Transylvania Travel

Sibiu – The Red Fortress City

In southwestern Transylvania, Romania lies the city of Sibiu. It got the name of the ‘Red Fortress’ due to the massive red brick walls built to protect the city after 1241. The walls encircling the town were four kilometers in length, and had 39 towers, a number of which still survive. For a map of locations visited in Romania, click here.

The 15th century defensive walls on the southern side of Sibiu, with the Tower of the Potters.

The EU designated Sibiu the “Capital of Culture” in 2007 and gave the city a facelift. The heart of the old city reminded me a bit of Austria, and since it was part of the Hapsburg empire for most of the 1700’s and part of the 1800’s, it’s no wonder why. The old center has an upper and lower section, and the upper section has been largely pedestrianized, making the walk through the squares a delight.

Student art project on the Piaţa Mare.

A three-eyed roof staring at us! This unique style of windows in the roof is common in Sibiu.

There are three interlocking squares in the upper old town, Piaţas Mare, Huet, and Mică, all flanked by baroque palaces and other buildings.

A view of the 14th century Evangelical church and Piaţa Huet from the Council Tower.

The old Council Tower (rebuilt in 1588) in the upper old town.

A view of Piaţa Mare from the top of the Council Tower.

Steps from lower town to the upper town.

Although we just stayed overnight, Sibiu would be a great alternative base to Braşov for exploring Transylvania. We stayed in the tiny village of Talmacel, about 15km south of Sibiu, at the Guesthouse Rustic (not that rustic!).

The Guesthouse Rustic in Talmacel, about 15 km south of Sibiu. Good quiet room.

Be forwarned that this village was not on “Google Maps” as of May 2012. We loved the pension, and enjoyed watching the cows coming home through the village streets below our room.

The cows coming home on the village street below our pension room.

Sighişoara, Romania – Birthplace of “Dracula”

A view of Sighişoara and surrounding countryside.

Sighişoara is the best-preserved medieval city in Transylvania. Vlad “The Impaler” Ţepeş (“Dracula”) was born here in 1431, his father being “Vlad Dracul,” a member of the “Order of the Dragon.”  For a map of locations we visited in Romania, click here.

The plaque on Vlad Dracul’s home, the birthplace of Vlad “The Impaler” Ţepeş.

Vlad “The Impaler” Ţepeş birthplace, the yellow house on the left.

The origins of the town date back to Roman times, and German Saxons moved here during the 12th century, being promised autonomy in return for defending Transylvania from the Ottomans. About 500 Germans still live here. The towers (9 of them remain) and walls surrounding the old town are from the 14th and 15thcenturies. You can walk around the old town in less than an hour, although there are some interesting museums and churches to visit also. We enjoyed exploring the old narrow lanes and towers. This town has the perfect look for a “Dracula” movie.

The main entrance to the old citadel of Sighişoara, under the Clock Tower built in the 14th century.

In medieval times, Sighişoara was in a good location for defensive purposes, situated on a hill surrounded the Târnava Mare river, and between the cities of Braşov and Sibiu. When the town came under siege, the alarm was given by a big bell.  Everyone had a specific duty to contribute to the protection of the town, based on their training over the years. The craftsmen would fight from the fortress walls and towers, the women and children would prepare hot water and pitch which they would throw upon the heads of the attackers, the old men would give advice and the old women would take care of the wounded. Each guild had a tower that it built and defended.

The Tinsmith’s Tower and defensive walls of Sighişoara.

The Bootmaker’s Tower.

Built in 1666, The Covered Staircase has 173 steps leading up to a school and the 13th century “Church on the hill.”

Practicalities. We stayed in a small pension just outside the old citadel, called Pensiune Citadela Sighişoara, which can be found on

The Pensiune Citadela Sighişoara is on the right, with our car parked in front.

This pension was in an excellent location and had decent rooms with exposed old wooden beams, which gave our accomodation a medieval feel. There is a tourist information office just across the street from Vlad Ţepeş’ home (now a restaurant). We ate a very good dinner at the “Stag House” or Casa cu Cerb, just a hundred feet from Vlad Ţepeş’s home, which is also a hotel. Prince Charles of the United Kingdom stayed here in 2002.

The Casa cu Cerb (hotel and restaurant) is the white building on the right.

The Piaţa Cetăţii is the geographical center of the town, and is the citadel’s main thoroughfare.  The first homes were built around this square.

Piaţa Cetăţii, the main old town square.

A Tour of Romania – The Europe of Yesteryear

We just completed a great vacation to Romania. Most of our friends were asking “Why are you going to Romania? “or even “Where is Romania?” Admittedly, Romania is not the first place one usually thinks of for a European vacation, but that’s because many people don’t know what the country has to offer rather than it not being a good place to go. We flew into Bucharest and traveled north to Transylvania, where we made a loop for about 9 days. This part of Romania has beautiful snow-capped mountains, with green valleys and thick forests, fantastic little villages with fortified churches (which are unique to Transylvania), great castles and medieval towns. We visited in May, and ran into very few tourists in most locations.

Central Romania and the main sites we visited. Transylvania is in the heart of Romania, north and northwest of Bucharest.

The Transylvanian countryside of Romania

The fortress and town of Rupea in Transylvania.

Romania is in a time warp; modern cars are zipping by on roads, passing horse-drawn carts carrying families into the village or hay to the barn. We saw some folks sitting in their horse-drawn cart talking on a cell phone! It is an agricultural society, with huge fields being planted by hand, and horse-drawn plows tilling the fields. And then you have the ugly years of communist rule under Ceauşescu, and a number of burnt-out old factories blighting some of the towns, but luckily these do no mar most of the historic sights.

Typical road – cars, trucks and horse-drawn carts all sharing the lanes.

A typical Romanian village scene.

Women on their way to their fields – working the land is a family affair.

Here are a few things to know if you’re considering this country as a vacation destination. In future posts we’ll describe in more detail the sites we visited.

Cost. Go now. Romania is quite cheap compared to Western Europe. It is not yet on the Euro which keeps costs more reasonable. The cost of gasoline is on par with Western Europe, but accommodations are much less (most rooms were an average of about 35 Euros per room, which is about 1/3 of what you would pay in Western Europe). Food was another bargain; a good meal in a nice restaurant for 3 people was typically around US $35 total, not including alcohol. Entry fees to most sites were $2-3, with a few exceptions.

Roads.  We rented a car, which is the best way to get around, since many of the interesting sights are in little towns. Our guidebooks warned us about the roads, and yet we found most of them to be in good or better condition. Yes, there were a few roads with numerous potholes and lots of patches, but those were really pretty rare, even on the small backcountry roads. Some roads to little villages are still dirt or gravel, or a combination of gravel and some pavement. It was not uncommon for many village roads to be dirt. Everything is well sign posted. We never bought a map and just followed road signs and used Google maps on our iPhone for some directions (although we did discover Google hadn’t mapped some little villages). I found Romanian drivers to be similar to other places in Europe–driving pretty fast, but also highly alert and reasonably patient. I would say they were actually less crazy than places like Italy.

A dirt/gravel road in the village of Viscri, Transylvania, Romania.

Our rental car in Romania.

B&B’s. We found our accommodations through There are not many large hotels, especially in the smaller towns. Our rooms were clean, many were recently remodeled, with good showers and decent beds. Every place we stayed had free wireless internet, a very handy feature.

Our B&B in Horezu, Romania

Inside our B&B room in Brasov.

Food. Another thing we’d correct about our guidebooks (Lonely Planet and Rough Guide) is regarding the food. The books did not rave about most of the food dishes, and yet we thought the local cuisine was very good; many high quality meats served with savory sauces, good salads and soups. Good pizzas and pastas are also available. As mentioned above, you can eat a very well for about $10 per person per meal.

One of our many excellent meals in Romania. (those are bread bowls with tasty soup inside!)