Nowhere in Eastern Europe defies preconceptions quite like Romania. The country suffers from a poor image, but don’t be put off – outstanding landscapes, a surprisingly efficient train system, a huge diversity of wildlife and rural communities and traditions that at times seem little changed since the Middle Ages.
Romanians trace their ancestry back to the Romans, and they like to stress their Latin roots, although they have Balkan traits too. They see their future as firmly within the Euro-Atlantic family and were delighted to join NATO and then, in 2007, the European Union.
The capital, Bucharest, is perhaps daunting for the first-time visitor – its savage history is only too evident – but parts of this once-beautiful city retain a voyeuristic appeal. More attractive by far, and easily accessible on public transport, is Transylvania, a region steeped in history, offering some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in Europe as well as a uniquely multi-ethnic character. Its chief cities, such as Braşov, Sibiu and Sighişoara, were built by Saxon (German) colonists, and there are also strong Hungarian and Roma (Gypsy) presences here. In the border region of the Banat, also highly multi-ethnic, Timişoara is Romania’s most Western-looking city and famed as the birthplace of the 1989 revolution.