Travel in Romania is as rewarding as it is challenging. The country’s mountain scenery, its great diversity of wildlife and cultures, and a way of life that at times seems little changed since the Middle Ages, leave few who visit unaffected. Try to accept whatever happens as an adventure – encounters with Gypsies, wild bears and tricky officials are likely to be far more interesting than anything touted by the tourist board.
Romanians trace their ancestry back to the Romans, and have a noticeable Latin character – warm, spontaneous and appreciative of style. In Transylvania, in addition to ethnic Romanians, one and a half million Magyars and around the same number of Rroma (Gypsies) follow their own path, while dwindling numbers of Transylvanian Germans (Saxons) reside around the fortified towns and churches built by their ancestors. Along the coast, in the Delta and in the Banat, there’s a rich mixture of Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Slovaks, Bulgars, Gypsies, Turks and Tatars.
Two decades of dictatorial rule by Nicolae Ceauşescu brought Romania to the brink of ruin, with economic collapse and repression by the feared Securitate bringing about a stark deterioration in living standards. Although it’s almost thirty years since Ceauşescu’s overthrow in what was Europe’s bloodiest revolution of 1989, the country is, in many ways, only just emerging from his shadow – though Romania’s admission into NATO in 2004 and then, somewhat more controversially, the European Union in 2007, has at least cemented its place in the wider international community.
As fascinating as the urban centres are – such as the capital, Bucharest, Braşov, Sighişoara, Timişoara and, most enchantingly, Sibiu – Romania’s true charm lies in the remoter regions. Any exploration of rural villages will be rewarding, with sights as diverse as the log houses in Oltenia, Delta villages built of reeds, and the magnificent wooden churches, with their sky-scraping Gothic steeples, of Maramureş, not to mention the country’s more traditional churches, which reflect a history of competing communities and faiths. Romania also offers some of the most unspoiled wilderness on the continent, from the majestic peaks of the Carpathian mountains and the verdant, rolling hills of Bucovina to the extraordinary wetlands of the Danube Delta.