Lalomiciora Monastery

Ifnot dubbed the Pearl of the Carpathians Itn nothing. Sinaia boasts not only Roman-hottest skiing, but also the country's iiliisl fabulous palace. Despite being Ro-lliiiilla's most popular ski resort, it has ifhilned an earthy elegance, a refusal to tin n into commercial kitsch. Yet it would lie hard to mess up such gorgeous sur-Inlindings: at once floating at an altitude mI H00-930m in the narrow Prahova Valley iiul lying at the foot of the fir-clad Bucegi Mountains, Sinaia seems to have sprouted naturally from its wooded nest.

The resort is alleged to have gained its inline from Romanian nobleman Mihai I 'iintacuzino who, following a pilgrimage lie made to the biblical Mt Sinai in Israel Hi 1695, founded the Sinaia Monastery. It liter developed into a major resort after King Carol I selected the area for his summer residence in 1870 and built what is today Romania's most beautiful palace.

Until 1920, the Hungarian-Romanian border ran along Predeal Pass, just north of Sinaia.

For readers' convenience, this area has been included in Transylvania in this book, even though is is administratively part of Wallachia.

Orientation

The train station is directly below the centre of town. From the station climb up the stairway across the street to busy B-dul Carol I. Hotel Montana and the cable car are to the left; the monastery and palace are uphill to the right. Also to the right is the 1911 Edwardian-style casino, modelled after the famous one in Monte Carlo.

MAPS & PUBLICATIONS

For hiking maps see pl04. Amco's fold-out Ploiefti (€1.90) includes a so-so city map. There is also a city map at the top of the stairs from the train station, plus a map of hiking trails on the corner of B-dul Carol I and Str Cuza Voda. Other, older and faded maps are sold at the cable-car station. Check out the streetpaper Zile fi Nopti and its website www.zilesinopti.ro for club and entertainment listings.

Information

INTERNET ACCESS

Club Green Point (© 312 973; B-dul Carol 1,41; per hr €0.50; S 9am-2am)

Internet Room (per hr €0.50; S 10am-10pm) This is located in the Hotel International lobby.

EMERGENCY

If you run into problems in the mountains or need to check weather conditions, contact Salvamont (© 313131; Primarie, B-dul Carol I; also at Cota 2000 at top of chairlift).

MONEY

The currency exchange inside the Luxor Agentie de Turism offers good rates; it's open 8am to 8pm daily. The Banca Comerciala Romana (B-dul Carol I; ®8am-5.30pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-12.30pm Sat), next to the town hall, cashes travellers cheques, gives cash advances on Visa/MasterCard and has an ATM.

POST & TELEPHONE

The central post office (©311 591; S?am-8pm Mon-Fri, 8am-noon Sat) and telephone office (® 10am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat) are both at B-dul Carol I 33.

TOURIST INFORMATION Dracula's Land (© 311441; B-dul Carol 1,14; ® 9am-6pm) Despite its tacky name, make this your first stop in town. It's one of the country's most active, enthusiastic travel agencies and doubles as a tourist information bureau, happy to help with any kind of question even if unrelated to its own services,

INFORMATION

Dracula's Land Travel Agency. 2 D3

Internet Room (see 16)

Luxor Agenjie de Turism 3 C3

Post & Telephone Office 4 D3

Salvamont (see 5)

SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES (pp108-10)

Bike Rental Outlet 6 D3

Foijorul Hunting Lodge 7 A1

Natural History Museum 8 D2

Pelej Castle 9 C1

Pelisor Palace 10 B1

Sinaia Monastery & History

Museum 11 D2

Snow 12 C3

Surmont Sport 13 C3

SLEEPING Q <pp110-11>

Hotel Economat 14 B1

Hotel Furnica 15 B2

Hotel International 16 C4

Hotel Palace 17 D2

Hotel Sinaia 18 D3

Irish House 19 D3

Marami Hotel 20 B2

New Montana 21 C3

Ferdinand 22 B2

Irish House Restaurant (see 19)

Pizzerie Carpafl 23 D3

Snow Restaurant (see 12)

DRINKING Q (pp111-12)

Beräria Cerbul 24 D3

Club Green Point & Internet

Salon 25 D3

Club Jail 26 D3

ENTERTAINMENT 0 <pp111-12)

Cinema Perla 27 D3

Fun Fair 28 C4

TRANSPORT (p112)

Central Bus Stop 29 D3

OTHER

Sinaia Casino 30 D2

which include booking accommodation (at a 25-40% discount) and arranging a wide array of hiking and ski tours.

Luxor Agentie de Turism (@314 124; fax 314 251; B-dul Carol'I, 22; ®9am-5pm Mon-Sat) This outfit usually runs three or four excursions (€5 to €10 per day) in and around Sinaia per day; they are posted in the front window. It can also arrange a hiking guide for €25 to €50 per day, depending on the number of people in the group.

Sights

SINAIA MONASTERY

Some 20 monks call the Sinaia Monastery (Str Manastlrii; admission by donation; S 8am-5pm) home. The large Orthodox church (Biserica Mare)

dates from 1846, and the smaller chureli (Biserica Veche) from 1695. Monks retreated into the Bucegi Mountains from the 14tli century but it was not until the late 17th century that they built a monastery.

Tache Ionescu (1859-1918), a leading lib eral statesman who led the Romanian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference (1918-20) and briefly headed one of the first postwar governments in Romania, is buried here. Born in Ploie^ti, Ionescu con tracted cholera as a child and was sent t<i Sinaia Monastery to convalesce. Following his death, his second wife built a vast mauso leum at the monastery in his memory. Quotations from his speeches are carved in stone on the mausoleum's interior walls.

INFORMATION

Dracula's Land Travel Agency. 2 D3

Internet Room (see 16)

Luxor Agenjie de Turism 3 C3

Post & Telephone Office 4 D3

Salvamont (see 5)

SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES (pp108-10)

Bike Rental Outlet 6 D3

Foijorul Hunting Lodge 7 A1

Natural History Museum 8 D2

Pelej Castle 9 C1

Pelisor Palace 10 B1

Sinaia Monastery & History

Museum 11 D2

Snow 12 C3

Surmont Sport 13 C3

SLEEPING Q <pp110-11>

Hotel Economat 14 B1

Hotel Furnica 15 B2

Hotel International 16 C4

Hotel Palace 17 D2

Hotel Sinaia 18 D3

Irish House 19 D3

Marami Hotel 20 B2

New Montana 21 C3

Ferdinand 22 B2

Irish House Restaurant (see 19)

Pizzerie Carpafl 23 D3

Snow Restaurant (see 12)

DRINKING Q (pp111-12)

Beräria Cerbul 24 D3

Club Green Point & Internet

Salon 25 D3

Club Jail 26 D3

ENTERTAINMENT 0 <pp111-12)

Cinema Perla 27 D3

Fun Fair 28 C4

TRANSPORT (p112)

Central Bus Stop 29 D3

OTHER

Sinaia Casino 30 D2

NPEPING ACTIVE IN SINAIA

I Ini dazzling, dizzying skiing, you have come to the right place. For endless hiking trails with | dramatic, panoramic views, this is/where it all begins. For kamikaze mountain-bike rides, prepare I »nut helmets. The key to getting the most out of the trails is having a good map (see p86).

Sinaia offers 40km of wild skiing around Mt Furnica; its slopes are considered Romania's most I i Imllenging. Its exposed positioh often sees cable cars grinding to a halt as the wind blows up, but I titling is, on average, guaranteed four days out of seven. If they aren't moving here, ask around I hi i.ill the stations in nearby Bujteni or Azuga; weather conditions can change even over a few I kilometres. The 2.5km Carp trail, which descends from Vf Furnica to Cota 1400, is the most chal-I lii|i(|ing. There are several intermediate and easy trails too. Located on top of the Bucegi plateau I «hove the Sinaia resort is an 8km cross-country route, as well as a 13-bend bobsled track.

Many hotels arrange ski schools and hire, but it's cheaper and more fun to go direct to the I ' I'lilral ski shop and school, Snow (@ 311 198; ana_bogdan(6)yahoo.com; Str Cuza Voda 2a). Private les-I .nils cost €10 an hour; group tuition is €7 per person an hour. There are more than 400 skis and I snowboards for rent (about €10 a day). Hanging on the walls are a 50-year-old sleigh, archaic I »nowshoes and wooden skis from the 1930s (used in the 1948 Olympics), all of which can be I ii'iited by those in search of esoteric thrills on the slopes. Nearby is Surmont Club (@311 810; I www.surmont.ro in Romanian; Str Cuza Voda 2), which sells sports gear, rents skis and can inform you I mi sporting competitions in the area.

The Montana 30-person cable-car station (§j311 674; to Cota 1400 one way/two way €1.30/2.40, I In Vf Furnica one way/two way €2.70/4.70, children half-price; S8am-4pm Tue-Sun) is behind Hotel New I Mnntana. The downside to skiing here is that there are often long lines for the single cable car, I and the chairlifts could benefit from a face-lift.

The wealth of hiking trails accessible from here are connected with ones from Bu§teni (p!06). I lt\ therefore possible to hike from here all the way to Bran or Rasnov in a very long (14 to 16 I hours) day, or preferably two. A particularly nice route (seven to 10 hours, yellow and blue I stripes) starts at either the lower cable car station or higher up from the cable car at Cabana I Mlorita, to the Cabana Piatra Arsa, down to the lalomiciora Monastery and then up to the Omul I |)eak (where there's also a cabana). Many of these trails become magnets for adrenalin-seeking I mountain bikers come summer.

beside the new church is a small History Museum (Muzeul de Istorie; adult/child €0.80/0.40; iViBam-5pm) in which some of the monastery's treasures are displayed, including 11 ir first translation of the Bible into Romanian (in the Cyrillic alphabet), dating Item 1668.

I'I:LE$ CASTLE

Most visitors are led through here with llieir jaws scraping the floor in amazement. ITiis magnificent royal palace 310 918; inmpulsory tours adult/child €2.50/€1.25; ® 11am-5pm Wed, 9am-5pm Thu-Sun), with its fairy-tale turrets rising above acres of green meadows, is one of Romania's must-sees. The effect nf wandering through the stunning halls and rooms listening to the guide rattling nlf an endless list of exotic materials used to furnish them (alabaster, gilded linden wood, mother of pearl, Turkish silk etc) Is dizzying.

Intended as a summer residence by Romania's longest-serving monarch, King Carol

I (outside there is a statue of him looking mighty proud of himself), it was the first castle in Europe to have central heating and electricity. Construction started on the 3500-sq-metre edifice, built in a predominantly German-Renaissance style, in 1875. Some 39 years, more than 400 weary craftsmen and thousands of labourers later, it was completed, just months before the king died in 1914. King Carol I's wife Elisabeta was largely responsible for the interior decoration.

During Ceau$escu's era, the castle's 160 rooms were used as a private retreat for leading communists and statesmen from around the globe. US presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Libyan leader Moamar Gaddafi and PLO leader Yasser Arafat were all entertained by the Romanian dictator in Pele$' fanciful rooms, each of which is furnished to reflect a different country.

Rembrandt reproductions line the walls of the king's office, while a row of books in the library conceals a secret escape passage leading to the 2nd floor. There is a gallery of mirrors and the dining room has a leather-clad ceiling. Scenes from age-old Romanian fairytales adorn the stained-glass windows in the poetry room. In the Council Room, panels made from 14 kinds of wood bore witness to the signing of Romania's neutrality for the last two years of WWI. Pele? Castle was off limits to the public from 1947 to 1975, when it was reborn briefly as a museum. Extensive renovation was completed in 1990.

Tickets are sold either at the ticket counter at the nearby Peli^or Palace (see next section) or under the arches in the centre of the building where a door is signposted 'foreign tourists'.

PELI50R PALACE & F0I50RUL HUNTING LODGE

Marie, wife of King Carol's nephew Ferdinand (1865-1927), did not get on with her uncle-in-law and loathed Pele$ Castle. So, in fine royal fashion, King Carol built Ferdinand and Marie a castle of their own, just a few hundred metres uphill from Pele§, completed in 1892.

Built in a mock German-medieval style, Pelijor Palace (© 312 184; compulsory tours adult/ child €2/0.65; ® 11am-5pm Wed, 9am-5pm Thu-Sun) was furnished according to Marie's own designs - pretty pastel decorations in a simple Art Nouveau style which westerners tend to relate to more than the florid splendour of Pele§. Most of the furniture was imported from Vienna. Marie used four apartments while Ferdinand had just one. The bed in which Romania's second king died at the age of 62 from cancer can still be seen today. Marie died nine years later in the golden room, the walls of which are entirely covered in heavy gold leaves.

At the western end of the Pele? estate is the Swiss-chalet-style Foi;orul Hunting Lodge, built as a temporary residence by King Carol I before Pele§ Castle was completed. Here Marie and Ferdinand spent their first summer together in Romania. Their son, the future King Carol II, briefly lived here with his mistress Elena Lupescu. During the communist era, Ceau$escu used it as his private hunting lodge. The building is i»«l in state hands and is closed to visitors |

BUCEGI NATURE RESERVE MUSEUM

Behind the Hotel Palace in the ceuli| park, this small natural history museum (Mm zeul Rezervatiei Bucegi; ©311 750; admission III« S 9am-7pm Tue-Sun, 9am-5pm Mon) features sund of the natural wonders of the Bucegi Nalurl Reserve, which encompasses the 300-si| I• 1« Bucegi mountain range. Two rooms in III« cellar exhibit stuffed animals, flowers and birds, including the edelweiss, the delic.il» flower so abundant in the region. There .in also temporary art exhibitions.

Activities

Mountain bikes can be rented at the rental outlet (© 314 906; Str Octavia Goga 1; per hr/day C1.NI/ 13; ® 9am-8pm), which can also help you find villas and chalets for rent outside of Sinai» | See the boxed text on pl09 for ski-renliil locations.

Sleeping

BUDGET

For details of other cabanas within hiking reach of Sinaia, see pl05.

Hotel Furnica (© 311851; Str Furnica 50; s/d €15/24) The building is so impressive from the out side with its faux-Jacobian flourishes ami grand courtyard, you can send a snapshot back home and everyone will think you came into fast money for having stayed here. The inside shows another, grungier side, but for the price and surroundings, it's not a bad choice.

Cabana Schiorilor (© 313 655; Str Drumul Cotei /; d €22,5-bed r€20) Pretty fancy as far as cabanas go, it has an on-site, elegant restaurant. It's easily walkable from the centre.

Cabana Bradet (© 315 491; bed €5) At 1300m, this has 28 beds in shared rooms. It is access ible via the Cota 1400 cable-car station.

Cabana Valea cu Brazi (© 313 605; bed €6) Sit uated above the cable car at 1510m, this has room for 48 persons. It's a ten-minute walk along a path from the Cota 1400.

Hotel Piatra Arsa (©311 911; s/d €18/25) and the 50-bed Cabana Piatra Arsa (©311 911; bed €3-8) are both at 1950m. The latter is a large, modern chalet. There is a restaurant, tennis court, running track, sauna and pool here; numerous sports teams from across Romania come here to train.

ilH MANGE

Ijlti t«>nomat (§1311 151; fax 311 150; Aleea jpjptul /, v/d £20/24) This has the same im-,i,i.i>i (acobian exteriors as the Hotel »lllm I hat make you feel like you're gflHti 11 Up, only with better interiors. Just [IN* minutes' walk from the Pele§ Castle, (it. linliT also runs a series of other one- to lllihr >)Iitr villas in the area and so can offer i • nil range of accommodation starting Riiiii i II) per person. Though it's quite a 1 ¡1' up from the centre, it's one of the best rHi in lown.

null House (§§ 310 060; www.irishhouse.ro; | dill i Mol I, 80; s/d €27/40) Another good op-linn the 12 modern rooms are as large U (|iitrtments and furnished accordingly, ftuiti the rooms, you won't have to go tun l.ii for good food (see Eating, below), tnd ,ue far enough not to hear noise from (lie bur.

Matiimi Hotel (@ 315 560; www.marami.ro; Str

(H»<y about odd colour combos accented with pinksand blues (there must have been t inlc on pastel paints the day the rooms writ' decorated), this is one of the best lintels in Sinaia. This modern hotel sits mi ,i quiet stretch of road, within walking tlliliince to the Pele§ Castle, and has jazzy pluses such as a fitness room and Internet Hi i ess.

Hotel Sinaia (fg 311 551; fax 310 625; B-dul Carol I, K, > star s/d €20/32, 3-star s/d €27/48) This looms forebodingly in all its concrete weightiness tivcr the centre of town. In the 1960s this J'l.i room giant might have impressed; Inday it intimidates. Use of the fitness centre and pool cost extra. Rooms are standard iiitd comfortable.

Hotel Palace (@ 310 625; Str Octavian Goga 4; 2-star i/il £37/54, 4-star s/d/ste €48/70/110; §§) For those who love lugubrious, endless corridors and tin air of faded glory (the building dates to 1911), this is your place. The four-star doubles, however, are very impressive; yes, that Is a bidet. The on-site nightclub attracts an older crowd.

Hotel International (@ 313 851; fax 313 855; Str Avram lancu 1; 3-star s/d €40/56, 4-star s/d €54/72; ggl) There's luxury in the air at this grand place ut the southern end of town which boasts full services. The rooms are decent, but not as regal as the main entrance would lead you to believe.

Romania Climb Transfagara

TOP END

New Montana (© 312 751; www.newmontana.ro; B-dul Carol I, 24; s/d/ste €77/95/107; (g)) Despite being a high-rise, this has a pleasant, airy feel to it and spacious, tastefully decorated rooms. It's wheelchair accessible.

Eating

There are numerous kebab and fast-food stands along B-dul Carol I and inside the Perla Bucegi shopping complex.

Pizzerie Carpati (@ 310 680; B-dul Carol 1,39; mains €2-3; ®9am-11pm) Rely on this place for decent pizzas and traditional dishes.

Irish House (la) 310 060; www.irishhouse.ro; B-dul Carol 1, 80; mains €2-4; ® lOam-midnight) About the only thing remotely Irish in the place is the green ceiling; the menu is basically Romanian, but the food is good and the dining hall roomy and comfy.

Ferdinand 0722-526 110; Str Fumica 63; mains €2.50-4; ® 1 lam-midnight) One of the best bets in town, this has a high, arched ceiling topping a rustic dining room. Far enough from the busy centre to offer a relaxing setting for a few beers, it's also a good choice for a top-notch meal; chicken in raspberry wine sauce is the house speciality.

Entertainment

For a resort town, Sinaia is suspiciously placid come nightfall. Films are shown in English with Romanian subtitles at Cinema Perla, on B-dul Carol I opposite Hotel Sinaia. During summer, there is a fun fair for kids at the southern end of B-dul Carol I.

m iipmmii'ii.ul it in in,ii dulCirollatStr ii.i»virtu .hi. m| ilii niir.I popular places i.. i... ii h i ii.iiliiiiui.il style bar serving |i..iii)iiii.iii In. i, Ii.ii In-, iicil fiiflik (shaslik)

I..|' mil i'.mIIiiI meals in its summer gflltll'll dull Green Point (rsi 312 973; B-dul Carol I, 41; ^ ,'am) is often (he most crowded place in town, willi an Internet salon, a large billiard li.ill and disco that pumps it out until the lasl client has staggered away. It attracts a mixed clientele.

Otherwise, try Club Jail (It 310 131; ® 9pm-3am), a block north. It's a flashy disco with goonish bouncers and female dancers who seem to have forgotten most of their clothes somewhere.

Alternatively, try the crowded Disco Diana (admission €1.50; ®9pm-3am) inside the Hotel Sinaia.

Getting There & Away

Sinaia is on the Bucharest-Bra^ov rail line -126km from the former and 45km from the latter. All express trains stop here, and local trains to Bu^teni (8km), Predeal (19km) and Bra§ov are frequent. Approaching Sinaia from the south, don't get off at Halta Sinaia Sud - a small stop 2km south of Sinaia centre.

Buses run every 45 minutes between 6.20am and 10.45pm from the central bus stop on B-dul Carol I to Azuga and Bu^teni. From here you can catch all maxitaxis linking Bra§ov with points south, such as Bucharest, Braila and Constanta.

fagara; mountains

(ffi 268

The dramatic peaks of the Fagara? Mountains cut a serrated line south of the main Bra$ov-Sibiu road and shelter dozens of glacial lakes. The famed Transfagara^an road (pi 14) cuts through the range from north to south.

Fagara; & Victoria

Despite its name, Fagara? town (population 43,900) is not the prime access point to the Fagara? Massif. Most hikers pass straight through en route to neighbouring Victoria (population 10,800), the main access point to hike south into the mountains. Fagara?' only attraction is its 13th-century fortress which houses the Fagara; County Museum

HIKING FROM VICTORIA

One of the best stations to get off at i\ Ucea (59km from Sibiu), from where you can catch one of seven daily buses to Victoria From Victoria you can hike to Cabana Tur nun (1520m) in about six hours. The scenery is stunning once you start the ascent. Thr next morning head for Cabana Podragu (2136m), four hours south.

Cabana Podragu is a good base if you want to climb Mt Moldoveanu (2543m), Romania's highest peak. It's a tough uphill climb, but the views from the summit are unbeatable. Otherwise, hike eight hours east, passing by Mt Moldoveanu, to Cabana Valea Sambetei (1407m). From Cabana Valea Sambetei you can descend to the rail way in Ucea, via Victoria, in a day.

(Muzeul Tarii Fagara§; ® 9am-3.30pm Tue-Fri, 9am-2pin Sat & Sun).

SLEEPING

Cabanas in the Fagara§ Mountains include Cabana Turnuri (1520m; 20 beds; bed €6), a six-houi hike from Victoria, and Cabana Podragu (2136m, 68 beds; beds €6), four hours further to the south.

Hotel Progresul (@ 211 634; Str Republicii 14; s/d €5/7) This grim slab of concrete sitting on the main square in the centre of Fagara$ is only for those stuck in town with no cash Shared washrooms in dour corridors lined with shabby rooms are its main draws.

Hotel Montana (@ 212 327; Str Negoiu 98; s/d/tr €18/22/24) For Fagara?, this is a great option, and just 100m from the bus station. It's clean, modern and friendly, and the multi lingual staff are happy to provide travel in formation to wayward travellers; they also organise excursions. The owners have plans to build a touristic complex in Sambata dc Sus. It's worth dropping in!

Hotel Victoria (0241 916; Piata Libertatii; d €5 8) On offer here are drab rooms with or without shower and toilet, though it mat ters little as none has hot water. It sits as if dumped onto the main, lifeless square.

Palermo Pensiune (§g 242 973; Str 1 Decembrie 1918,3; d €14) Victoria's best option is next to the post office and 150m from Hotel Victoria. This comfortable place has an on-site telrilliunt, a backyard terrace and decent

You can also change money and mi I hinge traveller's cheques there.

Mil IING THERE & AWAY

I Villus' bus and train stations are next to ■ hi Ii »it her on Str Negoiu. The bus station i. ill but completely closed. Five daily maxi-liili head to Bra§ov, there are regular maxi-Intlt to Victoria, and occasional services to Miili.is and Sighi^oara. The train station is « niii|or meeting point for hikers and back-i .ii I ei s. Trains from Fagara§ to Bra$ov (six ilnllv) and Sibiu (seven daily) stop at Ucea. t mil daily trains go to/from Bucharest.

Victoria's bus station is on Str Tineret-hIiii T he nearest train station is 7km north ill Victoria at Ucea. All local trains from HiiiViiv, Fagara? and Sibiu stop here. Buses in mi Victoria to Ucea depart throughout lln day from the main town square.

Umbata h n kilometres southeast of Victoria lies the Mttibita complex, home to one of Roman-lit 'i wealthiest monasteries and a key access point to the Fàgâraç Mountains. Nicolae Ceauçescu rightly deemed the place sufficiently idyllic to build a private luxury villa for himself and Elena in the grounds of the monastery.

The lavish 1696 Brâncoveanu Monastery (admission free; ® 9am-6pm) derives its name from its original founder, Wallachian prince Constantin Brâncoveanu (r. 1688-1714), who built the Orthodox monastery on the family estate. Seen by the Habsburgs as the last bastion of Orthodoxy in the Fâgâraç region, the monastery was practically destroyed. Now 35 monks live here.

In 1926 restoration work started on Sâmbàta's ruins and was completed in 1946. Despite not being an original, the monastery remains a fitting testament to the great art renaissance inspired by the 17th-century Wallachian prince. Its fame today is derived from its workshops of glass icons, run by the monastery's monks, residents since the early 1990s. There is a glass icon museum ( @ 241 237; admission €1) in the complex with lovely examples of 17th- and 18th-century glass icons from Nicula, as well as other relics.

Ucea Sus Case

Sâmbata de Jos

Vistea de Jos

Ucea

Arpaîu dejos

Croara Monastery ,

Porumbaoi de Jos

Victoriao lu Mfr/u (16km)

Brâncoveanu Monastery

Porumbacu o de Sus

Complex r, Turistic '"

o Varna 'Cucului

[aimaciu

ORacoviJa

Sebeju l^de Sus

Cabana Cascadä Bâlea

Cabana Turnurl

Cabana S Poiana u Néamfului

Sebeju de Jbs

\ I Cabana i Valea HI Sambetei

-Cabana

iCabana 1Podragu

/ Moldoveanu f (2543m)

Cabana ^ Suru i Cabana Pârâul Caprei

ToCurtea de Arge£ (60km)1

I III I ONti & WINDING ROAD

Hulll tint ol leaucescu's fanatic zeal to conquer nature, theTransfagarajan road (the 7C), Romaiilm lilcjhrst asphalted road, provides an unforgettable experience behind the wheel. Boldly charging up and down one of Romania's highest mountains, this two-lane road sometimes has the [1.11 rowest of shoulders separating It from the edge of a cliff. Driving its length is an adventure In itself, with breathtaking scenery around every one of the dozens of twists and turns.

Running from Pitejti via Curtea de Arges in the south to Highway 1 in the north (which links Brayiv with Sibiu), the Transfagarajan is most commonly accessed from the north, where a 35km drive will take you up to the haunting glacial Lake Balea (2034m), where even in midsummer there is snow

Starting from Highway 1 in the north, the drive starts innoculously enough, passing by a run down village or two and a turn-off to the Cartijoara monastery, known for its glass icons. Suddenly at Km12 the road starts to sharply incline and begins a series of jagged turns through the lusli forest. For a change, here you must beware of deer, not cows and horse-drawn carts.

As you keep climbing, the trees start to shrink and thin out, their lifting veil replaced by unfold ing views of sheer rock face. By Km20 your ears are popping. At Km22 you arrive at the Cascad.i (waterfalls). Pull over to collect your thoughts and breath. The 360-degree panoramic views here arc stunning; walls of mountains surround the area, and the distant waterfalls' slash of white appears like a lightning bolt in a grey sky. There are souvenir stands here, a restaurant and the Cabami Balea Cascada (|Hj 269-524 255; s/d/ste €12/16/42), as well as a cable car (one way €2.50; ® 8am-5pm) which whisks you up to Lake Balea. Alternatively, follow the scenic blue-cross trail (2Vi hours).

The remaining 13km up to Lake Balea are a maze of razor-sharp zigzags hanging over preci pices framing breathtaking views. Every kilometre up the mountain brings with it amazemenl at the sheer feat building the road was, and a shiver or two for the workers who undoubtedly suffered during its construction.

The climax is Lake Balea, hovering like a mirror among the rocks, sometimes shrouded by clouds which come billowing over the peak above it. Cabana Balea ([H) 269-524 277; s/d/ste €20/27/46) is here, standing proudly after a full restoration; it's one of the pricier cabanas in Romania, but one of the nicest as well. There's a decent restaurant and a few souvenir stands. The temperature here is easily near zero, even if it's steaming hot at the foot of the mountain, and the vegetation is minimal and miniature.

No public transport follows this route, which is closed in winter and whenever the weather gets too rough, In which case the waterfalls are the highest you can reach by car. Some bikers and hikers walk up the road, but it's a maniacal venture, not to mention hazardous for the cars who must already drive at a snail's pace.

After an 887m-long tunnel through rock under the Paltinu ridge, the road descends the south side along the Arges Valley. As is usually the case with southern slopes of mountains, it is less impressive than its northern side, but there are lovely spots along the way. After re-entering forest, just when you think the fun is over, the road suddenly hugs the shores of the picturesque Lake Vidraru and crosses a 165m-high arched dam (1968). Beyond the lake, just off the road. Is the Poienari Castle, the real Dracula's castle (where Vlad Tepej ruled; see pi 86).

The road was built in the 1970s over the course of 4Vi short years (short as main stretches of it could only be worked on in the summer months). While the scheme fits well within Ceaujescu's overall megalomania, he also had more practical reasons for building it. Though other routes east and west of here cut an easier north-south route, he thought it wise to secure the Carpathian crossing at the traditional border between Wallachia and Transylvania. The Soviets had recently invaded Czechoslovakia (in 1968), and he did everything to ensure that his territory would be protected were anything like that to happen to him.

And so the decree was ordered, and monumental work began: on the northern side alone, six million kilograms of dynamite were used to blast out 3.8 million cubic metres of rock. Some 40 overworked soldiers are known to have died in accidents during its hasty construction. It was opened with great fanfare on September 20 1974.

Of all of the dictator's schemes, this Is perhaps the most used and best appreciated. (For more description of the highway's southern side, see pi 87).

IIMHNG

It I ttin*lblc lo stay the night at the monas-ttit i ill Ihe museum or just show up. It has ■Mili» wilh one to four beds in them (from ft H#i person), i mti|ih'K Turistic Sámbáta (@ 241 239; per person tin (Hose to the main entrance of the ■Hlintlt'ry, this complex has wooden chalets Iwo 10 lour people. Bathrooms are shared Hnl there is a small bar and restaurant.

f «liana Sámbáta Popas (810m; tent space/dm ■(/It) This is signposted 1km north from P# monastery complex.

(•bona Valea Sámbetei (1407m; dm €2-4) With IIHI hrils, this is a large chalet, and it's em-ptHi ni hy spectacular mountain scenery. It i a lovely, three-hour hike (red triangles) ih .i trail from the monastery. From here, linllirr trails go to the Moldoveanu and Nfuuiu peaks.

Villa Andra (@ 219 198; d €13) This is one of till1 «cveral guesthouses near the monastery, ihllin away. It has a quiet garden and rustic Minnis,

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