London lifestyle & travels with kids and babies
Medieval towns, mountainous borders, legendary castles and Gothic tales, read here about 15 wonderful things to do in my native Transylvania. And whilst I left it 27 years ago, we go back regularly in the last years to see the grandparents and yes Transylvania with kids is feasible and delightful. King Charles III, former Prince of Wales loves those lands, and so do we!
1. Castles, Gothic fortresses and myths: from the iconic Gothic Black Church in Brasov, to mythic Dracula’s castle in Bran, the lands are filled with beautiful architecture, Saxon walls, colourful baroque buildings and tales. From Bucharest to Transylvania there’s Peles Castle in Sinaia, well known and well raved about including Netflix movies (A Christmas Prince, The Royal Wedding, The Royal Baby as well as The Royal Matchmaker).
Experience the road less travelled at Rasnov medieval fortress, originally constructed from wood and erected to protect Transylvanian villages and eventually transformed into a stone dwelling. The citadel is home to the feudal art museum with weapons, tools, stamps and local crafts. Next door and still on the road less travelled, we warmly recommend Das Fort and its gourmet restaurant in a cobbled stone courtyard, 3 X 18th century houses beautifully brought back to life. A further 15 minutes drive from Rasnov, there’s also Cuibul de lemn, cute and tranquil hideaway between tall trees and Carpathians peaks.
2. Hiking and trekking. There’s unspoiled wilderness with stunning scenery and all sorts of difficulty levels. Tampa in Brasov makes a great 2 hours hike even with young kids, we used to go often in our childhood, schooltrips or friends trips in the week-end. Postavaru trek from Poiana Brasov is feasible we reckon with kids above 8 years old, but to be fair we love it more in the winter and skiing. There’s also cable cars for both, so one can go up the easy way and enjoy the descent walking. For more vigorous hikes, check out Jepii Mici or Jepii Mari from Busteni, we reckon 8 hours including Babele (The old ladies) and the Sphinx (all from Bucharest to Transylvania and if time allows, well worth spending the day) .
3. Medieval cities : some of Europe’s best-preserved medieval towns, most notably Sighisoara, Brasov and Sibiu, are located here. 3 hours north of Bucharest, my childhood city Brasov is no doubt my favourite, I raved at lenght in a dedicated article in here. Old meets new in Brasov, the city features Saxon walls and bastions, an expansive Council Square with Tampa in the background, ringed by restaurants and cafes by cobbled streets. For a week in Transylvania would definitely recommend including Sighisoara, a perfectly intact 15th century gem with nine towers, narrow passageways, cobbled streets and ornate churches. UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sighisoara is also the birthplace of Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes), who inspired Bram Stoker’s creation, Count Dracula and the much loved Hotel Transylvania movies. And for a longer Transylvania itinerary, we reckon Sibiu retains the grandeur of its earlier days when rich and powerful guilds dominated regional trade. Designated European Capital of Culture in 2007, Sibiu is similarly lined with colourful houses on cobblestone streets and bounded by imposing city walls and defence towers overlooking the river Cibin.
4. Winetasting : In 2021 we felt in love with Villa Vinea and the charming landscape of the Tarnave river, with hills and vineyards looking like an untamed Tuscany. Heiner Oberrauch, Villa Vinea owner started in 2004 in here producing beautiful local wines like Fetească Regală and Fetească Albă as well as international varieties such as Gewürztraminer and Kerner. We adored the afternoon winetasting session in the middle of the vineyards, artisan cheese and mineral crisp wines, stocking up on stories and bottles. A hidden gem and on the road less travelled, Villa Vinea makes a wonderful 30minutes drive from Targu Mures or 1 hour from Praid saltmines.
5. Charming villages: Viscri is by now well known and raved about, including King Charles III, former Prince of Wales. Arguably the most popular village in Transylvania, not only is it a Unesco World Heritage site but it is the village much loved by Prince of Wales who has a traditional farmhouse in here since 2006. And whilst the Prince fell for the area’s historic beauty and has helped develop schemes to preserve heritage architecture, Viscri recently feels rather overrun by tourists and cars. And Viscri’s popularity raises many question of whether sustainable tourism really is achievable in Transylvania’s old small villages. And “if the authenticity goes, then we are just a museum, and we really don’t want to become that.” say the locals.
We stopped in 2021 in Viscri for a summer fete and absolutely loved the vibes, but yes the crowds were there, on one joyous summer evening with live music and traditional dancing. On the road less travelled, we recommend Marginimea Sibiului, located at the foothills of the Cindrel Mountains, a half-hour drive from Sibiu, is – a string of 18 villages, rich in architecture, history and heritage. And still on the road less travelled, there’s Talisoara village and a wonderful pied a terre at Castelul Daniel, Vargyas Gorge short drive away, one wonderful cellarium spa and a cute little village.
5. Trufle hunting from August until February in Cund, Valea Verde Rural Retreat.
6. Go underground. Yes, you read us well, Transylvania’s saltmines are believed to have therapeutic properties and have been revamped to include massage, churches, restaurants, playgrounds, art galleries. And especially after too many hot summer days in Transylvania with over 30 degrees, one may be delighted to spend a day at a refreshing 16 degrees Celsius. The buses take the explorers to lunar landscapes – we spent 2 days at Praid saltmine and we definetely recommend booking a visit.
7. Rich cuisine. Yes Pescatarian (like me), vegetarians and vegans may struggle in traditional Romanian restaurants as the traditional cuisine is pork heavy, sausages in various shapes and forms. But fear not, there will be always great traditional dishes like polenta and shepherds cheese, aubergine salads, tarama salads, bean dips, pies and papanasi (cheese doughnuts).
8. Drive the greatest road in the world, Transfagarasan Highway. Rising at an altitude of 2,034 meters, the highway that Jeremy Clarkson labelled “the greatest road in the world” twists and turns dramatically through the southern Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, connecting the cities of Sibiu and Pitesti. With its breathtaking views, crazy hairpin turns, and impossibly steep descents, the Transfagarasan Highway is as much a fantastic challenge for cyclists and motorcycle riders as it is a driver’s paradise.
9. Check out the lakes. Balea sits at 2,034 m in the Fagaras Mountains of Transylvania, the crystal-clear Balea Lake is surrounded by some of Romania’s most magnificent alpine scenery. Declared a scientific reservation, this area provides excellent hiking, climbing, and skiing opportunities, while also playing host to Eastern Europe’s first ever Ice hotel, during winter.
The salty lakes like Sovata’s are also highly popular; I personally found them way too crowded August 2021 and would happily settle for the road less travelled like Yaz by Harman (10minutes drive from Brasov), a hidden gem for aperols, wakeboard, SUP, great DJs in the week-end and easy yum food.
10. Skiing at Poiana Brasov, just 12 Km away from Brasov. While the slopes here are best suited to beginners and intermediate skiers, the resort’s après-ski scene has something for everyone, from lively bars and clubs to traditional restaurants serving authentic Romanian cuisine. Hotel options are great, from atmospheric self-catered chalets to luxury hotels.
11. Bear spotting in Poiana Brasov, Zabola Estate or even better at Liberty Bear Sanctuary in Zarnesti, the biggest brown bear sanctuary worldwide.
12 Ghosts hunting at Zabola Estate, my friends swear by them. Or if you are a cynical like me, just take the road less travelled once again and indulge into Mikes family’s estate, old stables and wonderful cuisine and wines.
13. Slowing down at the spa by the outdoor hot tubs in the middle of the mountains or by cellariums in the countryside. Over the years we went religiously to Teleric and Ana Hotels in Poiana; in 2021 we loved the road less travelled at Daniel’s cellarium: scrub bar, water circuit, virillium, szekler kneipp and hay spa relaxation room.
14. Mountainbiking and watersports from SUP to wakeboarding, kayaking, river rafting and tubing. And for the serious adrenalin junkees, there’s paragliding !
15. Go back in time and observe the old ways at shepherds huts, artisan markets and blacksmiths, horseriding in the forests or exploring the rolling hills with hay stacks. Culinary wise Poiana must have the most indulgent traditional popular restaurants (Stana, Coliba, Vanatorul, Sura Dacilor ) but once again for the road less travelled we would suggest Cuibul de lemn by Rasnov or Ioana hotel Sinaia. And for more village charm and old ways we warmly recommend Diana Comsa’s book on Secrets of Transylvania !
From Bucharest to Transylvania we reckon private transfers or car hire are best, make sure you time the travels well, as the infrastructure remains poor and traffic jams could make a 2 hours by night and 166km to Brasov become a 7 hours journey stuck in traffic. For years now we prefer landing after 8pm in Bucharest and travelling late evenings or nights and transfer back to Bucharest early morning, otherwise one could easily spend the day in traffic. We have attempted trains as well in 2019, delays, tired carriages and dirty facilities, I’d give them a miss. For hotels in Bucharest we recommend Athenee Palace Hilton and for summer days with kids in tow we raved about Bucharest in here.
Travelling to Romania during the pandemic (February 2021 & August 2021). Being fully vaccinated and travelling from UK to Romania was easy, just a couple of extra forms and tests. For coming back to London we booked our private tests 3 days ahead of our travels and thereafter booked for London Day 2 private tests. The travelling guidance has been fluid though, always best to check the latest UK Foreign travel advice.