After talking in the previous article about the first part of this summer’s road trip through Romania, when we went to Praid, Saschiz, Rupea and Viscri, we will go on today to tell you about the rest of the places we’ve been to and what we found there.
On the way to the next destination, we made a little stop in Hoghiz, where the map showed us two interesting castles. But we were disappointed here as well.
The Kalnoky Castle (also known as the Haller Castle) can hardly be visited. There is not much to see from the park next to it and only the two higher towers are visible from the front, but it looks like a pretty simple building, the original architecture being probably lost in an older renovation.
The nearby Guthman-Valenta Castle is a total ruin, barely having a few standing walls left. In fact, the owners tried to sell it three years ago, asking for only 38.000 euros, but they did not find a buyer. Renovations would cost a lot, but there might be something wonderful here, one day. The surrounding area is not very attractive though.
An hour later, we stopped for lunch by the highroad, at a fishing inn with a trout farm where we had some delicious specific dishes that we enjoyed a lot and got an optimism boost. 🙂
With happy bellies, we then arrived in Feldioara, another community where German ethnics lived in the past, near Brașov. Here too, the evangelical church was closed and we gave up asking where the old man with the key lives.
So we continued our itinerary towards the fortress, where the security guards told us that, although it was theoretically renovated, it is now being repaired, that is, they are renovating the renovation, because this is Romania.
After some convincing and persuading work, we managed to make a very short tour through the fortification, without going into different rooms or towers, so as not to disturb the workers.
Almost 800 years old, the fortress is starting to regain its past charm. We hope it’ll look much better when the reparations will be completed.
Here too, there is an amazing view over the hills and mountains surrounding the place.
The fortified church in Prejmer
Going further, we bypassed the city of Brașov and reached another piece of Saxon treasure: the fortified church in the village of Prejmer. This place looks like there were some investments actually made here, the center of the village looks nice, there are some renovated houses maintaining the original style, a parking lot for tourist coaches and cars, a modern toilet, a nice park.
The construction has been around for almost nine centuries, serving both as a place of worship and a place of refuge and a storehouse of food in times of turmoil.
The interior of the church is very beautiful, displaying all the elements specific to that era, the Gothic style being fascinating for us when we find it in Romania, because we usually expect to see it in our travels through Western Europe.
The living quarters, the defense towers, the “bacon” chambers make you think about what a day in the life of the people who lived here through decades looked like, what their dreams and hopes were, how they went through all sorts of horrors when the “barbarians” were at the gates of the city and they had to withstand the siege together with their families, the animals in the household and a few more valuable goods they kept close.
After this historical incursion, we went further, staying the night in Brașov at a very interesting hotel, right in the train station building!
It was an unusual experience to look through the room’s window and see the passing trains. 🙂
Brașov: the old center, Tâmpa hill and the fortress
In Brașov, we made a short stop at the White Tower, where, of course, it’s impossible to enter, because it is also under renovation. But anyway, there is a nice view over the city center and the surrounding mountains from up there. It’s not too easy to park here, because of the windy road and limited parking space by the tower.
The following walk through the city center was quite disappointing for us: we were many times in Brașov in the past and unlike other cities, here time seems to have stayed still in some respects. If 10 to 15 years ago it had one of the most beautiful old centers of the Transylvanian towns, now it looks like they never renovated anything, the city being surpassed by Oradea or Timișoara, where the pedestrian area in the old center is well taken care of and constantly improved.
Then we went up the Tâmpa hill (or mountain?) in the cable car, after having a hard time finding the schedule and the price, because they have no information on the Internet. It seems like nothing has changed here in the last 40 years.
But the view from the top is worth it! You can see the whole city from above after climbing for a few minutes on a rough road towards the concrete platform by the letters that make up the word “BRAȘOV”.
Down at the foot of the hill there is an alley with benches where you can have a nice walk. There is even a possibility to find parking spaces here… sometimes. And for the more athletic visitors, there is a way to climb on foot to the top, on a route that takes no more than an hour. Parts of the old walls of the fortress and some defense towers can also be seen in the area.
After Tâmpa, we headed to another belvedere spot in Brașov – the “Cetățuia de pe strajă” – an old citadel overlooking the city. This place is closed for public (theoretically), but practically, being resourceful Romanians, we made a deal with the guards to let us in just for a little bit.
The authorities seem to be in dispute with a company that had a restaurant here, and until the situation is clear, no renovation can be made. And this place is in great need of renovation.
From up here as well, the view is superb, the citadel being an old fortification of the city, built on the top of a hill. The surrounding area is a pretty neighborhood with chic houses with lots of greenery everywhere. It is possible to get here by car plus a very short climb on foot.
Although the walls of the fortress are standing bravely, the interior is quite damaged. The past renovations have not exactly respected the history of the place, so there are too many new building materials over the old ones, plus specific restaurant facilities instead of medieval fortress arrangements.
After visiting this point of interest neglected by the state, we went further on our road-trip, heading south.
Râșnov Fortress and Valea Cetății Cave
Originally, we planned to go to Bușteni from Brașov. But, after crossing 7 roundabouts (they seem to be trending here), when exiting the city, we saw on the GPS that there was an accident and a jam occurred, so we would have stayed over an hour in traffic between Predeal and Bușteni if we chose to follow our initial route.
So we decided to “reconfigure” and head west. After a delicious traditional Romanian meal at a terrace in Predeal, we followed the traffic jam for only one km and then exited the long queue of cars and turned towards Râșnov.
One short drive later, we arrived in the parking lot at the foot of the fortress hill. From here, you can climb on foot in 15 minutes to the fortification, or in a touristic mini-train, that is, a tractor pulling a wagon.
Although it was renovated a few years ago, the construction is quite degraded. For example, the inner alleys are destroyed by water, channels and boulders have formed. It seems, however, that a new round of renovations is coming soon.
The fortress is very beautiful, a must-visit if you are in the vicinity. Inside, there are numerous workshops of craftsmen, where tourists can buy souvenirs.
From the top you can see all the surrounding mountains, with the highest peaks of Romania. And by the exit you’ll find the big letters spelling “RÂȘNOV” placed on the ridge of the hill.
Further on, we went to the Valea Cetății Cave (Valley of the Fortress Cave), which is relatively close. From the parking lot on the side of the road there is a bit of walking to do on a well arranged path towards the entrance to the underground. The place is run by a private company, being kept in good condition.
The cave is not that big, it takes only a few minutes to visit but the inside looks fascinating and is easily accessible for anyone. It’s a place where you can see stalactites and stalagmites formed in millions of years. It makes you put our mortal lives into perspective! And the surrounding forest is majestic, with tall and thick trees.
After exploring the cave, we went for a walk in the city centre, which doesn’t look bad.
Besides a small pedestrian area and some old restored buildings, they also have an underground parking lot which is a big plus, compared to many other Romanian cities.
Then, as the evening was approaching, we headed towards our next destination.
In was almost dark outside when we arrived in Făgăraș, and the only thing we had time to do there that night was dining at a cheap pizza place in the city centre.
We resumed our wanderings in the morning and found that the first impressions of the previous evening had been correct: the city looks very sad, very… communist. There are many old unrenovated buildings, unsightly “neighborhood” shops, a very unpleasant looking golden church and streets in pretty bad condition.
It took us a lot to find a place to eat at breakfast, almost all the places were either closed or served food only at noon, which seemed absurd for a tourist area. Practically all that is to do and see here is located within the few streets next to the fortress, but the atmosphere is pretty desolate.
The fortress itself is very nice, being the best preserved one from the medieval period in our country. It also has a defense water channel around it, where slopes and swans glide slowly, making the place even more picturesque and beautiful.
The construction is quite well renovated, and the furniture it has inside has really impressed us, being excellent reproductions of the centuries-old fittings.
On the premises there is also the Făgăraş Country Museum, displaying antique and medieval exhibits, ethnographic objects, glass icons, paintings and drawings with explanations of Communist torturers and the resistance in the mountains from that era. You can spend a lot of time here admiring interesting things or strolling through the alleys behind the high walls, following the steps of the ancient knights.
Our visit here ended with mixed feelings: how is it possible that such a beautiful touristic site doesn’t seem to have helped the city at all? Moreover, there are other interesting activities that can be done in the area: driving on the Transfăgărăşan road, hiking on mountain trails, cycling circuits… We went further without answers.
The fortified church in Biertan
After driving some tens of kilometers on well-maintained secondary roads passing through poor villages, we arrived in Biertan, a relatively isolated village with a beautiful central area, with a park, several pensions, a decent parking lot and a charming church on the hill.
The construction is in a less than good condition, it needs renovation and a lot of care. Both the church with the surrounding buildings and the inner garden are full of charm and urges visitors to meditation. The wooden elements are very well made and show the skill of those who lived here in using the materials offered by nature, that is, the forests that are still surrounding the village in the present.
We went further, leaving behind this piece of heaven in the heart of Transylvania. After passing by a house on fire from a nearby village and after admiring the walls of the Mediaș castle, we stopped at a small vintage restaurant in Târnăveni, where we ate a traditional soup in bread and a modern burger, and after a few more hours of driving, in the evening, we got back home in Cluj.
This road trip took us through places with exceptional landscapes and reminded us of how beautiful nature is beyond the limits of the metropolitan areas where our everyday life happens. The man-made settlements that we visited have brought us both joy and sadness.
We were excited to walk through beautifully restored fortresses, admiring the objects made centuries ago by skilled craftsmen, and we fully lived the depths of the moments in places considered sacred by our ancestors’ ancestors.
But we were saddened by seeing the carelessness of many of us today, who neglected and destroyed the treasures made with great difficulty by their forerunners. And about Romanian roads… it really isn’t the case to comment further… We just hope that the future will bring brighter days for the beautiful places that we visited.
The tour of the Saxon fortresses has to be made at least once. In the future, hopefully more and more of them will be renovated, so they will become more crowded with tourists than they are now. During our trip it was very easy to get anywhere, with very few tourists, many of them foreigners. Taking this road makes you more familiar with the past of Transylvania and brings you closer to the story of the people in these realms, which helps you to better understand the present. Everything is tied together, and the sum of people’s destinies makes the actual history.