Itinerary: Romanian Roadtrip

Itineraries are a writeup of trips we have completed. They are intended to inspire and help those planning a trip to the area, not necessarily a “this is what you should do and where you should go”. Explore and get lost; that’s what makes it your trip!

 

Romania is a seldom visited country – aside from the capital, Bucharest which is a staple for cheap stag and hen weekends. This is unfortunate as there is so much more to see: from ice hotels and ski resorts in winter to bear viewing and hiking in summer. There is also the profusion of beautiful old towns and cities or the Danube Delta, one of the foremost wetlands in Europe.

For our first trip together in February 2013 Verena and I decided to do a five day road trip round part of Romania, starting in the capital, Bucharest, and travelling past Bran (Dracula’s) Castle to the beautiful old city of Brasov and then on to the ice hotel high up in the Transylvanian Alps. We stopped in small villages and at viewpoints along the way before heading back to Bucharest for the last day.

 

Trip Type: Road Trip

Length: 5 Days

Country: Romania

Total Distance: 388 miles / 625 km

 

Points of Interest:

  • Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle)
  • Poiana Brasov (ski resort)
  • Brasov (Old Town)
  • Făgăraș Castle
  • Făgăraș Mountains Ice Hotel
  • Bucharest

 

 

What you need to know:

  • English speaking was limited. We had several situations where pointing was our only saviour and menu guesswork was how we got our food – so take a dictionary.
  • Romanian wine is surprisingly good and very cheap, even at the top of mountains.
  • Food and drink in general is cheap, along with good accommodation. We averaged around £40 per night for the pair of us in nice hotels.
  • The roads we travelled along were good, contrary to what we had expected.
  • Dogs seemed to be everywhere in Romania, including service stations and around the Ice Hotel but they were pretty laid back. There’s no reason to worry.
  • There appeared to be a fair amount of poverty in villages and Romanians can have a bad reputation BUT we felt safe everywhere we went and everyone was friendly.

 

The new church at Făgăraș

The new church at Făgăraș

Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive Bucharest Airport and travel to Poiana Brasov – 100 miles / 160 km

Day 2: Poiana Brasov to Brasov – 8 miles / 13 km

Day 3: Brasov to Făgăraș Ice Hotel – 75 miles / 120 km (+Cable car)

Day 4: Făgăraș Ice Hotel to Bucharest – 190 miles / 310 km

Day 5: Bucharest to Bucharest Airport – 10 miles / 16 km

 

Detailed Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive Bucharest Airport and travel to Poiana Brasov – 100 miles / 160 km

We flew in to Bucharest Otopeni Airport at 2pm, picked up our rental car and started the drive to Poiana Brasov, a Ski Resort 100 miles to the north of Bucharest.

It’s a small resort compared to those in the Alps but it’s big enough for a day of skiing and the rates are cheap. Just don’t expect the latest skis/board. We hired equipment from our hotel but later found out there may be a couple of hire shops by the gondolas.

On the way we drove past Bran Castle, the castle allegedly related to the Dracula stories and Vlad the Impaler. While the Dracula links are questionable the castle itself is stunning. Unfortunately due to the time it took to drive to it, it was dark and closed when we got there. It is however lit up at night so you can still see it.

Driving in Romania

Driving in Romania

The mountain roads after Bran are windy and long but in good condition. We drove through a lot of run down villages and past industrial works. Prior to Bran a lot of the trip was on a broad, straight multi lane highway.

Note: Both Google and our satnav suggested it would take two hours to get from the Airport to Poiana Brasov. In reality it took significantly longer, more like 4-5 hours with a short stop at Bran.

Day 2: Poiana Brasov to Brasov – 8 miles / 13 km

Verena having a rest

Verena having a rest

Day 2 was mostly taken up with skiing and boarding. The runs, while never going to compare to large French resorts, were well pisted, pretty tree lined affairs. The other bonus was they were quiet; there was rarely a busy slope the entire day and there were no queues at the lifts. We had a nice morning but by early afternoon both the main gondala and cablecar had broken so we headed to Brasov at 3pm.

The drive down to Brasov was along a winding road with some stunning views over the town. Finding the hotel was interesting as the old city is a maze of small, one-way streets, but eventually we found it.

We had chosen a lovely building near the castle, called Casa Cranta, overlooking much of the town. One of the many benefits of Romania is the price. We stayed almost exclusively in small 4* hotels and paid about £40 per night.

The city itself is divided into old and new, with the city centre in the old city consisting of red tiled buildings, churches and a castle. We walked to the castle, wandered around the old city and had dinner on the square.

The town of Brasov

The town of Brasov

Day 3: Brasov to Făgăraș Ice Hotel – 75 miles / 120 km (+Cable car)

We headed off early towards the Făgăraș Mountains and cable car up to the Ice Hotel. We stopped occasionally to look at the views on the way and parked up in Făgăraș itself to walk round the huge fortress there. There is also a massive church with huge gold domes being built in the city.

Driving to the Făgăraș mountains

Driving to the Făgăraș mountains

The road from the city of Făgăraș to the cable car ran along the plain to the north of the Făgăraș mountains but the last few miles to the cable car was along another long winding mountain road. In summer you can drive the entire length of the Transfăgărășan road to the top of the mountain, through a long tunnel and down the southern side of the range, but in winter the road ends at the cable car.

We headed up the cable car and spent the afternoon wandering round the small plateau that in summer is dominated by Balea lake. We visited the two hotels/restaurants and checked out our room in the Ice Hotel. We also befriended Frostbite, a young dog wandering around up there. After dinner (and very reasonably priced, tasty, Romanian wine) we headed back to the Ice Hotel, danced to the techno music (mainly to keep warm) and headed to bed.

The cable car up to the ice hotel

The cable car up to the ice hotel

Note: The cable car up to the hotel only runs once or twice a day. Make sure you know those times or you may not be able to get to the hotel that day. You cannot drive up in winter.

Day 4: Făgăraș Ice Hotel to Bucharest – 190 miles / 310 km

After getting up we wandered around a bit more, heading through the snow to the 884m long Bâlea tunnel. In winter it is closed but there was a small door allowing us access to the extremely long, dark, tunnel. At the end the tunnel opens up to a stunning view over the southern slopes of the Făgăraș.

Back at the cablecar we headed down to the car, drove back down to the plain, back up to pick up my forgotten shoes (…) and back down again before heading off back to Bucharest via the E81, to the west of the Făgăraș mountains. The road runs along a large gorge for much of its route but the road is fast and straight. In fact we did the route in around what Google estimated.

Arriving in Bucharest we found our hotel and headed out on foot to see the surroundings by night.

Day 5: Bucharest to Bucharest Airport

The hotel we stayed in was fairly central and we spent the morning viewing the capital’s sights. The city is certainly no Prague but it does have some attractive features: top of the list being the Palace of Parliament, the worlds second largest building. It was built by Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu in the 1980’s and is still a controversial building today.

After a few hours wandering and lunch it was the end of our few days in Romania. We headed to the airport, dropped off our car and entered the airport terminal…

A Romanian Village

A Romanian Village

 

Other Options:

There are a multitude of other places we had to miss out or skip on our whistle-stop tour that we would have loved to see. These include:

Sibiu – One of the oldest and supposedly most charming cities in Romania. It is apparently one of THE places to go in Romania and was cultural capital of Europe in 2007.

Poenari Castle – Built by Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) during his lifetime and used as one of his homes. The Fortress is now in partial ruins and rarely visited by tourists, but it looks like a great place to go and see.

Rasnov Castle – Can be seen in the hills between Bran and Brasov, we just didn’t have the time to stop there.

Armenis – Something a bit different. The area is home to a rewilding effort dedicated to bringing back the European Bison. A few have so far been released in the area and there are plans to have a Visitors Centre and guided trips to see them. Something to consider for the future, although it is apparently a stunning wilderness area in its own right.

About The Author

A Geologist by trade, Andrew loves travelling and photography, especially to wild and natural places. He needs to pay for it by working full time so until he and Verena can travel the world full time he has become a specialist in creating as much travelling time as possible from their annual leave.

One Response

  1. Tripimize

    I’ve always wanted to go to Romania! Only partially driven by my love of watching gymnastics 🙂 I try to do travel itineraries on my blog as well (www.tripimize.com) and it is challenging to get the right amount of detail in a readable, non overwhelming format. You did a great job of that here. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
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