Around sibiu

Cisnadie, Rajinari & Paltini;

Eight kilometres south of Sibiu, on the road to Paltini$, is the Saxon fortified church of Cisnadie (Heltau in German, Nagydisznod in Hungarian). Work started on defensive walls around the church in 1430 but they were destroyed by a Turkish attack on the town in 1493. Ask in the village for the key to the bell tower, which offers eye-pleasing views of this red-roofed town. Three main streets run through Cisnadie; the church is south of the middle street.

The charming shepherd village of Ra§in-ari, famed for its local carpentry and sheep farming, is 4km south of Cisnadie and is one of the wealthiest villages in the region. There are two small rivers running through it, three churches and a monastery in the slow process of being built. Ethnographic exhibits - featuring the long wooden laililt (talv) used for sampling the plum biainlj (tuica) stored in large wooden kegs ,nt displayed in the village museum. Tin» it also the birthplace of Romanian pool aitq politician Octavian Goga (1881-1939).

The main road through Ra^inari st.nii a steep climb before climaxing at Piiltlntt (1470m), one of the prettiest and mosl mu venient stepping stones to excellent Inking trails in Romania (see the boxed texl ,,« pl23). Romania's first mountain result (founded in 1894), it's nestled at the fool nl the Cindrel Mountains (also known as ill» Cibin Mountains) and is readily accessilili by transport from Sibiu (see pl21). Servii ft are above average and the surroundings an staggeringly beautiful. The last remnants uf its golden past as a fashionable resort wni wiped out in 1992 when its wooden nine pin bowling alley was moved to the open air museum in Sibiu.

Paltinij' Reception Centre (§574040) is run by an enthusiastic ex-Peace Corps volun teer who stayed on and single-handedly made this resort one of the best-managed in the country. It can book accommod.i tion (see Sleeping, below), hook you i■ |• to the Internet (€1 per hour), alert you In weather conditions on the mountains, phi', rent mountain bikes (€1 per hour), skis anil snowboards (€10 per day). It hosts a Snow Festival (Sarbatori Zapezii) during the second week in April, replete with soapbox derbies and build-your-own-sleigh competitions, and the Mountain Jazz Festival (Jaz/ ca Munte) on the first weekend in August Paltini? also rumbles in the second week ol August when part of the national off-road car rally rolls through.

SLEEPING

For places to stay in Paltini$, contact either the Reception Centre (§ 574 040), available 24 hours, or, in Sibiu, the extremely efficient SC Paltinis (§ 223 860; www.scpaltinis.ro in Romanian; StrTribunei 3; ® 9am-5pm Mon-Fri). Either can find accommodation to suit any budget, from dorm beds for €5 to three-star doubles for €35; there's a great range to choose from.

Cabana Mai (® 557 269; www.pensiunea-mai.ro; s/d/ste €25/40/60) Some 5km beyond Ra^inari towards Sibiu, this is the best place be tween Sibiu and Paltini$. Rooms are huge and most have splendid views of the velvety

I INDREL MOUNTAINS

(ho (Indrel (or Cibin) Mountains' highest peaks - Mt Cindrel (2244m) and Mt Frumoasa (2170m) -ilmller two large glacial lakes.

trom Paltini;, you can enjoy what experts say are the country's best-marked hiking trails. Hi-ller still, almost all of the trails are perfect for mountain biking too.

I rom Paltlnij' Reception Centre, where you can pick up a map of the region and trails, there's « 1km trail to $anta, where there is a small refuge for campers to spend the night. The most popular route (3.5km, red circles) descends to the Cibin Gorges (Cheile Cibinului). From here the Intll continues northeast, past Lake Cibin to Cabana Fantanele. The next day continue in the tame direction to Sibiel village (three to Vh hours, blue crosses). Alternatively, follow another lilue-cross trail to the neighbouring village of Fantanele.

Heading back south from Cabana Fantanele, a trail (red crosses and blue circles) cuts down 6 valley to $aua Jerbanei, where you pick a separate trail leading to the Canaia refuge (716 to ilght hours for the whole trip, blue circles).

More adventurous alpinists should follow the trail from Cabana Paltini; south, past the Canaia lefuge (5Vi to 6V2 hours, red stripes) to the summit of Mt Cindrel. Heading northwards, red stripes also indicate the way to Ra;inari village (six to seven hours), with its Cabana Mai.

From Paltlni§ it is an easy day's hike to most of the villages in Marginimea Sibiului (see below).

green valley. The restaurant serves scrumptious meals from 8am to 11pm, including llsli you can catch yourself in the stream ln'hind the cabana. There are several hiking Iruils nearby.

GETTING THERE & AWAY

A11 alternative way to get to Ra^inari is by 1 .iking trolleybus No 1 from the Sibiu train »lation to the last stop. Then take the tram (same side of road as Dumbrava Park; every half-hour) to Ra^inari.

See pl21 for more information.

Marginimea Sibiului

The villages in the so-called Marginimea Sibiului ('borders of Sibiu') represent the heart and soul of traditional rural (ie Romanian) Transylvania. Scattered throughout the region west of Sibiu, they have preserved an old way of life: here you see not only the ubiquitous horse and plough, but also artisans engaged in woodwork, carving and weaving. Painting icons on glass and colouring eggs are pastimes here as much as surfing the Web is in Bucharest, and the local cuisine, including shepherd's polenta (with loads of fresh cream and milk), is enough to keep you purring for days. The region is best explored by bike.

Lying 15km west of Sibiu is the delightful Cristian (Grossau in German, Keresz-tenysziget in Hungarian). This village was settled by Saxons in the 14th century and is therefore not part of Marginimea Sibiului, but it makes for a picture-postcard stop along the way. Red-roofed houses and vibrant washed walls are overshadowed by a grandiose fortified church in the centre of the village. Visitors can climb the tower of the church for an aerial view. Ask for the key at the green-painted house, down the road behind the eastern fortress wall. Local history is covered in the petite village museum (Muzeul Satesco; (S noon-5pm Tue-Sun), next to the local prefecture in the centre of the village.

Orlat, founded in the early 14th century, is today home to one of the largest village orphanages in Romania. Just 4km away is Gura Raului, a charming, sleepy town with a massive dam several kilometres out of town. In Sibiel, 5km west of Orlat, the Zosim Oancea Icons Museum (® 553 818), one of Romania's best, is well worth visiting. The museum, in a blue-painted building next to the village church (1765), houses a collection of more than 700 icons richly painted on glass, as well as furniture and ceramics.

From Sibiel, head 6km north to Salute, another quaint village rich in local folklore. In Galej, 2km west of Sali^te, is a small ethnographic and art museum. It is at the southern end of the village, across the bridge opposite a salami factory. A dirt track leads from Gale? to Poiana Sibiului, lamed lor its fantastic coloured eggs decorated with bright, geometric motifs.

SLEEPING & EATING

Be sure to check out Rural Tourism (www .ruraltourism.ro), a web-based service which provides details (and photos) of many guesthouses in the area. Also, dozens of homes in each village have cazare signs hanging in their windows; finding a place to stay is rarely a problem. In Sibiel, for example, an agro-tourism scheme involves some 20 families who open their homes to tourists, feeding you with fresh eggs and milk for breakfast and laying on a small feast of home-grown produce at dinner time. This successful business is run by Dorina Petra ((Hj 554 198). A night's accommodation including all meals costs €15 to €20 per person.

Hotel Spack (@ 579 262; Str II9; s/d €14/25) Staying here is comparable to a cosy night at home. The small, family-run pensiune is on the edge of Cristian on the road to Orlat.

Campean (@ 572 364; Gura Raului 833; per person €7) This is a dreamy place to stay in Gura Raului. A small guesthouse on the site of a small farm (there are buffaloes!), it's run by friendly French-speaking owners who can entertain kids, both the child and adult varieties, with fun horse-drawn cart and sleigh rides. Meals are about €2 extra.

GETTING THERE & AWAY

Local trains from Sibiu to Sebe? stop at Cristian (€0.40, 15 minutes), Sibiel (€0.70, 25 minutes), Salute (€1, 35 minutes) and Miercurea Sibiului (€2, 1V* hours). There are five trains daily between Sibiu and Sebe?. The only buses serving the area go from Sibiu to Orlat (€0.70, eight per day).

Around Media; & Copja Mica

If Transylvania's pristine landscape has left you with a hankering for pollution, you may consider a visit to Media? (population 61,740), a thriving industrial town 55km north of Sibiu, or its notorious twin, Cop?a Mica, 13km to its southwest. It was in Media? (Mediasch in German, Medgyes in Hungarian) that Saxon church leaders met in 1544 to mark the first Lutheran synod in Transylvania. The fortified Evangelical Church of St Margaret dominates the old town, just north of Piata Regele Ferdinand (a few minutes' walk north of the train station) A church was built on the site in the I lilt century but it was not until 1447 that llil present edifice was constructed. A 74ni I,ill tower (struck by lightning four times) wai added in 1482, while the church's altar, dill ing from 1485, is considered one of Trim sylvania's most precious pieces of medic till Saxon art. For details about other forlilml churches closer to Sighi?oara, see pi29.

Cop?a Mica, traditionally Romania« black pit, is a major junction for connect iiib trains between Sibiu and Sighi?oara. Until the early 1990s, the factory producing bln< I carbon (used in tyres) and a metalwoil» plant spewed out filth that left the sin rounding area covered in soot all year long; sheep were black from it, laundry could mil be hung outside, and the health effects wen apalling - two thirds of children showed some signs of mental illness. Since the l.ill of the communist regime, the town hat made a dramatic turnaround, with Euro standard filters on the metalworks plant, and the closing of the carbon factory. Whit* snow was seen for the first time in decades. Still, the belching smokestacks visible front afar are a shocking sight in contrast to the beauty of the rest of the region.

Getting There & Away

Media? is on the Cluj-Napoca-Bucharest line. To get to Sighi?oara from Sibiu you have to change trains at Cop?a Mica or Media?. All international trains between Bucharest and Budapest stop at Media?. Buses and maxitaxis link Media? witli Cop?a Mica, Targu Mure? and Sibiu.

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