It’s no secret I love Road trips! Around this time last year, I found myself somewhere along the winding roads of Transylvania, Romania’s heart and soul when it comes to nature, crafts and ancient traditions. Today I’m telling you everything you need to know to create an awesome Road Trip yourself!
Transylvania is one of the wildest places Europe still has to offer. Although things are changing fast, setting foot in this region, feels like stepping back in time for at least a hundred years. Don’t be surprised to meet a horse and carriage in your way (or a bear..). Add in some medieval town and fortresses and you’re all set!
I personally planned this journey to give my boyfriend a speed course on Romania. With the help of my Romanian friend and guide, we planned a trip to soak up as much autumn colors as possible. Because of our awesome guide, some guts and the ever returning illusion that we could make it before sundown, we embarked upon a trip that I can now only call a crazy adventure I would gladly bore my grandchildren with some day.
For now I’ve just made a list of all the highlights on my journey and some tips to get you started. As you know, I’ve written about this country extensively. Not just because I’ve spent a good two and a half month traveling through it, but because in Transylvania alone there’s so much to see and do that I couldn’t cover half of it even if I really tried. Also, I only had a week to get from the Netherlands to Romania and back. Quite impressive, you will soon see.
Sfatului Square, Brasov
The most important thing about doing a road trip is the amount of stuff you get to see without counting on it. We drove passed the wineries of Jidvei, drank spring water in Valcele and discovered the cute little Saxon town of Medias. Listing all of the stops would be crazy, so I made a list of the things I visited and highly recommend:
My road trip started in Brasov, where we rented our car at a little place called Melania – I highly recommend it! I can bore you all day by telling you about Brasov and its many sides, but I will leave you with this: the important highlights of the old town can be visited within half a day and when you add a visit to Mount Tampa – which will be looking like a bouquet of autumn shades by then – you’re off to a great start!
- 21 tips for visiting Brasov & Beyond
- Where to eat in the main area of Brasov
If there’s one place to see in autumn, it’s the Lake of St. Ann, or Sfanta Ana as the Romanians call it. This lake dresses itself in autumn colors and because I traveled in the low season, there was no-one to disturb me while admiring the lake and the colorful forest around us.
- why you should visit lake Sfanta Ana in autumn
Sfanta Ana in autumn colors.
The best way to wake up is by staying at the Lostrita pension, a small family owned hotel located at the shore of lake Bicaz in Potoci. Take a walk around the lake, relax on one of the sun beds next to shore and dig into a meal of freshly caught trout when you’re done exploring.
Tip: before reaching lake Bicaz, you’ll drive passed the red lake (Lacu Rosu) and the Bicaz Canyon. Both spectacular and breathtaking places you can’t miss when in the area!
When you’ve been in Romania before, you’ll probably recognize the name from one of the many water brands the country has to offer (it happens to be my favorite!). Apart from drinking healthy spring water, Borsec is an excellent place to hike and enjoy nature. Close to the town center you’ll find a stunning park with its very own bear cave.
Waking up in Lostrita, at the shore of Lake Bicaz.
After a few days in nowhere, spending time in a real city can feel like a relief. Especially when this city is Cluj-Napoca! Cluj is a wonderful student city filled with little bars, restaurants and historic buildings. Eating 1 meter of mici (Romanian minced meat sausages) at Vikings was my favorite!
- Visit Cluj-Napoca Like a Local
The Turda salt mine
It’s not often you can say you’ve spent time in a new world wonder. The Turda salt mine is part of this prestigious list, which makes it a destination you can’t miss. Spend some time down below to get your lungs fully functioning again, or play around with sounds in the echo room.
- Exploring the Turda Salt Mine
One of the best things about visiting Romania in autumn is the lack of tourists. Historic places like Sighisoara tend to overflow with tourists during the high season, and now’s the time for you to take a relaxed stroll within the old town walls by yourself. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Dracula’s birth house!
- Sighisoara – A Tourist Hotspot on the Rise
The old streets of Sighisoara
Organize your road trip through Transylvania
First of all, I can call myself extremely lucky for having people around willing to plan this amazing trip for me. I couldn’t have done it without my guide, as he is Romanian and knows much, much more than I’ll ever know about his country. Still there are some things you should be aware of when you plan a road trip like this:
Now will be a good time to tell you my road trip was twice as big as described and lasted only 5 days. Impossible? Not really, but I must say it wasn’t the most relaxing trip I ever took because of our time schedule.
The first thing I would really recommend is taking enough time to do your trip. Transylvania is an exquisite place and more than once you will feel the need to get out of the car and fill your camera with amazing shots. Also, never believe estimated times on route planners! Many roads aren’t in the best condition anymore and can be quite dangerous, you don’t want to be racing them to make your next stop in time!
For the first time in my – adult – life, I felt lucky for not having a drivers’ license. Let me explain: while Transylvania is famous for many positive things – such as ancient traditions, folklore and breathtaking views – it’s also a bit on the rural side for a Western European city girl, like me. If I tell you how many drunk truck drivers I have encountered or how many accidents I’ve seen (happen), you would simply give up and stay home. Transylvanian roads are known to be bumpy and drivers to be impatient. On a brighter note, things are changing and most Romanians now follow the zero tolerance rule when it comes to drinking and driving. However, the further you get into nowhere, the crazier some people tend to get.
A good example is the village we accidentally drove through in search of our next stop, Medias. Before we knew it, our car got chased by farm dogs and villagers, looking for a good time on a normal week day. I still break out in sweat when I think about the fact we had to turn around and drive through it again to get back in the right direction. 9 out of 10 times villagers are friendly, hospitable people, but you don’t want to make a mistake on this one. I suggest you don’t stop and get out of the car unless you’re absolute certain you’re not solely there for other peoples’ entertainment. When you use your gut instinct, things will be just fine.
Car vs public transport
Organized tours and public transportation will only get you so far. I don’t want to bum you out, but if there’s one thing you need to see the real Romania, it’s a car. Although plenty interesting cities are connected by railways, the rural side of the country is only accessible to those who dare to drive. And let’s face it, the reason we want to do a road trip in Transylvania is because of the variety of stunning, yet less accessible nature. Still, if you leave out some of the listed destinations above, you could do this trip partly by using public transportation, local peoples’ hospitality or your legs.
If you don’t want to drive, you can always create your own schedule on CFR Calatori.
Apart from renting a car and paying for gas, this trip can be as non-expensive as you want. Lunch can be easily picked up by pulling over at small food shops or buying it from old ladies, selling produce from the side of the road. Mici (Romanian grilled sausages) or fresh berries from the forrest were my favorite roadside treats.
Tip: Make sure you have enough change with you, Pulling out a 100 or 200 Lei bill is like waving around a gun, locals just don’t have change for it.
Accommodation, which usually makes a big dent in your travel budget, can be sought out cheap and on the go, as fall is a non-touristic and affordable season to travel in. We didn’t pre-book anything on our trip and yet, every night, we found a great place to sleep with no fuss at all.
However, when you happen to travel during the summer – or when you just want to enjoy your surroundings without havnig to worry about your accommodation for the night – there are a few spots I recommend:
- Wake up with the best view in the world at Pensiuna Lostrita, on the shore of Lake Bicaz.
- Spend the night in a romantic room in Sighisoara.
- Or meet the cutest old lady renting out Pensiuna Mimi in Medias.
Picking your stops
The best thing about roadtripping through Transylvania is the variety of things to see and do. I’m sure there are a million things to add to your trip, such as the beautiful and historic city of Sibiu, the rolling hills of the Bran Pass or Hunedoara’s Corvin Castle. Romania’s beauty isn’t yet well advertised, so the best you can do is speak with locals or use the websites that do have some current info.
- Romania Tourism
- 13 photos that prove Romania is magical
Are you planning a road trip through Romania or Transylvania? Feel free to ask your questions below!
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