HAŢEG, 20km southeast of Hunedoara, is the gateway to Transylvania’s greatest Roman remains and to the north side of the Retezat mountains. You’ll also find some interesting Romanesque churches in the surrounding area, all reachable by bus with a little effort. The area is also known for its dwarf dinosaur fossils and other geological features: the Haţeg Country GeoPark is an innovative scheme to use these for sustainable tourist development. From the central Piaţa Unirii a slightly odd one-way system (signed to Prislop) leads to the GeoPark’s visitor centre, where there’s a Dragons and Dinosaurs exhibition (legend has it that the dragon Balauri was killed by the brave Cânde, lord of Sântămăria-Orlea and an ancestor of Prince Charles).
Hidden in the foothills of the Poiana Ruscă mountains 15km northwest of Haţeg, Prislop monastery was founded in 1400; it’s one of the country’s oldest convents but was very tranquil and little visited until a revered monk (and future saint) called Arsenie Boca was buried there in 1989, and is now overrun with Romanian tourists. It lies just off the direct road from Hunedoara to Haţeg, but most traffic goes via Călan, on both the train line and the DN66 (E79) south from Simeria, now just a crossroads where a huge steelworks used to rise; the town (a spa dating from Roman times) lies across the river to the east, with the lovely little church of Streisângeorgiu on a hillock on its southern fringe. This was built in 1313–4, with frescoes painted at the same time.