We could have easily spent a month in Romania. But we only had ten days, and so we decided to focus this time on a Transylvania Highlights Tour – Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages.
We will come back again, because there is a lot more to see in this sleepy little country that tourist are just beginning to discover.
In the Middle Ages, what we know as Romania today, was split into three distinct regions; Wallachia in the south where today Bucharest is, Moldavia to the east, now split into Moldova and Romania and Transylvania in the west.
Today these regions are often referred to as Greater Romania, the Kingdom of Romania. A growing interest is to reunite the region and bring Moldova back into the Romanian speaking states.
“Romanian is an Eastern Romance language, descended from Latin with some German, French, English, Greek, Slavic, and Hungarian borrowings. Romanians are by far the most numerous group of speakers of an Eastern Romance language today. It has been said that they constitute “an island of Latinity” in Eastern Europe, surrounded on all sides either by Slavic peoples or by the Hungarians.” (source Wikipedia)
Our time in Transylvania was wonderful. We had good weather and enjoyed visiting four of the region’s main medieval towns; Brasov, Bran, Sighisoara and Sibiu.
Romania sustained minimal damage during World War II, relative to how much the rest of Europe sustained. Romania’s capital Bucharest was bombed as was the oil industry in the town of Ploiesti. Which means, luckily for us, the fairytale castles, medieval villages and citadels survived and are intact today.
If you had come here 25 years ago, just after the fall of communism, you would have found these villages much as they had been for centuries. A square in the center surrounded by tiny streets that spoke out to the high wall surrounding the fortification. The center square would likely have a church and a clock tower and the townspeople going about their daily business. Village folk would be selling the produce from the garden, the freshly made bread and cheese. There would still have been horses and carriages and local artisans. Think “Beauty and the Beast”. But today, these towns function primarily for the tourists, just like so many other places in Europe.
But despite that, we found the places we visited enjoyable, beautiful, friendly and full of wonderful history, architecture and food. Well worth a visit.
Much of this area’s habitation is traced back to the Saxons arriving in the 12th century. They are responsible for developing many of the villages during the middle ages in Transylvania, including the towns we spent time in. The fortified towns, amazing castles and fortresses and churches and houses still standing hundreds of years later are a result of the craftsmanship and fortitude of the Saxons.
The Gothic style is prevalent in parts of Transylvania and seen distinctly in the 14th century Bran’s Castle in Bran (the castle that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula), and the 14th century Black Church in Brasov.
The middle ages also brought the fortified towns to Transylvania, with Sibiu, Sighisoara and Brasov being exceptional examples of how the design focused on functionality and protection.
The city of Brasov today is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture representing the centuries of development in this mountain town.
Sighisoara is a nearly completely intact 15th century fortified citadel and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This tiny village is where Vlad the Impaler Dracul was born, the character that Bram Stoker turned into a fictional vampire. For the tourists, you’ll see some Dracula kitsch here, but luckily it is not overdone.
Sibiu is the grandest of the three towns, with a main square boasting a fabulous variety of Baroque and Renaissance as well as Gothic buildings and churches surrounded by parts of the remaining fortress and towers. Sibui was an important trade center with powerful guilds dominating the regional trade. Houses remain along the cobbled street and are brightly painted. The historic Journeyman house, where the wood carver guild once reigned, maintains the pole full of sharp objects often left for luck.
Transylvania enjoys many of the same foods you can find throughout Romania, but it also has it’s regional specialities. While in Transylvania we enjoyed;
Mititei – small rolled sausages without casing grilled and served with mustard
Eggplant Salad – we had this two ways, the first mixed with Mayonnaise, the second mixed with red peppers. Both were the consistence of dip like humus.
Ciorba – means soup and the Romanians love soup. So filling, warm and delicious you can find many delicious soups including a bean soup often served in a bread bowl, chicken noodle soup ( a favorite of the locals), goulash soup, lamb stew, pork sour soup, cabbage soup and many, many more.
Sarmele is cabbage rolls, similar to cabbage rolls we have enjoyed in other Eastern European countries but slightly different with a sour rye taste and dill.
Jumari – deep-fried smoked pork belly or bacon. I couldn’t stop eating this.
Placinta – means pie and the word is used for a pastry filled cheese item, but also used for other kinds of pies including savory pies similar to Sheperds Pie.
Papanasi – possibly my favorite of all the foods we tried is this lovely little dessert. I’m actually not much of a dessert person but this one is so delicious. Translated as Romanian Donut, the cheese filled dough is deep-fried, crispy on the outside and very moist and delicious on the inside. Served hot and then covered with yogurt or sour cream and berries. We had it once with blackberries and once with blueberries and both times so yummy good.
We have learned so much during our short visit to this beautiful, interesting and delicious country. We will return again someday to explore more. But until that day, we thank Romania and its wonderful people for such a pleasant visit.
Thank you! Multumesc! Fabulos!