Wallachia, of which Bucharest is now the capital, is the traditional heart of Romania; in fact, locals refer to it as Tara Româneasca -- "The Romanian Land." Named for the landowner princes, the Wallachs (or Vlachs), who ruled southern Romania from the 14th to the 18th century, its key historical figures (including notorious Vlad Tepes) were committed to defying Turkish control in one way or another. Proud claims insist that Wallachia was never actually part of the Ottoman Empire, enabling a distinctive post-Byzantine evolution in the arts and architecture that set it apart from the rest of the Balkans. Indeed, it was here that the uniquely Romanian architectural movement -- known as the Brâncovenesc style -- was developed by Constantin Brâncoveanu in the latter part of the 17th century; the best example of this being the beautifully frescoed Great Church at the Horezu Monastery.

Wallachia remains largely undiscovered, losing out to its famous northerly neighbor; most travelers get their "facts" directly from Dracula movies, associating the thrills of vampire tourism with Transylvania, whereas the "real" Count Dracula actually ruled Wallachia. Vlad the Impaler had his princely court in the city of Târgoviste, and any claims to a "Castle Dracula" really belong to the awesomely situated citadel at Poienari, north of the little town of Curtea de Arges, where there's another beautiful cathedral. Finally, north of Bucharest, on the Wallachia-Transylvania border, there is the ski resort of Sinaia, which boasts one of Europe's most beautiful palaces, Peles, now the finest museum in the country.