SINAIA, 122km from Bucharest, was the preserve of hermits and shepherds until King Carol I built his summer home, Peleş Castle. It became an exclusive aristocratic resort, but nowadays hordes of holidaymakers come to walk or ski in the dramatic Bucegi mountains. Though actually in the province of Wallachia, it has much in common with the neighbouring Transylvanian towns and is included in this chapter for convenience.
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Just behind Sinaia's monastery, a long cobbled path lined with souvenir stalls leads to one of Romania’s most popular and rewarding sights, Peleş Castle. Set in a large English-style park, the castle outwardly resembles a Bavarian Schloss. Built in 1875–83 for Carol I, and largely decorated by his eccentric wife Elisabeta (better known as the popular novelist Carmen Sylva), it contains 160 rooms, richly done out in ebony, mother of pearl, walnut and leather – all totally alien to traditional styles of Romanian art – and stuffed with antiques and copies of paintings housed in Bucharest’s National Art Museum. How a man of such reputedly austere tastes as Carol managed to live here is something of a mystery, and indeed it hasn’t been lived in since his death in 1914. Peleş was opened to the public in 1953, with one interruption when Ceauşescu appropriated it as a “state palace”. In 2008 the castle was finally handed back to the king, reuniting Mihai with his birthplace and childhood home; it remains open to visitors, as does Pelişor, which is still state property.