This journey focuses on Oltenia, in the western region of Wallachia. The mediaeval state of Wallachia, between the Lower Danube and the Southern Carpathians, was founded as a principality in the early 14th century, and being relatively autonomous in the 15th century, was able to establish princely courts and significant monasteries.
The region of Oltenia, an area of unique beauty and largely untouched by tourism, is full of picturesque monasteries nestling in the foothills of the southern Carpathians. It is the home of the tombs of the Romanian Royal family, and where the Boyars, the Romanian aristocrats in the 17th and 19th centuries, built unique fortified houses against the Turks, which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Collection. Oltenia is a place where potters and basket makers, rug weavers and cheesemakers carry on their art as they have always done. It is where tradition is still important and hospitality is genuine and generous.
You will explore the hidden local craft museums and wonderful wooden buildings, with many still conserving their original furniture from the 18th century, eat the local hearty food and enjoy the wines of this largely agricultural region, while feasting on the natural beauty and wild flowers of the Olt valley. This captivating tour of Oltenia, with its tranquil villages inhabited by shepherds and cowherds, its numerous historical monuments and its spectacular scenery, makes it the perfect introduction to one of Romania’s least visited and unspoilt regions.
Highlights include the magnificent Hurezu monastery, one of the most serene Monasteries in Romania, a UNESCO World Heritage site and masterpiece of the Brâncoveanu style, Targu Jiu where sculptor Brancusi, student of Rodin, installed his greatest art installations, and a special dinner in a former Boyars Family’s house, hosted by the noble aristocratic Romanian family who recovered their home after the 1989 Revolution.
LONDON / BUCHAREST
Morning departure from London Heathrow on a British Airways flight to Bucharest arriving in the mid-afternoon. On arrival, transfer to the charming 4-star Residence Domenii Plaza Hotel where one night is spent. Dinner at the hotel.
BUCHAREST / CURTEA DE ARGES / BAILE GOVORA
This morning, depart to the north-west to Curtea Domneasca de las Arges, the Wallachian rulers’ first capital to visit to the Cathedral and Monastery of Curtea de Arges. Founded between 1512 – 1517 the Monastery is the burial place of King Carol I, King Ferdinand, Queen Elisabeta and Queen Maria, as well as other princes of Wallachia and their wives. Legend has it that the wife of Meșterul Manole, who built the church, was sacrificed and buried alive in the walls. The Cathedral of Curtea de Arges had an overwhelming influence on the architectural style of many religious monuments in the southern part of the country.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Continue your journey west into Oltenia, passing the town of Râmnicu Vâlce on the western banks of the River Olt which marks the border between the two halves of Wallachia, to the Monastery of Govora. This simple trefoil church, with its tall cupola, stands inside a curtainwall, showing that it once was heavily fortified. It had been destroyed before 1488, when Vlad Calugarul had it restored and during the reign of Prince Radu cel Frumus (Radu the Handsome, 1495-1508) it became an influential cultural centre, famous for its printing press. It developed still further in the 18th century, when Prince Constantin Brâncoveanu had the church rebuilt and frescoed. Transfer to the comfortable 4-star Palace Hotel in Baile Govora were one night is spent. Dinner at the hotel.
BAILE GOVORA / HOREZU
This morning depart (with luggage) for Dintr-un lemn Monastery which according to legend, was built in the 16th century by a shepherd from a single tree trunk. The original monastery burnt down and the existing wooden church was built in 1810-14. The stone church in the precinct is thought to have been built in the 17th century by the boyar Preda Brâncoveanu – inside are frescoes including portraits of the Princes of Wallachia. Most of the other buildings in the precinct were built by Ștefan Cantacuzino, Prince of Wallachia from 1714-6. Continue north to the village of Horezu, with a stop enroute at Măldărești village to visit two magnificent cule – Cula Greceanu, built in the early 18th century and Cula Duca, built in 1815. Both are now ethnographic museums. Cule are semi-fortified thick-walled houses that were built from the late 17th century by the boyar class as refuges used during Turkish raids. Typically 3-storeyed, with animals and storage at ground level, but with no internal access to the upper floors, which contained more storage as well as the living quarters. They often have attractive balconies that doubled up as watch stations. These towers, together with fortified manor houses called ‘conace’, were spread all over Oltenia, and were located strategically on high hills. The fortified houses were both homes and watch towers. The walls, frequently up to a metre thick, are built of stone or brick, sometimes with oak beams to consolidate them.
Lunch at a beautifully restored cule. Continue to Olari for a walk through the village, renowned for its pottery that comes in a panoply of different colours and styles, and is included in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Continue to the beautifully restored fortified house, Conacul lui Maldar, where two nights are spent. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit to the Horezu Monastery, one of the most serene and finest religious ensembles in Romania, set in breathtaking mountainous scenery. A UNESCO World Heritage site, built by Constantin Brâncoveanu, Prince of Wallachia between 1693 -1697. Brâncoveanu was a leader of the Byzantine revival who maintained close links with the Orthodox Christian faith. In doing so he infuriated the Sultan and was eventually beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam. He was also a great supporter of the arts, and under his patronage a distinctive style was born. Known as the stil brâncovenesc, the Brâncoveanu style, was the amalgamation between Romanian, Islamic and Venetian art which infused architecture, stone carving, silverwork and embroidery.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Optional afternoon walk (2.5 miles / 1 hour) or transfer by bus to Romanii de Sus, a village north of Horezu monastery, to explore the gypsy settlement where the inhabitants specialise in making hazelnut wickerwork and farming. Special dinner at a local former boyar family’s house by kind arrangement of Carina and Radu Ogrezeanu Ghica. This local aristocratic family had to leave Romania during Ceausescu’s time and lived in Germany for many years. The family returned after the 1989 Revolution and recovered their family home. The Ghica family were a noble family active in Wallachia, Moldavia and in the Kingdom of Romania in the 17th and 19th centuries.
HOREZU / POLOVRAGI / TARGU JIU / CARTIU
Morning departure (with luggage) to Polovragi Monastery, built by Prince Radu cel Frumos in 1470 at the mouth of the Cheile Oltetului (Oltet Gorge), which has some fine early 18th-century murals.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Continue the journey to the town of Târgu Jiu, stopping on the way at Curtișoara to visit the Museum of Folk Architecture in the district of Gorj. Here there is a superb collection of traditional houses, including a beautiful 18th-century cula house that contains furniture, decorations and household objects typical of Oltenia village life. Continue to the rural Pension Casa Cartianu, built in 1760 by the Cartianu family and one of the best semi-fortified cula houses in the area, where two nights are spent. Enjoy the fresh local produce including jams, pickles, apples and vegetables as well as an outdoor swimming pool. Dinner at Pension Casa Cartianu.
CARTIU, TARGU JIU & SOHODOL
Morning visit to the industrial town of Târgu Jiu, on the edge of the Jiu valley coal mines. Whilst not the most attractive town, it was here in 1937-38 that Constantin Brâncuși (1876-1857) supervised the installation of a group of sculptures that became famous worldwide, including the ‘Endless Column’, the ‘Gate of the Kiss’, the ‘Table of Silence’ and the ‘Avenue of Chairs’, making this home to Romania’s best-known sculptural ensemble.
Enjoy a traditional lunch in the village of Sohodol prepared by a local teacher who is also an expert in making traditional Oltenia rugs. Return to Pension Casa Cartianu for the remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Dinner at Pension Casa Cartianu.
CARTIU / DRAGASANI / BUCHAREST
Morning departure (with luggage) to The Avincis wine estate, situated on the right bank of the river Olt, the largest tributary of the Danube in Romania. The Drăgășani vineyard extends over 60km, between the Getic Sub Carpathians in the north and the Romanian plain in the south. Their white wines are fine, cool, with good acidity and their red wines are chiefly Cabernet Sauvignon as well as the local variety Negru de Drăgășani, and both are internationally recognised.
Lunch and wine tasting at the Avincis wine Estate. Continue to Bucharest and re-check into the 4-star Residence Domenii Plaza Hotel where one night is spent. Dinner at a local restaurant.
BUCHAREST / LONDON
Morning tour of Bucharest including the Calea Victoriei Boulevard with its beautiful period buildings which gave the city its nickname ‘Little Paris’. Visit the outside of the Palace of Parliament, built by Ceaucescu, a frightening example of his megalomania and a must to see. A monstrous building, second only in size to the Pentagon, it took 20,000 people, working three shifts a day, five years to complete. Nine square kilometres of the city were flattened and 40,000 people had their homes flattened to accommodate it. Continue to Revolution Square and see the striking 18th century red brick Kretzulescu church, one of the oldest churches in Bucharest before stopping for a quick visit at the National Art Museum, located in the former royal palace in Revolution Square. Continue to the charming Lipscani district with its smart cafes, antique shops and silversmiths.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Transfer to Bucharest Airport for a British Airways late afternoon flight to London, arriving in the early evening.