Laid out in 1936, Parcul Herăstrău provides welcome respite from the city’s sweltering heat. Beyond the entrance, paths run past formal flowerbeds to the shore of Lake Herăstrău, one of the largest of a dozen lakes strung along the River Colentina. Created by Carol II to drain the unhealthy marshes that surrounded Bucharest, these lakes form a continuous line across the northern suburbs. Arched bridges lead to the small and fragrant Island of Roses, where the alleyways are lined with the busts of Romanian and foreign luminaries – Brâncuşi, Eminescu, Shakespeare and the like (some are more convincing than others). Beyond here, paths wend their way round to numerous lakeside snack bars and restaurants, as well as a landing stage from where you can rent rowing boats or take a thirty-minute lake cruise. Located near the park’s other entrance, which is at the northern end of Şoseaua Kiseleff, near Piaţa Presei Libere, is the Expo – an enormous pavilion now hosting what must surely be one of the biggest beer halls anywhere in Europe.
The residential area east of the park is one of Bucharest’s most exclusive neighbourhoods. It is where the communist elite once lived, cordoned off from the masses they governed; the Ceauşescus lived at the east end of Bulevardul Primăverii, in the Vila Primavera, which is set to be opened to tourists. The area is still inhabited by technocrats, artists and members of the elite.