Ooorheiu secuiesc

( hp Industrious inhabitants of little Odor-Wltl Secuiesc (Szekelyudvarhely in Hungar-(#111, l)7% of whom are ethnic Hungarians, fclvti worked hard to make their lovely town | (Itllving bastion of Magyar culture. Well ■kfllsed and efficient, they have made ■fit« n relatively prosperous town and it BtlWn: streets and parks are meticulous, knuns well maintained. There's not much 1« do here, but a climb up the surrounding ItllU and casual strolls through the unhurried streets make for a pleasant visit.

Settled on an ancient Roman military |illip, Odorheiu Secuiesc developed as a «mail craft town during the reigns of the Hungarian Arpad kings between the 11th •ltd 13th centuries. In 1485 King Matthias I in villus (r. 1458-90) granted Odorheiu 'w uiesc 'free royal town' status, enabling >l•» different craft guilds to host commercial (Mil's. The Craftmen's Market, held every iMItc, carries on the tradition by displaying lllr artwork of local artisans.

Orientation

Be train and bus stations are a 10-minute walk from the centre. Exit the stations and lirild south down Str Bethlen Gabor until WlU come to Piata Marton Aron. From here hear right to Piata Primeriei, where most of lite sights are.

The citadel is northeast of Piata Primeriei (lung Str Cetatii.

MAPS

Odorheiu Secuiesc published by Geocart ((1.50) can be bought at the Corvina bookshop il'lafa Primeriei 23; ® 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat).

Information t he Tea Pub (see Eating, pl38) has Internet ,u cess (per hour €0.60), as does the hotel Korona Panzio (see Sleeping, p138; per hour €0.60; iy)10am-11pm). Hotels and banks along Str Kossuth Lajos have ATMs. The post office | If 212 046; Str Kossuth Lajos 35; ® 7am-8pm Mon-Fri) is on the main street. The telephone office (Piata Primeriei; ® 7am-9pm Mon-Fri) is near Hotel Tarnava-Kiikiilo.

TOURIST INFORMATION

Bartha Edit (§ 211 629; [email protected])

For a personal and unique city or rural tour, contact this enthuasistic, knowledgeable Szekely guide. Her English Is excellent and her knowledge of history and the Szekely area formidable.

Eurotour (§ 210 269; [email protected]; Str Kossuth Lajos 15; ® 9am-5pm) This friendly bunch can also help arrange accommodation and tour bookings. Tourinfo (§ 217 427; www.tourinfo.ro; Piata Primeriei 1; ® 9am-6pm Mon-Fri) This is the town's official tourist office, but staff speak only Hungarian and Romanian. In principle, they can help with all kinds of bookings; in practise you might just end up admiring the exhibits in their small art gallery.

Sights

Odorheiu Secuiesc's medieval citadel (varJ, built between 1492 and 1516, is almost fully intact today, and houses an agricultural college. Visitors can freely stroll the grounds around its inner walls.

Odorheiu Secuiesc has no fewer than two Greco-Catholic, two Orthodox, three Hungarian Reformed, and four Roman Catholic churches. At the western end of the main square, Piata Primeriei, stands the Franciscan Monastery & Church (Szent Ferencrendi Templom es Kolos-tor; §213 016; Plata Primeriei 15; admission free; ® 10am-6pmTue-Sun), built from 1712 to 1779. Walk east past the impressive city hall (189596) to the 18th-century baroque Hungarian Reformed Church (Reformatus Templom). Bearing right onto Piata Marton, follow the pedestrian pathway to one of the town's first Roman Catholic churches (Romai Katolikus Plebaniatemplom; built 1787-91).

The town's best church lies 2km north of the centre on Str Bethlen Gabor. The Chapel of Jesus (Jezus kapolna) is one of the oldest architectural monuments in Transylvania, built during the 13th century. The chapel gained its name from the war cries of Szekely warriors who, during a Tartar invasion, cried to Jesus for help. They got it and built a chapel to commemorate their victory.

Odorheiu Secuiesc's colourful history is explained - in Hungarian - in the Haaz Rezso Museum (§ 218 375; Str Kossuth Lajos 29; adult/child €0.80/0.40; ® 9am-5pm Tue-Sun). The museum was founded from a collection of folk objects belonging to local art teacher Haaz Rezso that date from 1900 onwards.

Sleeping

Tourinfo (see above) can set you up in one of many guesthouses in and out of town for €10 to €20 per person.

the 'cold pole', due to its long winters. Gheorgheni is only 17km from the beautiful Lacu Ro?u (p282).

The Tarisznyas Marton County Museum (Varosl Mtizeum Tarisznyas Marton; Str Racoczi 1; admission €0.40; ®9am-5pm Tue-Sat, 9am-1pm Sun), is in an 18th-century building on Piata Petofi Sandor and well worth a visit to see the intricately carved wooden fence posts and other artefacts of Magyar and Szekely culture.

Just 6km north of Gheorgheni on the road to Toplita is the tiny village of Lazarea (Gyergyoszarhegy). Dating from 1235, the predominantly Hungarian village is dominated by its 16th-century castle (admission €0.50; ® 9am-5pm Tue-Sat), surrounded by a pretty sculpture park. It was to Lazarea Castle that Gabor Bethlen, later to become prince of Transylvania (r. 1613-29), came to seek solace following the death of his son in 1590.

The castle is oddly placed near a 17th-century Franciscan monastery. Signposts from the centre of the village also direct tourists to the village water mill and water-powered sawmill.

Sleeping & Eating

Hotel Mure? (Maros Szallo; © 361 904; B-dul Fratiei 5; s/d €19/26) Opposite the Culture House on the same road that leads to the bus and train stations, this is considered Gheorgh-eni's best hotel. It has a full-service desk, a restaurant, friendly staff and sizable rooms in its four floors.

Pensiune Teke Panzio (© 0744-901 218; StrTuzol-tok 51 A; s/d €T2/15) Combining the look and feel of a guesthouse and mini hotel, this place has snug, modern rooms and a highly recommended dining room.

Motel Restaurant Panzio (© 352 736; Str Prin-cipala 1087; s/d €13/18) Located in Lazarea, this place is as comfy as a private home but has all the services of a small hotel. The can-do owners will either leave you to your own devices or help organise a full range of sport and cultural excursions for you. They can even arrange folk-dance evenings.

Getting There & Away

The bus and train stations are 1.5km west of the centre on Str Garii. Gheorgheni is on the rail line linking Bra?ov with Satu Mare and has the same schedule as Miercurea Ciuc (pl41). There are bus and maxitaxi services to and from Cluj-Napoca, Bra?ov, Lazarea,

Odorheiu Secuiesc, Miercurea Ciuc, Ui| Ro?u, Piatra Neamt and Targu Neam(.

sfantu gheorghe

Sfantu Gheorghe (Sepsiszentgyorgy), on lli» banks of the Olt River, 32km northeast nl Bra?ov, is the least interesting of the Thin sylvanian Hungarian strongholds. There It little to see or do here, and in comparison In other Szekely towns, this one feels cold anil restrained. The town has its own Hungup! ian daily newspaper, Haromszek, and one nl Romania's two Hungarian State Theatre», while many street signs and shop bo.ml are in Hungarian only.

First documented in 1332, the town dp veloped as a cultural centre for the Szekp lys from the 15th century onwards when it became a free town. It was left devastated by Turkish attacks between 1658 and 1671 and a plague in 1717. Today it's a town whose pulse is hard to notice, of interest primarily to those investigating Szekely culture.

Orientation

The bus and train stations are a 10-minutr walk east of the centre along Str 1 Decern brie 1918, which begins at the stations ami ends in the town centre and Central Park at Piata Libertatii. From there, Str Liberta|il begins southward, turning into Str Ki'w Karoly after 300m. Str Jozef Bern intersects Str 1 Decembrie 1918 some 400m east ol Str Libertatii.

Information

CULTURAL CENTRES

The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania

(Romaniai Magyar Demokrata Szovetseg; © 316152; Str Gabor Aron 14). It has a small library with material in English as well as Hungarian.

MONEY

Banca Comerciala Romana (® 7.30am-3pm Mon-Fii) Opposite JT&T on Str Jozef Bern.

TOURIST INFORMATION International Tourism & Trade (IT&T; © 316 375; Str Jozef Bern 2; [email protected]; H9am-5pm Mon-Fri) The top travel agency in town. Its English-speaking staff sell local maps, and arrange car rental, guided tours, and accommodation at Ceau§escu's former hunting lodge, Arcus Castle, 3km south of town.

iwiltl Information Bureau (@ 316 474; Str 1 pHHiiltilp 1918,2; [email protected]; S 7.30am-3.30pm pui Wnl, /.30am-5pm Thu, 7.30am-2pm Fri) Has a few bill limps (or sale and can provide general Information $ml I hi area. Note that they prefer to list their address (Hili Hie Hungarian street name Str Petofi Sandor.

lights l In Szekely National Museum (Szekely Nemzeti

- * IS) 312 442; Str Kos Karoly; adult/child €0.40/

M), iVl9am-5pm Tue-Sun) is housed in a build-iui! which is itself a masterpiece, designed n leading Hungarian architect Kos Karoly ■(wren 1911 and 1913. The museum, (Winded in 1879, has an extremely comprehensive display of Szekely culture, including Hi open-air exhibit of traditional porches, Mil's and wooden houses. The main building has a large exhibit on the 1848 revolution It is 200m south of Central Park.

North of the centre, following Str Kos-•iilli l.ajos and crossing a bridge over the llyhren River, you'll come to the Fortificata Mormata church, in whose cemetery you tun see some lovely examples of traditional lUikely wooden crosses and grave posts.

Sleeping & Eating

There are several drab concrete hotels in the centre, and numerous cafés and fast-food joints to choose from.

Pensiunea Szentgyorgy (rsi 327116; Str Kós Károly 39; s/d €8/16) This B8íB is a better option than the hotels. Though it's 1.5km south of town, it's near the banks of the sweet little Simeria River, and has a comfortable interior.

Kolcza ((D 351 436; Str Spitalului 30; mains €2-4; S 8.30am-1am) This is an exceptionally good restaurant, in a quiet corner of town. It serves up delicious goulash, impossibly tasty chicken soup, and other Hungarian dishes. Wash it down with some plum tiuca. If coming from the centre, walk south along Str Libertátii and turn right at the end of Central Park, go under the underpass and keep going straight for about 500m.

Getting There & Away

Buy tickets at the Agentie de Voiaj CFR (@ 311 680; Str Mikó Imre 3; ® 9am-4pm Mon-Fri). From Sfántu Gheorghe three trains daily go to Covasna (€0.90, one hour), and 13 to Bra?ov (€1 to €2, 30 to 45 minutes). The bus station

THE DECLINE OF THE INCLINE

I or many generations Romania's oldest forestry railway snaked its way up mountainous terrain Irom the spa town of Covasna, northeast of Brajov, to Comandau village (1012m). What was so unique in its appeal was its inclined plane.

The forestry railway, completed in 1892, was the first of its kind in the country to use iron rails and steam locomotives. Its purpose was to transport wood down the valley from Comandau, a primitive logging settlement. To see photos of the original Kraus steam locomotive in action, see www.frank-engel.de/ro_cov_e.htm.

Every weekday two steam trains transporting trimmed wood lumbered up the valley to Siclau (1232m). Here the wood was loaded onto open wagons to make the final part of its journey down the inclined plane to Covasna. Horses were used to manoeuvre the loaded wagons into position then, with the careful use of brakes, the wood was slowly lowered down the mountain. Its weight was ingeniously counterbalanced against empty wagons at the bottom of the line. For

I an explanation of this inventive system, see www.steam.demon.co.uk/trains/roman4.htm.

In October 1999 operations came to a grinding halt. Due to financial strains, the railway line and sawmill closed, leaving the Comandau community, at the top of the line, without income. But leave it to enterprising Germans to save the day - a group of German investors have bought the railroad and, at the time of writing, plan to reopen the line for 12-minute tourist rides in an original steam locomotive.

With the closure of this line, the forest railway of Vijeu de Sus, in the Vaser Valley in Maramurej (p262), remains the last commercially used steam narrow-gauge railway in Romania. However, today most of the lumber from the forest is hauled by diesel locomotives.

The site is 5km southwest of the centre of Covasna. Follow signs for Cardiologie and pass the ratty camping ground. Comandau Days, with games, concerts and general merry-making, are celebrated in the first days of August. For the latest developments on the functioning of the train for tourists, visit www.kisvasut.hu/comandau/english/index_uk.html.

i'. Mini north of the train station. There are .■•I vli i s to ('ovasna, Miercurea Ciuc, Piatra Neam|, Tilrgu Neamt and Bra?ov.

AROUND SFANTU GHEORGHE

Covasna

The spa town of Covasna (Kovaszna in Hungarian), 28km east of Sfantu Gheorghe in the 'Fairy Queen Valley' (Valea Zanelor), has long been dubbed the 'valley of a thousand springs' for its popular curative mineral water. The black mud that bubbles from the resort's 'Devil's Pond' (Baia Dracului) is more menacing.

The main appeal of this typical spa resort is its unique inclined plane, the starting point of Romania's oldest narrow-gauge forestry railway which snakes 10km up the western flanks of Mt Vrancei (1777m) to Comandau village (see the boxed text on pl43). This is a highly recommended visit. Other than this, the town has a heavily medicinal air to it, as do the hobbling tourists who frequent it.

GETTING THERE & AWAY

From Covasna, there are two daily buses to Sfantu Gheorghe (60.80, 50 minutes). Daily train services include three trains to Sfantu Gheorghe (€0.90, one hour) and Targu Sec-uiesc (€0.55, 30 minutes), and two to Bretcu (€1.40, 2Vi hours). For Bra?ov, you must go to Sfantu Gheorghe and get a train or bus.

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