I couldn’t help but think of Jonathan Harker’s description of the approach to Dracula’s castle when I finally saw Peles.
“We kept on ascending, with occasional periods of quick descent, but in the main always ascending. Suddenly, I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the sky.”—‘Dracula’ Chapter 1
I didn’t go inside the castle as the queue was too long, but as I am generally more interested in the architecture of great buildings, rather than fancy furniture, I didn’t mind too much.
Once you have wandered around the castle, you should take a trip up the mountainside using the cable cars. As Sinaia is a very popular ski resort, it is possible to use the cable cars and ski-lifts to visit the top of the mountain. Ascending in the cable car, the mountain became shrouded in mist so I don’t have any pictures, but we did stop at a barbecue stall for a simple lunch of grilled sausages, potatoes and bread, and I can imagine that on a clear day the view would be spectacular.
Afterwards we made our way back to the station, where we had a 90 minute wait for the train home–it was a long day but totally worth it.
What is your impression of Romania? Have you visited Romania? Do you know of any other fairytale castles that I should visit? I’m thinking of making ‘Europe’s Fair-Tale Castles’ a feature on my blog!