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Romania: Hungarian and Saxon Transylvania

Romania: Hungarian and Saxon Transylvania Romania: Hungarian and Saxon Transylvania
£ 2385

This captivating tour to Romania focuses on Transylvania, at the crossroad of Central and Eastern Europe, where horses still work the fields in the landscape largely unchanged by time, a region rich in history and known for its beautiful Carpathian landscape.

We will visit Szekely Land, an autonomous region from Medieval times until 1876, inhabited by the Szekely, Hungarian people leading a traditional way of life in the valleys and hills of the Eastern Carpathians. Their villages are distinctive, with houses set apart from each other and defended by huge oak-carved gates, and small, whitewashed churches. We will also visit Saxon villages, inhabited by people of German ethnicity who settled here from the 12th century. The Saxons formed distinct communities, maintained ethnic traditions, their villages dominated by fortified churches and characterised by a specific, compact settlement pattern for protection.

We will explore the beautiful countryside of one of Romania’s least known and largely unspoiled regions and taste a variety of regional dishes and wines. We begin in Saxon Brasov founded in the 12th century, and go on to visit the Szekely frescoes at the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Dajiu, and the wooden Szekely gates at Satu Mare. We continue to the beautifully preserved Medieval Saxon town of Sighisoara with its ancient crooked houses and alleyways, followed by the gypsy village of Brateiu, ending in Bucharest, once known as ‘Little Paris’ due to its charming fin de siècle buildings and boulevards.

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8 days from
per person
Tour Date:
4th May 2020 -
11th May 2020
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Romania: Hungarian and Saxon Transylvania

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Day 1

LONDON / BUCHAREST

Suggested flights (not included in the cost of the tour) British Airways BA886 departing London Heathrow at 11.40 hrs arriving Bucharest at 17.00. On arrival, transfer along Prahova valley into Transylvania to the town of Brasov and check into the charming 4-star Belvedere Hotel where one night is spent. Dinner at the hotel.

Day 2 BRASOV / TALISOARA

This morning depart (with luggage) and explore Brasov in the foothills of Mount Tampa. Brasov is one of the seven cities founded by the Saxons in Transylvania in the 12th century to guard the mountain passes. Stroll through the medieval streets, visit the Black Church, Europe’s most eastern Gothic church, and its famous Council Square which is part of the legend of the Pied Piper. The Black Church houses of an impressive collection of Ottoman rugs which arrived in Transylvania through trade with the Turks. Today there are 380 Ottoman ‘classical’ carpets in Transylvania from 15th – 17th century. Together they comprise the most important corpus of Turkish textile art still surviving in Eastern Europe. Then travel to the eastern part of Transylvania into Szekely Land. The Szekely are a Hungarian-speaking people. Their most important duty was to defend the borders of Transylvania from Turks. In return they enjoyed the privilege of self-government like Russia’s Cossaks, free from serfdom and foreign military services.

Lunch at a local restaurant. Continue your journey to the village of Talisoara and check into Hotel Castel Daniel where three nights are spent. Some of the rooms in this beautiful restored manor house still preserve 17th century old frescoes. At dinner. enjoy a cooking demonstration where a local lady will cook the famous Kurtos Kolacs – the ‘chimney cakes’.

Day 3 TALISOARA / ODORHEIU SECUIESC / MUGENI ARJIU / TALISOARA

This morning visit a local blacksmith in the village and his amazing workshop. An artist who restores much of the hardware of the nearby churches, including the Black Church in Brasov. Travel north along the spectacular Ocland Pass at 800m with a stop en-route to the reformed Calvinist church with beautiful architecture in the village of Varghis. The church was built in 1997 by the Hungarian architect Imre Makovecz on the site of an older 13th century church. Continue driving towards the town of Odorheiu, settled on an ancient Roman military camp. The town developed as a small craft town during the reigns of the Hungarian Arpad kings. In the 15th century King Mathias Corvinus granted Odorheiu Secuiesc ‘free royal town’ status enabling its many different craft guilds to host commercial fares. See one of the oldest architectural monuments in Transylvania – The Chapel of Jesus – from the 13th century. The little chapel gained its name from the war cries of Szekely warriors who built a chapel on the battlefield to commemorate their victory.

Lunch at a traditional restaurant. Continue exploring Szekely churches at Mugeni and Darjiu – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Calvinist church at Mugeni is famous for its 14th century frescoes. Some of the frescoes illustrate the Saint Laszlo legend, the king’s battle with the Cumanian chieftain. Darjiu is one of the only two Szekely historical sites under UNESCO World Heritage. This UNESCO status was granted mainly because of the fresco of the legend of Saint Laszlo showing scenes of the battle with the Cumanian chieftain to save a Hungarian maiden. Return to the hotel. Dinner at the hotel.

Day 4 TALISOARA / MIERCUREA CIUC / RACUL / CARTA / TALISOARA

This morning head eastwards to the small village of Satu Mare to admire the beautiful wooden Szekely gates. Cross Vlahita Pass at 987m altitude and head to the town of Miercurea Ciuc, where 82% of the population is Hungarian, and which is considered to be the unofficial capital of Szekely Land. Visit the late Renaissance-style Miko Castle with its four corner bastions. The original castle, which was far more ornate than today’s building, was built by an advisor to Transylvanian ruler Bethlen Gabor in the first half of the 17th century. The castle was largely destroyed by the Tatar raids of 1661, and it was only at the beginning of the 18th century that it was rebuilt by an Austrian general in the simple style seen today. Now it is the home to the Csiki Szekely Museum that also has a lavish folk exhibition. In the grounds of the castle there is an open-air exhibition, which consists of Csik style wooden gates and some Csik houses.

Lunch at a local restaurant. Drive north to visit two fortified churches in Racul and Carta. Racul has unusual 15th century frescoes covering the walls of the church tower that shows scenes from the everyday folk life and they were restored in 2004. Carta is the best-preserved fortified church in Csik region from the 15th century. The Catholic church is surrounded by an eight-metre-high defensive wall, complete with arrow slits and a wooden balcony. The chancel is Gothic, while the main nave has been remodeled in Baroque style and it has beautiful stained-glass windows that date from 1912. Return to Talisoara village. Dinner at the hotel.

Day 5 TALISOARA / GHEORGHNI / BRANCOVENESTI / TARGU MURES

This morning depart (with luggage) and drive to the town of Odorheiu Secuiesc and continue the journey towards the north to a small village of Corund where the age-old craft of pottery remains the mainstay of the village today. Local potters sell their wares which today embrace everything from handwoven rugs to sheepskin jerkins and knitted sweaters, from open-air stalls set up in the centre of the village. The village is famous especially for its blue and white pottery delicately designed with flowers and birds. Crossing Praid, a seasonal resort of local importance at the foot of the Gurghiu Mountain, climb over the pretty Bucin Pass at 1287 metres. Head to the town of Gheorgheni, considered to be the coldest town of Romania. Explore the small town of Gheorgheni, the home to the largest Armenian community in Transylvania. Visit the Armenian Catholic church, built in 1733. Travel south-west towards the town of Targu Mures passing the impressive gorges of the Mures river. Visit, along the route, Kemeny Castle, in the village of Brancovenesti. Time permitting, make a short stop along the way to the village of Gurghiu to visit the derelict 18th century Bornemisza Castle. Also. explore the botanical garden behind the castle to see the old-world elegance of the beautifully carved wooden pavilions and the memorial stone to Franz Joseph’s wife Sissi.

Lunch at a local restaurant. Continue heading south to the village of Gornesti. Visit Teleki Castle, which was recently given back to its owners. Gornesti was the seat of the Teleki family and their castle, set in the middle of parkland, is among the most beautiful examples of Transylvanian Baroque architecture. Time permitting, continue to a countryside to see the belfry in Ceuasu de Campie, considered one of the most beautiful in Transylvania. Szekely Land has numerous wooden belfries built separately from their churches, but this particular one is believed to have existed since 1570, making it the oldest wooden structure in the region. It has a lovely iron clock, dating back to 1830. Arrive late afternoon in the town of Targu Mures, Szekely Land’s most important town in terms of culture and trade. Check into Hotel Haller Castle where one night is spent. Dinner at the hotel. 

Day 6 TARGU MURES / MEDIAS / SIGHISORA

This morning enjoy a short stroll in the city. The town is famous for the Art Nouveau buildings in the main Roses square. The Old Town Hall and the Palace of Culture are the best-known buildings of the town. Both were built as part of mayor Gyorgy Bernady’s town development project at the beginning of the 20th century and they were designed by the era’s top architects, Marcell Komor and Dezso Jakab, in a distinctive folk-influenced Art Nouveau style. Visit the Palace of Culture and the Teleki library.

Lunch in Targu Mures. Continue the journey back into Saxon Transylvania. Travel southwards to visit the town of Medias. See the Evangelic Church “St. Margaret”, or the “Castle” which represented the core around which the citadel gradually developed. See the medieval centre of the city which has a particular charm, with narrow winding lanes, centuries-old houses and a large square towards which converge the main streets of the town. Visit the Furriers’ Bastion (1641), the Blacksmiths’ Tower (1641), the Wheelwrights’ Tower (17th century), the Knife-Makers’ Bastion (15th century), the Gate’s Tower (16th century). Travel eastwards to the village of Brateiu, founded by the Saxon colonists in 1283. The Romanians, Germans and Hungarians, Gypsies have also settled there. They are of the ‘caldararii’ cast specialising as coppersmiths and will have an opportunity to see their craft. Continue to the Saxon town of Sighisoara (Schaβburg), one of the best preserved mediaeval citadels in Europe where you will have the only opportunity in Europe to walk the streets of a genuine still inhabited medieval town. Visit the old town to see the Clock Tower which is considered to be the symbol of Sighisoara, the house where Vlad the Impaler was born and which is considered to be the oldest civilian stone building and is now used as a restaurant. Church on the Hill, a gothic Lutheran church dedicated to Saint Nicholas and dating from the 14th century. Check into the 5-star hotel Fronius where one night is spent. Dinner at a local restaurant.

Day 7 SIGHISOARA / FAGARAS / SINAIA / BUCHAREST

This morning depart (with luggage) across the heart of the Saxon Land, via the town of Agnita and then heading south close to the town of Fagaras. If time permits, visit briefly the Fagaras Fortress. Built in 1310 on the site of a former 12th century wooden fortress (burned by the Tartars in 1241), Fagaras was enlarged between the 15th and 17th centuries and was considered one of the strongest fortifications in Transylvania.

Lunch at a local restaurant. Continue travelling southwards to Bucharest. En route stop in Sinaia to visit Romania’s most exquisite castle – Peles Castle, a royal palace built as a summer residence for the first king of Romania, Carol I. Perched upon a rolling green hill and set against the stark beauty of the Carpathian Mountains, this magnificent castle appears to be extracted directly from a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale. The castle was built in 1875 in German Renaissance style. Each room was furnished to reflect a different European country. The edifice is surrounded by a terraced garden. The terraces of the castle, conceived in late Italian Renaissance style, are decorated with statues, vessels, columns and fountains. Check into the 4 star Residence Dominii Plaza hotel, where one night is spent. Dinner at the hotel.

Day 8

BUCHAREST / LONDON

Morning tour of Bucharest including Victoriei Street, the main and most popular street in Bucharest, with its period buildings, many with a strong French neo-classical imprint, which gave the city the name of “Little Paris”. These include the Romanian Athenaeum, the Museum of History, the Royal Palace, the central University Library. Visit Revolution Square and the 18th century Cretulescu church. Walk through the Lipscani area, Bucharest’s oldest commercial district. Explore on foot this old part of Bucharest. Lipscani gets its name from the Leipziger merchants who once brought their goods to sell here. It is fascinating to wander around and enjoy the areas exotic atmosphere.

Lunch at a local restaurant. Transfer to Bucharest Airport. Suggested flights (not included in the cost of the tour) British Airways BA887 departing Bucharest at 17.55 hrs arriving London Heathrow at 19.25 hrs.

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