Thinking of Transylvania sparks beautiful childhood memories of Bram Stoker and his unforgettable character, Dracula. Known for its Bran Castle and vampire legends, Transylvania is a historical region in central Romania, bordered by high mountains, raw nature and deep forests.
A mystical place, full of history and traditions, Transylvania is one of my favorite places to visit. Hiking in Romania is a beautiful experience, which fills your heart with joy. You have a variety of wonders around, from glacier lakes, to brown bear reservations, from medieval towns, to world's best driving road. I spent most of my life in Romania and I've yet to discover all its hidden gems.
To get the best of the region, I recommend renting a car. You will be driving on mountainous roads, so getting a good car is imperative. Start your Transylvanian journey by exploring the city of Brasov. Only 10 km away there is Poiana Brasov, a hiking and skiing paradise in Romania.
I love strolling around Brasov's cobblestone streets. There's all sort of independent shops around which sell hand made clothes, jewelry and wooden artefacts. If you find yourself in Brasov during the summer time, you can buy ice cream from ambulant sellers. Grab a cone and relax in the medieval square called Piata Sfatului. Right around the corner you can marvel at the Black Church, one of Brasov's main tourist attractions.
The Black Church got its name due to its appearance after a fire in 1689. Still used by lutherans today, the Black Church is open to the public, and especially busy during July and August for the organ recitals.
Brasov is renowned for its traditional pretzels and super potent spirit named "Tuica". Tuica is an alcoholic beverage made as a result of plum fermentation. It is drank from shot glasses and it is customary to have a shot before and after a meal.
If you visit a true Transylvanian's house, tradition dictates to be served fresh bread with salt and a glass of Tuica.
The last stop in Brasov is the wonderful Thread Street (Strada Sforii). It got its name because, you guessed, it's very narrow. Even today, when I visit the Thread Street, I hope that it's secretly a hidden door to a parallel world. I think I've watched too much fantasy in my life. Its fairytale cobble stone and mysterious dark corners, make me think of sorcery, bats and myths.
Once you finished walking around the Brasov's beautiful enchanting streets, make your way to Rasnov Fortress. Have a hike to the top of the hill where you will discover a medieval fortress, built around 1211. Rasnov Citadel features a well which carries the legend of two Turkish prisoners.
Legend has it that during a siege, the inhabitants of the citadel made two prisoners dig a well in return for their freedom. The two turkish captives dug for over 17 years during which they wrote verses from the Quran on the walls of the well. Traces of the writings can still be seen today. Nobody knows what happened to the prisoners in the end, some say they have been released, others tell the exact opposite.
Transylvania has acquired a lot of symbolism over time and many people think of it as Romanian's beating heart. When you are in Transylvania you cannot skip the long wished for visit to the infamous Count Dracula's castle.
Count Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler, was presumed to be a Prince by day and vampire by night. Even today, many swear that Transylvania is cursed and during the full moon, creatures from the forests come out and fetch beautiful girls, whilst vampires are ruling the region. The reality is that Vlad the Impaler acquired his name due to his practice of impaling the enemies, to preserve his reputation. As for the vampires, very likely the stories prevail due to the vast number of bats which fly around Bran Castle, especially at twilight.
Bran Castle, Dracula's former residence, is open to the public and most certainly a great experience for adults and children alike. The castle itself is well maintained, it features some great spots with magnificent views and the mystery, secret corridor.
The journey around the castle allowed myself to get carried away by going back in time and retracing the steps of several historical figures who lived here before.
Once you soaked in Bran and Rasnov's history, myths and legends, drive to Moieciu and get settled here for a few days.
Located at an altitude of 1100 metres, Moieciu offers a great zen environment for the outdoors lovers. You can spend your day hiking, chilling in nature, doing yoga and even sun bathing during the summer months.
For the next few days, venture further through Transylvania and go check out La Chisatoarea, a beautiful waterfall, enter deep into the world of bats and see two spectacular caves, Valea Cetatii and the famous Dambovicioara. Nevertheless, don't forget to take it easy and make the most out of these gorgeous Sub-Carpathians landscapes.
If at any point you want more adrenaline, pop in the car and drive 1 hour toward the Piatra Craiului Mountains where you can hike on some saw like ridges and get to the very top at 2,238 metres (7,343 ft). As always, please note this is a serious hike and should be treated as such.
Whether you decide to hike in the mountains, stroll through raw nature, or be an adventure junkie on Romania's best ski slopes, you will end up having a great deal of fun. You will fall in love with Romania and you are guaranteed to want to come back for more.