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Highlights of Romania Private Tour - Transylvania, Maramures and Bucovina - 12 days round trip

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The Saxon fortified churches and walled towns of Transylvania, the wooden churches of pastoral Maramures, the magnificent frescoes of the Painted Monasteries.

Transylvania is a high plateau of rolling hills and deep valleys embraced by Carpathians, a unique region of fortified churches, walled citadels and fairytale towns.

Maramures is one of the last remaining largely unspoilt regions in Romania, in terms of it's traditional working villages and a landscape moulded over the centuries by sustainable, small scale farming and forestry.

The “Painted” Monasteries of Bucovina are true masterpieces - their outer walls covered with byzantine frescoes, stories from the bible. They were founded in the 15th and 16th centuries and, together with the church of Arbore, form an important part of UNESCO's patrimony.
 

The program is flexible and could be costumized according with your available travel time in Romania.

Day 1: Bucharest airport – Balea Lake / Sibiu – depending of the season

- Meet & Greet Service at Bucharest airport, than drive to Balea Lake on Transfagarasan Highway as know as "the Road to the Sky", "the Road to the Clouds", "the Best Driving Road in the World" and even "A spectacular Monument to Earth-Moving Megalomania"! Transfagarasan road is open between July 1 - October 31. The transfer takes around 4 hours.

- Snack or picnic lunch on route.

- Dinner and overnight at Balea Lake chalet 3*.

Note: From November to June we make the transfer to Sibiu and we spend 1 night at a 3* guesthouse. The transfer takes around 4 hours. Next day we do Sibiu walking tour and visit Astra open air village museum (more details on day 2).

Day 2: Balea Lake - Sibiu

- Breakfast.

- Optional 1 hour walk around Balea glacial lake. Balea Lake is one of the most beautiful natural glacier lakes of Romania, located at 2040 m.

- Transfer to Sibiu (around 1 hour). On the way we could do a hike to Balea Waterfall - the highest step-waterfall in Romania, more than 60 meters tall (medium one, 2 hours).

- Sibiu walking tour. Declared for Cultural capital of Europe Sibiu was once the king of the Transylvanian Saxon towns, serving as capital and dominating cultural activity. Sibiu is home to the first hospital in Romania (1292), the first pharmacy (1494) and the oldest museum in Romania, the Brukenthal Museum, opened in 1817.

- Visit Astra open air village museum. Situated in the natural reservation of Dumbrava Sibiului, on the road to Rasinari village and to Paltinis ski resort, 8 kilometers away from the city centre, the Open Air Museum spreads across a 96 ha area of which an area of 40 ha is covered by the permanent exhibition which is the largest open air ethnographic exhibition in Europe.

- Snack or picnic lunch on route.

- Dinner and overnight at a 3* guesthouse in Sibiu – Casa Baciu or similar.

Day 3: Sibiu – Hunedoara – Turda Salt Mine – Cluj Napoca

- Breakfast.

- 8:00 drive to Hunedoara (around 90 minutes) to visit for about 2 hours the epic Corvin Castle, also known as Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle, a Gothic-Renaissance castle, one of the largest castles in Europe.

- Drive to Turda (around 2 hours) to visit Turda Salt Mine, one of the most important salt mines in Transylvania and one of the largest in Europe. Turda's salt deposit was put into systematic operation of the deposit, by underground mining work, during the Roman conquest. The Salt Mine is mentioned in official documents from the middle of the 13th century, when the mine was offered to the Transylvanian Catholic Church leaders. In the Middle Ages, Turda was one of the biggest places of salt extraction in entire region.

- Snack or picnic lunch on route.

- Dinner and overnight at a 3*hotel in Cluj Napoca.

Day 4. Cluj Napoca - Breb

- Breakfast.

- Drive to Breb area (around 3 hours).

- Drive north and west along the Ukrainian-Romanian border via the market town of Sighetu Marmatiei ("Sighet" for short!).

- Visit the extraordinary and colourful "Merry Cemetery" in Sapanta. In the mid-1930's a local carpenter/sculptor started carving wooden crosses to mark graves in his village cemetery, with the idea that cemeteries should be cheerful places since deceased relatives had gone to a better life in Heaven. The idea caught on and from 1954 the sculptor became a national celebrity. One of his apprentices - Dumitru Pop - has continued the tradition to today, and his apprentices will continue after him. Each cross is painted blue with colourful highlights, a carved image of the deceased doing the thing he or she liked best in life, and an often amusing inscription written in the first person. Ask the guide to translate a few of these to give you an idea. Dumitru Pop's workshop can be visited next to his humble home and the original sculptor's house is now a small museum.

- Snack or picnic lunch on route, perhaps in Sighet.

- Dinner and overnight to a local guesthouse in Breb village (eg. Marioara or Breb 418). We spend 2 nights here.

Day 5 - Rural Maramures

- Breakfast.

- Drive est to Breb village, to the Cosau Valley to Sarbii village where you can find an extraordinary collection of what we call "folk technology" - all in the home and yard of local character Mr. Opris ("Opp-reesh"). A pair of working water wheels drive several mills, an ancient threshing machine, and felting hammers, while water from the stream drives an original "whirlpool" rug washing machine, and cools the evaporate used to make strong fruit brandy in his distillery. There is no official entry fee so we usually make a donation or buy one of his bottles of brandy with a wooden ladder or spinning tool built inside!

- During the weekend you may meet some people wearing the traditional costumes.

- Snack or picnic lunch on route.

- Dinner and overnight at the guesthouse in Breb.

Optional trip: the narrow gauge steam train into the Vaser Valley - Maramures Mountains Natural Park.

- The CFF Viseu de Sus railway was the last of many narrow gauge forest / logging railways to be built in what is now Romania, built in 1931-2. The gauge is 760mm (about 2ft 6ins). This is still primarily a working logging railway - "production" trains, now diesel hauled, run daily except Sundays all year round, taking timber workers high into the forest and returning with beech and pine trees loaded onto long bolster wagons. The tourist part of the railway has been developed very successfully - with a fair bit of help from myself in terms of promotion and translating - over the last 10 years. In mid-summer 3, 4 and sometimes 5 steam-hauled tourist trains snake their way up to Paltin - a picnic area deep in the forest about 2 hours up the valley from Viseu de Sus. The train will stop several times on route and runs slowly at an average of 12 km per hour. You will see some timber work going on as you travel up the line. After 90 minutes at Paltin, where there is a small museum and a barbecue lunch is served, the train returns to Viseu - usually by around 14:30.

- Barbecue lunch at Paltin where the train reverses.

- Train returns to Viseu de Sus around 14:30 - 15:00.

Day 6 - Maramures to Bucovina

- Breakfast at guesthouse in Breb.

- Drive east from Breb visiting a small wooden church in Poienile Izei village. Maramures is famous for its little wooden churches, originally built entirely of wood, without even an iron nail or door hinge. Many of these churches had frescoes painted on their interior walls - similar to those on the exterior walls of the Painted Monastery churches in Bucovina. Not all these frescoes in the Maramures timber churches are in good condition but those at Bogdan Voda, Rozavlea, Surdesti, Budesti and Poienile Izei are excellent. The interior "Day of Judgement" frescoes at Poienile Izei have an almost "pagan" sense to them - individual scenes depict some very blatant punishments for specific heinous sins!

- Leaving Maramures via the linked ribbon towns of Moisei ("Moses") and Borsa, you begin climbing the high (1416 m / 4645 ft) Prislop Pass, with spectacular views of the Rodna Mountains immediately to the south.

- Snack or picnic lunch on route.

- Drop down gradually into Bucovina.

- Look at decorations on houses in Ciocanesti village that emulate Romanian embroidery designs.

- Cross the Mestecanis (1096 m / 3595 ft) and Sadova / Curmatura Boului (1040 m / 3410 ft) Passes to Vatra Moldovitei village in the heart of Bucovina.

- Dinner and overnight at the excellent Vila Crizantema guesthouse in Vatra Moldovitei or similar.

Day 7 - Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

- Breakfast at Vila Crizantema guesthouse in Vatra Moldovitei.

- Visit Moldovita painted monastery. The "Painted Monasteries of Bucovina" are a series of 5 Orthodox monasteries founded between 1465 and 1585 by Stephen the Great, his sons and his generals. Originally they were fortified monasteries built at a time when the area was at constant war with the Ottoman Empire. It is the churches within each monastery that are "painted". Almost all Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe contain frescoes covering the interior walls, however it is unusual to find frescoes covering the external walls as well. The frescoes at the Painted Monasteries were painted some time after the initial construction, and are a form of "visual" bible - designed to teach the bible to worshippers who could not read text. Moldovita is a good introduction to these Painted Monasteries with excellent frescoes inside and out, strongly fortified surrounding curtain walls with a tower at each corner, an attractive garden, and a small but fascinating museum in the north west corner.

- Cross the pretty Ciumarna Pass (1100 m / 3608 ft) to Sucevita.

- Visit Sucevita monastery. Sucevita is the largest of the 5 UNESCO-listed painted monasteries. It has massive surrounding walls with defensive towers and superb frescoes both inside and out that are remarkably well preserved. They are noted for their green hues. There is a good museum built into the eastern curtain wall.

- Snack or picnic lunch on route.

- Follow country lanes south eastwards to Arbore painted church. Arbore has not been a monastery for some 200 years but is still listed by UNESCO as one of the 5 "Painted Monasteries". Even though its exterior frescoes have been badly damaged by successive earthquakes, those in the well protected western alcove are most unusual, as are Arbore's excellent interior frescoes painted in a very different style.

- Drive south to the market town of Gura Humorului.

- Dinner and overnight at hotel or guesthouse in Gura Humorului or Voronet for 2 nights.

Day 8 - Painted Monasteries of Bucovina and Egg painting

- Breakfast.

- Visit Voronet painted Monastery. Voronet is the best known of the 5 UNESCO monasteries and you will soon see why. It has a vast overhanging roof protecting its excellent exterior frescoes, of which the dominant colour is a deep slate blue - known by artists worldwide as "Voronet Blue". The rendition of the Tree of Jesse on the south wall shows this colour to its best.

- Drive to Sadova village (approx. 45 minutes) for an egg painting workshop.

- Snack or picnic lunch on route.

- Dinner and overnight at hotel or guesthouse in Gura Humorului or Voronet.

Day 9 - Bucovina to Transylvania

- Breakfast.

- Drive around 5 hours to Sighisoara.

- Afternoon to explore medieval Saxon Sighisoara, so rich in history that the entire town is a UNESCO site. Hear about the medieval town’s legendary former resident Vlad the Impaler, a Wallachian prince and warlord who inspired Bram Stoker’s fictional character Dracula. Enjoy to explore Sighişoara’s cobblestoned streets, bell tower and citadel with our guide.

- Snack lunch in Sighisoara on the main square.

- Dinner and overnight at a 3* hotel in Sighisoara - Casa Wagner or similar.

Day 10 - From Sighisoara to Brasov

- Breakfast.

- Drive 30 minutes to visit the impressive Biertan Saxon fortified church.

- Drive 1 hours to visit the 14th-century village of Viscri, built by Saxon colonists. As you approach, admire the impressive whitewashed walls and red-roofed towers that surround the village, designed to protect early inhabitants from invading Turks. Wander the rustic streets of the village and visit its UNESCO World Heritage-listed church.

- Visit the hilltop Rupea Fortress, which was built for defense in the 1300s and later repurposed as a Saxon village in the 18th century. Visit the citadel inside the walls and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

- Snack or picnic lunch on route.

- Dinner and overnight at a 3* hotel in Brasov – Bella Muzica or similar. We spend 2 nights here.

Day 11 – Brasov – Bran Castle – Mountain villages

- Breakfast.

- Drive 30 minutes to visit , also known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’ — a hilltop estate that conjures up visions of howling wolves and bats fluttering in the moonlight. Wander the castle’s Gothic chambers and learn about its ties to Bram Stoker’s undead antihero. Enter if you dare, after paying the site fee (own expense), and wander through the castle’s many well-preserved rooms and chambers with your guide. Gothic furnishings and details help set the scene for ghastly legends of all that happened here, including the imprisonment of Vlad the Impaler. This 15th-century prince was notorious for his bloodthirsty campaigns against invading Turks and is said to have inspired Stoker’s malevolent Count Dracula.

- Experience the traditional Transylvanian way of life from the rural villages of Pestera and Magura. Walking tour in the area visiting the Bat Cave enjoying the landscapes and village life, interacting with the locals (3 - 4 hours, easy to medium, up to 12 km). Now, the bat cave is a national natural monument, part of the National Park “Piatra Craiului”, one of the most beautiful mountains of Romania. Cave entrance is through a narrow corridor, followed by a grotto and a gallery. You can admire the Jurassic limestone formations, formed over centuries, including so-called "tears of the earth". The cave is not electrified, in order not to change the natural habitat of the bats. Visit the oldest guesthouse in the National Park, taste several varieties of handcrafted cheese, savor lunch made from fresh, simple ingredients at one of the guesthouses in the area.

- Farewell Dinner and overnight at a 3* hotel in Brasov – Bella Muzica or similar.

Day 12 Brasov – Bucharest airport.

- Breakfast.

- Transfer to Bucharest airport (about 3 hours).

Optional: you can spend one more night in Bucharest. In that case, on our way to Bucharest, we visit Peles Castle, a striking example of Neo-Renaissance architecture, one of the most beautiful Royal Castles in the world.

Small-Group day trip Bran Castle and Rasnov Fortress Tour from Brasov

Guaranteed departure day tour: Brasov - Bran Castle (a.k.a. Dracula's Castle) - Rasnov Fortress - Brasov

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