A beach vacation in Europe may seem beyond your budget this year, especially considering expensive trans-Atlantic airfares, fuel surcharges and the towering heights of the Euro. But the beach isn't just the Mediterranean and the Aegean and if you are prepared to look further north and east you may just discover a very different and quite affordable Black Sea alternative. Located between Europe and Asia, the Black Sea coastline graces six different countries -- Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Turkey, and Romania and is over 2,500 miles long.
Although the shoreline in Romania is only 153 miles of that, it attracts both local and international travelers with its health spas and resort towns, many of which are named after the gods of the original Greek inhabitants who settled the area as far back as the 7th century B.C. With sandy beaches, ancient monuments, local vineyards, modern hotels and smaller crowds than its Bulgarian counterparts, the resort towns of Mamaia, Eforie, Neptun, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Mangalia are an interesting European beach alternative.
From the capital Bucharest, there are currently no domestic flights to Constanta, the main port city on the Black Sea coast so the best mode of transport is bus or train. The distance to the coast is a little under 150 miles and land transport generally takes up to three hours and costs around €10 ($16) one-way. There are flights to Constanta from other European cities including Brussels, Berlin, Pisa, Luxembourg, Paris, and Oslo. Because the flights are mainly on low-cost, charter and obscure European airlines, plus they can be irregular and seasonal, it is best to consult the Constanta International Airport website (www.mk-airport.ro) for flight schedules. Although you may be keen to head straight to the beach, the town of Constanta is well worth a visit. Originally named after Emperor Constantine's sister, Constanta is the third largest city in Romania and despite being a major port, is still quite an attractive destination known for its historic center, ancient ruins (Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman), an Art Nouveau Casino, open-air restaurants and museums. From Constanta it is only a ten-minute drive to the first resort town of Mamaia and beyond.
If you are shopping around online for hotels on Romania's Black Sea coast, the first thing you may discover is that the hotels themselves look like they have stepped out of the 1970s and '80s both in terms of architecture and furnishings. Don't be alarmed. Unfortunately, cutting-edge design is not paramount on Romanian hotel owners' list of priorities so the pink leather sofa and floral bedspread may be the best you'll see. If you are looking for that quaint bed and breakfast in a historic building, you may be disappointed, but in general hotels offer modern facilities (although I am yet to see one advertise that it has WiFi), swimming pools, English-speaking staff, and quite spacious rooms. Although most hotel websites will have information in English, another issue is that rates and prices are seldom if ever displayed -- which makes comparing and contrasting rather difficult. In general, five-star hotels can be priced as low as €60 ($93) a night including breakfast but can also go up to around €130 ($200) a night in high season. A four-star property can be priced from around €25 ($39) to €70 ($108) a night for two people. To make things easier, you may want to use a centralized booking service like Booking Romania (www.bookingromania.com) or Romania 100 Hotels (www.romania100hotels.com). The driving distance between each resort is relatively short and bus or taxi transportation is very accessible, so you may choose to base yourself in one resort area and take day trip to neighboring beaches for a change of scene.
Here are some sample prices for stays at hotels in Mamaia, the largest of the beach resort towns, a family favorite, and the closest to the city of Constanta, and Neptun-Olimp, a more up-market resort town geared towards singles and nightlife enthusiasts. The prices are per room, not per person, include taxes and breakfast, and are for peak season stays during the months of July and August, 2008. Most properties are either on the beach or located within a few hundred yards of a beach.
- Three-star Neptun Hotel, Neptun --from $48 per night
- Three-star Delta Hotel, Neptun -- from $28 per room per night
- Three-star Doina Hotel, Neptun -- from $40 per night
- Three-star Miorita Hotel, Neptun -- from $44 per night
- Three-star Comandor Hotel, Mamaia -- from $72 per night
- Three-star Piccadilly Hotel, Mamaia -- from $37 per night
- Three-star Amiral Hotel, Mamaia -- from $72 per night
Delta flies four non-stop flights a week between New York-JFK and Bucharest, but otherwise almost all connections are through western or central Europe; you may choose to take a package trip out of the U.K. and just add on the airfare from your city to London. English travel company Romania Travel Centre (www.romaniatravelcentre.com) offers a selection of one week Black Sea coast vacations. Each includes round-trip flights from Heathrow Airport on British Airways, airport taxes, bed and breakfast accommodation in twin or double rooms at beachfront hotels, round-trip airport-hotel transfers and local taxes. Examples of summer 2008 trips include:
- Seven nights at the three-star Amfiteatru Belvedere Panoramic Hotel at Neptun-Olimp beach resorts -- priced from $818 per person. Additional nights from $39
- Seven nights at the three-star Riviera Hotel in the family resort area of Mamaia -- priced from $954 per person. Additional nights from $62
- Seven-nights at the three-star Phoenix Hotel in the health resort area of Eforie Sud and Techirghiol -- priced from $854. Additional nights from $45
- Seven-nights at the four-star Astoria Hotel in Eforie Sud and Techirghiol -- priced from $866. Additional nights from $49
Apart from the beaches and historic cities, the Black Sea coast has long been known for its therapeutic spas and the spas at Eforie Nord and Mangalia are well known for their treatments and special mud baths. Indulge in a spa package at Ana Aslan Health Spa (www.spa-romania.com/ana-aslan-spa/relaxation.htm) and combine it with a stay at the Europa Hotel in Eforia Nord. The six-day relaxation package includes seven nights' accommodations, breakfast daily, taxes, access to the swimming pool, private beach and fitness center and two treatments per day. Choose from massage, hydro thermo therapy, kinetic therapy and fitness programs. The price per person based on double occupancy is €377 ($581). Add €95 ($146) for stays from July 11 to August 21, 2008. They also offer facial aesthetics, wellness, anti-aging and anti-cellulite programs.
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