From Bucharest, trains carve their way north through the spectacular Carpathian mountain range into the heart of Transylvania. The Carpathians offer Europe’s cheapest skiing in winter and wonderful hiking during the summer, along with caves, alpine meadows, dense forests sheltering bears, and lowland valleys with quaint villages.
The population is a mix of Romanians, Magyars, Germans, Roma and others, thanks to centuries of migration and colonization. The Trianon Treaty of 1920 placed Transylvania within the Romanian state, but the character of many towns still reflects past patterns of settlement. Most striking are the former seats of Saxon power with their defensive towers and fortified churches. Sighişoara is the most picturesque but could be the Saxons’ cenotaph: they have left their houses and churches but their living culture has evaporated, as it threatens to do in Braşov and Sibiu.