Romania -- just a bit smaller than the United Kingdom and roughly the size of the state of Oregon -- is situated in the southeastern part of central Europe, and is made up, in roughly equal measures, of lowland, hilly, and mountainous terrain. It borders Hungary and Serbia to the west, Moldova and the Ukraine to the north and east, and Bulgaria to the south, with whom it shares, along with its northern neighbor Ukraine, a slither of Black Sea coastline to the east. Forming much of the border with Bulgaria and Serbia is the River Danube as it makes its way toward the Black Sea, where it forms one of Europe's largest wetlands, the Danube Delta.
About one-third of the country comprises the Carpathian Mountains, or "Transylvanian Alps," a soaring back-to-front Nike swish that separates Transylvania from the country's two other main provinces, Wallachia, to the south, and Moldavia, to the east. Through the centuries, these three historically distinct regions have been fought over by invaders from all quarters, and they now make up the bulk of Romania, a unified nation for fewer than 100 years.
Transylvania has always been a great prize, ruled largely by the Hungarian Empire and also settled by Saxon immigrants who came to protect it on behalf of the Hungarians. Here, along with splendid medieval villages centered on fortified churches, are the country's most popular tourist destinations, located at the foothills of the Carpathians. Wallachia was the first Romanian province to gain independence from Hungary, and is known as the "Heart of Romania," with the centrally located capital, Bucharest, rapidly reestablishing itself in a bid to reclaim its former moniker as the "Paris of the East." Moldavia, which once included Bessarabia (now part of the Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova), was another former Hungarian principality, which achieved independence in the mid-14th century. Known primarily for its beautiful painted monasteries in the largely rural Bucovine region, Moldavia's sylvan scenery is a backdrop for villages trapped in time and imbued with great folkloric traditions.
Even better known for its ancient village life is the small region of Maramures, in the northern part of Transylvania on the border with the Ukraine. Here, the sublime, unspoiled scenery shelters stunning wooden churches and a bucolic way of life. Occupying the western fringe of the country are Crisana and Banat, former Austro-Hungarian strongholds that now border Hungary and Serbia, respectively. Overdevelopment has blighted the Black Sea coastal resorts of the easternmost region of Northern Dobrogea, so much so that many local sun-seekers now head instead to the Bulgarian coast. Visitors still seeking a coastal sojourn should make for the Danube Delta, where the unique wetland ecosystem is an enchanting destination, particularly for birders.