Enjoy timeless pleasures and treasures in Romania’s idyllic countryside, from horseback rides through flower-carpeted pastures to ancient churches with elaborately painted exteriors. Then head for the forests to meet some of the country’s wild inhabitants – notably brown bears – or drive through the mountains on ‘the best road in the world’.
Perched on a Transylvanian clifftop, its red-tiled towers and turrets dominating the plain below, Bran Castle looks like something out of a fairytale – or a vampire story. Bram Stoker supposedly used it as a model for his fictional Count Dracula’s lair, but the building’s true history is just as intriguing. As you walk through the surprisingly snug interiors, you’ll learn about the simple lookout tower that preceded it, the castle’s creation in less than ten years in the 14th century and the people who lived in it over the centuries. One of these was Marie, the last Queen of Romania and a granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, who turned it into a much-loved royal summer residence complete with an English-style park. While Vlad ‘the Impaler’ Dracul probably never set foot here, more than 800,000 visitors a year come to see ‘the home of Dracula’; beat the crowds with an after-hours private tour, rounded off by a wine tasting or dinner. BACK TO TOP
GO BEAR SPOTTING IN TRANSYLVANIA
Romania is home to more than half of Europe’s brown bears, for whom the dense virgin forests in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains provide the ideal habitat. At the Zabola Estate in eastern Transylvania, you can enjoy a rare opportunity to spot these magnificent creatures in the wild; wrapped around the extensive castle grounds is a conservation area covering around a million hectares. You’ll head out with an experienced tracker-guide, hearing about the tell-tale signs – pawprints, scat and tree markings – that reveal the presence of Ursus arctos. Then, from the safety of a cosy hide, you’ll keep your eyes peeled and camera ready for a precious sighting of an impressive adult male or perhaps a female with cubs, along with some of the other local inhabitants: wolves, lynx, wild boar and various birds of prey. The season runs from May to November, with the bears particularly active in autumn as they feed up ahead of winter.
Tucked away in the northeastern Carpathian Mountains in northern Moldavia, the painted monasteries of Bucovina are fully deserving of their World Heritage status. Accompanied by a private guide, you’ll discover the beauty and history of these fabulously well-preserved Romanian Orthodox churches, built between the 1480s and 1580s and lavishly decorated inside and out, of which eight survive. Each one has its own unique features: among the colourful exterior frescoes and paintings at Moldovița, for instance, is a richly detailed depiction of the Seige of Constantinople in 626. Sometimes described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the East’, Voronet was built to celebrate a victory over the Ottoman Turks and its intricate murals include an entire wall devoted to the Last Judgement, as well as depictions of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Smaller, but still exquisite, Sucevita features portraits of a dizzying array of saints and scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Discover the joys of slow travel on a riding adventure through rural Transylvania. You’ll spend your days walking, trotting, cantering and galloping through the wildflower-rich meadows of the Carpathian foothills, passing by beech forests and tumbling streams, and pausing to visit time-warp villages and pretty manor houses. At night, you’ll stay in characterful and often family-run guesthouses where your hosts will share stories about daily life, traditions and customs in this part of the countryside over relaxed evening meals. One of the most intriguing residences is that owned by Britain’s King Charles III in the remote hamlet of Zalánpatak; the centuries-old buildings have been impeccably restored using traditional methods and furnished with stunningly crafted local antiques. The former Prince of Wales’s long-standing commitment to the environment is reflected in the rich biodiversity of the grounds – look out for rare lady’s-slipper orchids in early summer and the occasional passing brown bear.
The Transylvanian Saxons first settled in what was then part of Hungary in the early Middle Ages, building distinctive walled settlements and fortified churches – some of which are now World Heritage Sites – that survive to this day. Their descendants still live in what is now southern Transylvania, and in the charming village of Harman, five miles from Brasov, you can dive into the history and customs of this fascinating German-speaking community over a meal in a Saxon home and guesthouse. This is the perfect opportunity to learn everything from why and how concentric defensive walls became such a local feature to the traditional costumes worn on special occasions. The delicious three-course meal, which is rounded off with a glass of schnapps or a cup of herbal tea, consists of home-style Saxon specialities made to centuries-old recipes using ingredients from the family’s own garden or the nearby market.
Named ‘the best road in the world’ by the presenters of BBC’s Top Gear, the Transfăgărășan runs through dramatic alpine scenery, and the seven-hour-with-stops drive along it will appeal to more than just motoring fans. It was built for strategic reasons during the early 1970s on the orders of the country’s Cold War dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, and its hair-raising bends and plunging straights now attract those looking for a touring experience in the untamed landscapes of the Southern Carpathians. As Romania’s second-highest road, it’s usually closed from late October to June; once the snow melts, join the motorists, bikers and cyclists who come to test themselves on this famous route. Along the way, you can take a break at glacial lakes, the ruins of Poenari Castle – where Vlad the Impaler lived – and all manner of scenic viewpoints. The section north of the Capra Tunnel is the most emblematic; Jeremy Clarkson called it ‘every great corner from every great race track lined up one after the other’.
The idea for Red Savannah was always based on a clear market need. A small team of the most experienced travel designers, supported by the latest technology and delivered with the lightest touch. In short, a travel company redefined for the 21st century.