Colin Mansell tells us about a recent coach trip to Romania, home of Dracula, romantic castles and exciting winter sports.
We flew with British Airways from Heathrow and landed in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, just three hours later. Our coach picked us up from the airport and we went straight to Brasov, an historical town in the middle of Transylvania. On the journey, we passed through Prahova Valley, a beautiful mountain landscape full of snowy peaks and fast-flowing rivers. Prahova Valley is also home to several ski resorts, popular with both locals and foreigners. On arrival in Brasov, we checked into our 4-star accommodation, the Hotel ARO Palace and decided to stay in to eat, as we were tired from our journey and the hotel was so attractive and comfortable. We got things off to a good start by choosing a traditional Romanian meal: ‘sarmale’, which is cabbage stuffed with minced meat and topped with sour cream, and a polenta-like porridge called ‘mamaliga’. We also enjoyed countryside beef soup and delicious home-baked bread, accompanied by red Moldavian wine, 20 years old and brought straight up from the hotel cellars.
After a good night’s sleep, we went to visit Poiana Brasov, a beautiful and popular ski resort at an altitude of 1030 metres. Poiana is one of the most frequented resorts in Romania, due to its modern sports infrastructure, including a skating rink, sport fields and riding centres. There is an Olympic ski slope which had just hosted the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival, and another nine downhill and slalom runs covering over 20 kilometres. Lunch saw us feasting on more traditional Romanian food at ‘Coliba Haiducilor’ restaurant, which serves food in a picturesque wooden building close to the ski slopes. The long wooden tables and decorated walls create an old-fashioned atmosphere, as guns, dried peppers and corn cobs, and boar, sheep, wolf and bear skins surround the diners. We didn’t dare, but if you’re brave their speciality is the lamb soup which comes with half a lamb’s skull so you can spoon out the tongue and brains. An ideal accompaniment is the plum brandy, served in a blue ceramic tree trunk and impossible to drink without spilling.
Our third day in Romania saw us visiting Castle Bran, also known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’ and perhaps Romania’s most famous and popular tourist destination. In reality it is more beautiful than scary, but they do explore thoroughly the legend of the vampire and the history of castle. The original fortress on this site played an essential role in protecting the Hungarian king from the Ottomans and Tartars’ invasion, who were coming in from Wallachia through the Rucar Pass. This led the inhabitants of Brasov to build Castle Bran through their own hard work and paid for out of their own money.
Our final day in Romania saw us returning to Bucharest by coach to catch a flight home. On the way we stopped at Peles Castle, a Neo-Renaissance castle in the Carpathian Mountains. Built between 1873 and 1914, it belonged to the Romanian King Ferdinand, who is actually a relative of Queen Elizabeth II.
Our time in Romania was great, with an itinerary that really made the most of visiting all the key sights with plenty of time for relaxation – and of course for good food and wine as well. The snowy scenery dotted with romantic castles is beautiful, and Romania makes the most of the mountainous landscape by encouraging plenty of winter sports. Whether you are sporty or a history buff, a foodie or a wine expert, Romania is an ideal country for a group trip, especially by coach.