"I'm off to Romania for my vacation" -- that's not a sentence you hear very often, but that may be about to change as travelers start looking further a field for genuine European travel adventures with a difference. Among other things, Romania is a stunning country with perfectly preserved medieval cities and is extremely affordable with Eastern European prices for quality hotels, dining experiences and tours.
A highlight of any trip to Romania is a visit to legendary Transylvania, known as the land beyond the forests, with a cultural heritage forged from a combination of peoples, languages and traditions: Romanians, Germans, Hungarians and Gypsies. It is also the area synonymous with Vlad Tepes -- more notoriously known as Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Count Dracula. When you come across the impressive and imposing fortification that is the Castle Bran (Dracula's Castle), you will feel like you have stepped on to an old film set -- all you'll need is a dark night, a full moon and a thunder storm to complete the image.
The Romans were probably the first tourists to visit Romania. Apart from those who came to conquer, plunder and pillage, many visited for the abundance of thermal springs and the supposed health-giving properties of the waters there. There are no fewer than 70 spa resorts dotted throughout the country, with some of the main spas including Mangalia, Neptun, Eforie Nord, Covasna, Slanic Moldova, Vatra Dornei, Borsec, Sovata, Tusnad, Calimanesti, Govora, Herculane, Buzias and Baile Felix. The Romanian spa website (www.spa.ro) provides an interesting map of the spa areas and even outlines which resorts offers what remedies: Visit Buzias in the west for cardiovascular ailments or Ocna Sugatag in the north for rheumatic afflictions (or affections as the roughly-translated website calls them). Individual links give you information about nearby tourist attractions, accommodations and transportation options. There's also a website -- www.balneotourism.ro that offers spa-related land-only packages -- unfortunately it's only in Romanian. Still, with zero Romanian language skills, I still managed to navigate around the site and get prices for seven-night packages staying at the two-star Olanesti Hotel in the town of Olanesti with spa treatments included for $179 per person based on dual occupancy until April 15, 2006 (of course I'm not quite sure which particular spa treatments are included).
Continental Journeys (tel. 800/601-4343; www.continentaljourneys.com) has a selection of Romania and Romania and neighboring countries tours. Their eight-day/seven-night "Beautiful Romania" tour is a land-only trip that runs from April 1 to October 31, 2006 and costs $1359 per person with a minimum of two participants. The price includes airports transfers, seven-nights' superior and first-class hotel accommodations, breakfast and traditional dinner daily, local transportation, sightseeing and the services of an English-speaking guide. The tour starts in Bucharest and includes a city tour and visits to the mountain resort of Sinaia, the Peles Castle, Bran, Dracula's Castle, Brasov, the Black Church, Piatra Neamt, the medieval fortress of Prejmer, the Bicaz gorge, the painted monasteries of Bucovina (Sucevita, Voronet, Moldovita and the Humor Monastery), Marginea, the medieval fortress town of Sighisoara (A UNESCO World Heritage site -- considered to be the best preserved and continuously inhabited medieval city in Europe), Sibiu, Biertan village, the Brukenthal Museum, the village of Sibiel, the Cozia Monastery and Curtea de Arges.
They also have a special 14-day "World Heritage Cultural Sites in Romania" tour that departs daily from April 1 to October 31, 2006 and includes 13-nights' accommodations, breakfast daily, one lunch, 11 dinners including dinner and folklore show in Bucharest, round-trip airport transfers, a Bucharest city tour, English-speaking guide throughout, ground transportation by air conditioned car, minibus or coach depending on the number of travelers, sightseeing and hotel taxes and service charges. Visit no less than nine world heritage sites located throughout the country. This trip is priced at $2,359 per person with a minimum of two travelers.
Pure Adventures (tel. 800/960-2221; www.pure-adventures.com) features an eight-day "Hiking Tour of Transylvania" that departs from Bucharest on May 27; June 3, 10 & 24; and then each Saturday in from July, 1 through October 21. The trip includes seven-nights' accommodations in charming Romanian three- and four-star hotels and country guest houses, professional bilingual guides, breakfast daily, lunches as picnics on walking days, dinners nightly, all transfers and local transportation. Visit the northern mountain city of Sinaia, the 19th-century summer residence of the royal family, Peles Castle, the final resting place of several Romanian monarchs, the 14th-century town of Sighisoara and the birthplace of Count Dracula, Castle Bran (Dracula's Castle), the medieval fortress of Sibiu, Seven Stairs Canyon, Piatra Mare Peak and Predeal (the area where the movie Cold Mountain was filmed) and Brasov. The itinerary includes several scenic hikes, lasting anywhere from four to six hours and requires a moderate level of hiking ability. The total cost for the Romanian Hiking tour is $739 per person, based on a minimum of six hikers or a private two-person tour can be arranged for $849 per person.
Quest Tours and Adventures (tel. 800/621-8687; www.romtour.com) has some excellent tours on offer, but my personal favorite (although contrived) is the "Halloween Transylvanian Castles" tour. This eight-day adventure into horror heaven begins on October 28, 2006. It includes seven-nights' accommodations in four- and five-star hotels, breakfast daily, one lunch, six dinners, airport transfers, transportation, services of an English-speaking guide, entrance fees, a city tour of Bucharest, a boat ride to the island of Snagov Lake and the alleged gravesite of Dracula, visits to Sinaia in the Carpathian Mountains, the Peles Palace, Dracula's castle in Bran Village, Sighisoara, the birthplace of Count Dracula, Hunedoara Castle, Siebel Village, the Poienari Fortress, Sibiu, Cozia Monastery (the resting place of Dracula's grandfather Mircea the Elder), Curtea de Arges and Targoviste (where Dracula ruled). Spend Halloween night at a masquerade ball in a medieval dungeon. This trip is priced at $1,100 per person land-only with a $225 single supplement. A discount of 10% applies for bookings of more than six people.
For people who don't know how to relax while on vacation, Adventure Transylvania (tel. +1/360/851-4444; www.adventuretransylvania.com) has an eight-day adventure trip that includes hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, horseback riding and a the requisite visit to Dracula's astle. The $936 per-person price includes seven-nights' accommodations in a guest house in Moeciu and one night at Pestera Hotel, all meals (sixÂ¿picnic lunches), snacks and non alcoholic beverage while on tour, all sporting equipment, airport transfers and transportation by private minivan. Trip highlights are an easy mountain biking day through Piatra Craiului Mountains, an 11-mile bike tour through traditional Romanian villages from Fundata, horse-riding through the woods around Fundata, a visit to the Bran Castle and Rasnov Fortress, Brasov, a trek up to the Tampa peak, road cycling to Zarnesti Gorges, hiking the western ridge of Bucegi mountains, a visit to the Ialomitza Cave and kayaking on the Olt River. This is a land-only trip so airfare is additional.
Airfares to Bucharest vary seasonally and by airline. 1800FlyEurope (tel. 800/359-3876; www.1800flyeurope.com) has midweek departures via London from New York in May from $759 including all taxes and airlines fuel surcharges. Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) has round-trip flights to Bucharest on British Airways via London from New York from $700 including all taxes and surcharges for travel on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from October 30 to December 13, 2006. Weekend travel for a similar time period starts from $760 plus taxes. Similarly Austria Airlines has code-share flights with Tarom Romanian Air through November and early December for departures Mondays to Thursdays for $763 including all taxes. Don't be deceived by some of the incredibly low advertised airfares of around $400 to $500 as taxes and fuel surcharges can total up to around $300 on most of these flights.
If you would like to travel through Romania independently, I'd recommend giving the Romanian National Tourist Office in New York a call (tel. 212/545-8484 -- press 4 to speak to a person) or alternatively you can e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general Romanian tourism information visit www.romaniantourism.com.
You can talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Romania Message Boards.