With its mix of cultural attractions, spellbinding scenery and affordable adventures, Romania is enchanting Brits in increasing numbers, says Karl Cushing.
From stalking vampires though spooky Transylvanian castles in their finest Halloween Dracula garb to snapping marauding brown bears from rural hides and hiking through sleepy villages where time appears to have stopped sometime around the Middle Ages, Brits are increasingly falling for Romania.
On the ground it offers staggeringly good value, buoyed by a surfeit of low-cost flights from the likes of WizzAir and Ryanair. Romanian carrier Blue Air flies from Birmingham, Liverpool and Luton as well as Glasgow and Dublin, servicing destinations such as Cluj Napoca and Iasi alongside capital Bucharest. Easterly Constanta, meanwhile, with its airport and cruise port, offers a gateway to Black Sea resorts such as Mamaia.
For Clare Stockman, product manager for Europe at Explore, Romania fuses broad appeal with a beguiling blend of old and new. “From ancient history to communist excess, rolling mountains to vast wetlands and fairytale castles to painted monasteries, the possibilities are endless,” she says.
Andrea Godfrey, Regent Holidays brand manager, is seeing increased demand for tailor-made trips and self-drives as more clients look to explore the countryside.
“Unique accommodation is where Romania really stands out,” explains Godfrey, whose top picks include Daniel Castle – “the last word in luxury” – and rustic Zalanpatak.
Romania bookings are up 73% year-on-year at KE Adventure Travel, where marketing manager Tavienne Kelly puts some of the appeal down to the country’s pristine nature and timeless countryside where “you need to pinch yourself to believe you’re still in the 20th century”.
“With the mystery of Count Dracula, Romanian folklore, palaces, castles and mythical legends, you feel like you’re part of a living fairy tale with spectacular scenery,” Kelly adds. “If you want to experience fascinating culture, breathtaking scenery, medieval towns and traditional cuisine unchanged for centuries, Romania has it all.”
The Dracula castle of Bran may hog the limelight, but architecturally it’s overshadowed by other Transylvanian titans, not least the castles of Peles and Corvin. Another medieval masterpiece is the old town, or citadel, of Sighisoara, birthplace of the infamous Vlad the Impaler.
Heading north, many cultural tours take in the historic painted monasteries of Bucovina such as Voronet, dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of the East”. While in the area, clients should consider stopping for a drink at the Cotnari vineyards en route to Iasi, with its impressive Palace of Culture.
BOOK IT: Just You’s eight-day Bucharest and Enchanting Castles of Transylvania, priced from £1,299pp, has departures from May to October.
Transylvania’s Dracula associations make it a sure-fire bet for Halloween breaks, offered by the likes of G Adventures and Regent Holidays, and Cluj’s summer electronic music festivals are also gaining fans. Popular options include Electric Castle (17-21 July) and Untold (1-4 August).
Seasonal selling points on Explore’s eight-day Winter Adventure in Romania, which has January to March departures, include snowshoeing and stays in the Hotel of Ice near Lake Balea.
BOOK IT: G Adventures’ seven-day Halloween in Transylvania, departing Bucharest on 27 October, includes a costumed bash at “Dracula’s Castle” in Bran. The tour starts from £999pp excluding flights.
Romania’s capital Bucharest is a riot of belle epoque architecture, stately boulevards and grand edifices such as the controversial Palace of Parliament. To the west, cute and compact Timisoara, served by WizzAir, is famed for its baroque buildings. Timisoara also birthed the revolution that toppled the communist regime in 1989, and combines well with nearby wineries and towns such as Arad and Oradea.
BOOK IT: Regent Holidays’ three-night Bucharest breaks feature a choice of three hotels. A B&B stay at an Ibis starts from £347pp, including flights from Luton, departing 17 May.
The natural scenery in Romania is perfect for hiking holidays, including laid-back leg stretchers such as Explore’s eight-day Family Active Romania Adventure. KE Adventure Travel introduced a new 14-day Rural Romania and Backroads of Bulgaria tour (from £795pp, land only) last year as an easier alternative to its strenuous eight-day Trekking the Transylvanian Alps, which hauls hikers up Moldoveanu, Romania’s highest peak at 2,544 metres.
BOOK IT: Ramblers Walking Holidays’ 10-night Romanian Highlights, focused on Transylvania and the Carpathians, costs from £1,895pp departing 10 September, including flights from Luton.
Romania’s mountainous interior makes an eye-catching backdrop for rail tours. Quirky options include riding the Mocanita, a narrow gauge forest train hailing from the 1930s, while luxury lovers will appreciate Golden Eagle Luxury Trains whose options include the new Castles of Transylvania onboard the Golden Eagle Danube Express, from £4,395pp departing 27 June.
BOOK IT: Ffestiniog Travel’s 12-day Rural Romania – Where Times Stands Still features three steam-powered narrow gauge railways. From £2,255pp, departing 23 June and 13 October, including flights.
Tracking brown bears is the big draw on Explore’s five-day Transylvanian Long Weekend (from £860pp, including flights). In the Unesco-listed Danube Delta, which is home to 300 bird species, options range from Amadeus River Cruises’ 16-day Danube Delta Cruise to The Travelling Naturalist’s seven-night Focus on the Danube Delta.
BOOK IT: Explore’s 11-day Best of Romania and the Danube Delta starts from £1,345pp excluding flights, departing 19 September.
For more information visit: romania.travel/en
Flights: Heathrow to Bucharest Henri Coanda International takes 3 hours 15 minutes.
Best time to go: April to October.
Average temperature: Temperatures peak in July and August, averaging 22°C to 24°C but reaching the high 30s.