There’s a lot of great things to say about Bucharest, but for now, I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves.
The Danube is Europe’s second largest river. It flows from its spring in the Black Forest in Germany almost 3000km to the Black Sea in Romania. On its journey it flows through four European capitals: Vienna – Austria, Bratislava – Slovakia, Budapest – Hungary, and Belgrade – Serbia. So it’s really no wonder that the Danube has always played such an important role. Over 1000km of its journey is in or bordering Romania. It enters Romania at the Iron gates, where it has carved its way through the Carpathian mountains, then acts as a natural border between Romania and Bulgaria. It eventually heads north and as it flows into the sea forms the Danube Delta.
The Danube Delta is a significant biosphere, recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Organization. It is the largest and best preserved of all European deltas. It is a series of canals, islands, lakes, and marshes, whose borders and shapes change with every passing season and year. What is so special about this natural reserve is that it hosts over 300 species of birds, some migrating from North Africa and Siberia. But it is not just home to wildlife, but also to fishing communities whose traditional cultures are still alive since they have been somewhat separated from the rest of the world. There are many things to see in the Danube Delta.
As you visit the Danube Delta, you will probably start in Tulcea, the gateway into this corner of Romania. Here you can find the Tulcea office of tourism, accommodations, and boat tours. You can also reach a few other villages by road, such as Murighiol or Dunavatu de Jos. In every village you will find at least basic forms of accommodation if not beautiful resorts, delicious fish dishes, and boat tours. Most typically, tourists are taken with small motor boats on canals along the reeds, to small lakes where pelicans and egrets hide, to Lake Razim, the largest lake in Romania, or even to see wild horses. You might also choose to spend a few days in Sfantu Gheorghe or Sulina, the main towns in the Delta. There you will spend time by the sea, watching the long journey of the Danube come to an end, as it flows into the Black Sea.
The Bucegi Mountains are part of the southern Carpathians in Romania. They are where you can find the Old Ladies and the Sphinx. And they are also home of a Guinness World Record: the tallest summit cross at such a high altitude. And that altitude? 2,291 meters or 7,516 feet! The size of the cross? 39.5 meters or 129feet 7inches, including the base. And the cross? Well, it’s the Heroes’ or Caraiman Cross on the Caraiman Peak. Visible day and night – when it’s all lit up, it has been standing guard over the Prahova valley for almost 100 years.
This massive structure was build between 1926 and 1928 to commemorate the Fallen Romanian Heroes of World War I. It was built at the initiative of Queen Marie and King Ferdinand,who were also responsible for building one of the impressive things to see in Romania, the Peles Castle. Wood, metal, and concrete building materials were carried to great heights either by oxen-drawn carts or by cable car, and this record-breaking cross was built.
Aside from witnessing this impressive, commemorative construction, a visit to the Heroes’ Cross offers a stunning view of the Prahova Valley, with the town of Busteni being directly below. It’s not for the faint of heart, but rather one of the many adventures in Romania. You will be standing on top of a cliff face, looking straight down to a drop of more than 1,000 meters.
It is not often than one can see such beautiful views in Romania without first hiking for hours up a mountain. The Heroes’ Cross is only an hour and a half from either the Busteni – Babele Cable Car or from the Piatra Arsa Cabin which can be reached by car. If you are an experienced hiker and are looking for an active day, you can hike up from the town of Busteni for about 5 hours, and see both the Heroes’ Cross and the Old Ladies and Sphinx rock formations before descending. But make sure to start early and go prepared, because it’s going to be a full day.
Yes, you read correctly. The Old Ladies and the Sphinx! Yes, in Romania. At 2292 meters altitude, in fact.
Legends abound regarding how these rock formations came to be. They look like they just sprouted from the otherwise flat plateau. They are natural monuments, a witness to erosion, and maybe to human intervention. Yet, no one knows for sure. They have stood tall just as they do today for as far as anyone can remember.
Babele or the Old Ladies is the name given to a group of these rocks. Perhaps from a certain angle they look like old ladies hunched over. Or perhaps their name is a testament to the fact that they are ancient. And timeless. Then there’s the so-called Sphinx. Not identical to the Egyptian monument, but it’s not difficult to see why it has received this imposing title.
You can find these fascinating rock formations at the top of the Bucegi Mountains – part of the famous Carpathian Range which offers many attractions, such as the famous Transfagarasan Highway. The Bucegi are the closest mountains to Bucharest and they make for a great day trip if you are looking for things to do around Bucharest. You can reach the plateau by foot, by car or by cable car, most easily from Busteni Town, but also from Sinaia where you might be visiting the Peles Castle. Nearby there is also the Babele Cabin for overnight stays. And the view of the Prahova Valley from the Heroes’ Cross – stunning!
Dambovicioara, Romania. A village in the southern foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. About three hours from Bucharest, one from Brasov, just south of Magura (from my last post) and the Bran Castle (infamously known as Dracula’s castle).
About half hour from Dambovicioara we (barely) reached the cabin we had rented out, Cabana Pietricica (Pebble Cabin). Getting our cars up to this house was quite the adventure. It included slipping around on the icy forester’s road and pushing said cars. Thankfully, we were an adventurous bunch.
Our cabin had heating: fires in fireplaces and electricity: from a generator that was running out of fuel. Basic conditions, but all you need for a weekend away from the city. We were far away from civilization in a winter wonderland. The only sign of other humans in this corner of the world was a sheepfold with the shepherd’s cottage, deserted for the winter. But the beauty of nature was more than enough. I think you’ll agree.
One our last day of the trip, on our way home, we decided to slip in one more sight: the Peles Castle in Sinaia. Nestled in the Carpathian Mountains, just over 100km north of Bucharest, this commonly named castle, is actually a palace.
The Peles Castle, inaugurated in 1883, was built by King Carol I, the first king of Romania. Carol I ruled Romania, creating the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty, from 1866 until 1914 along with his wife Queen Elizabeth of Wied. Both are considered important figures in Romanian history, not just from a political standpoint, but also from an artistic and cultural one.
The palace is built in Neo-Renaissance and Gothic Revival style, with various European influences. It was used as a summer residence for the Royal family. Inside, you will visit different rooms with themes from various world cultures. The rooms are furnished richly with impeccable taste. There are just so many delightful details to take in.
Don’t fight the urge to picture yourself as a distinguished guest of the king and queen at the turn of the century. I know I didn’t.
Bucharest has some hidden gems, that most visitors and even locals do not get to see. Here are a few architecturally interesting buildings that give us a glimpse into Bucharest’s golden era.