Predeal

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It might well be Romania's highest skiing spot (1033m), but it's definitely not Ro mania's hottest. Unlike its sister resorls, Predeal, 25km south of Bra§ov, has just a couple of slopes, which generally attract hordes of local kids on school camps. The resort has six runs overall, served by two chairlifts and two drag lifts. Just south ol the town is where Transylvania officially begins. There isn't much to attract the

PRINCELY HIKING

Climbers, hikers and lovers of grandiose scenery rave about Piatra Craiului and its twin-peaked 'Stone of the Prince' - Piatra Mica (1816m), marked by a large stone cross, and La Om (2238m) -which offers climbers one of Romania's greatest challenges. The 25km-long range stretches from Zarnesti down to Podu Dambovitei and rises from the ground in near-vertical limestone towers which never fail to make onlookers' jaws drop in awe.

If you're hiking from Bran, the quickest route is along the dirt road to Predulut, through the village of Tohanita to Zarnesti, where the mountains are more easily accessed via several well-indicated trails. A good starting point is from the Cabana Gura Raului, at the southwestern end of Zarnesti. This is the main entrance to the Piatra Craiului National Park, with information panels and an on-site restaurant. Three trails begin directly behind it. From the northwestern end of Zarnesti other trails end up at Cabana Curmatura (1250m). Another route follows the road signposted 'spre Cabana Plaiu Foii 12km'. Some 2km along this road, a diverging trail takes you to the Colful Chiliilor peak (1125m, two hours, marked with blue stripes).

Alternatively, you can drive along the appallingly bombed-out dirt road (if you've got a spare set of shocks with you) 12km to Cabana Plaiu Foil (849m), where a trail also leads through Fantana lui Botorog to Cabana Curmatura (three hours, 6km, yellow triangles).

The most challenging route from Cabana Plaiu Foii is through the Cheile Zarne§tiului to the Regugiul Grind and up to Varful Omu (2502m, three to four hours, red circles). This route is not possible in winter and is recommended only for experienced climbers; ropes are needed in places.

In May/June and September, Piatra Craiului receives heavy rainfall. Summer storms are frequent and in winter much of the mountain cannot be accessed. Avalanches are common.

»hi I or here, though if you're interested in 1111» liitllcnging ski runs, this resort tends to hi less crowded than the others.

Urlvntation & Information

In I use of emergency, Salvamont (@456 269) 1» llic place to call. The Tourist Information

I «Hire ((H) 455 330; www.predeal.ro in Romanian; ■H Inliarea Gam 1; ® 10am-6pm), in a modern hiilliling with huge glass windows in front iif (he train station, is a good first stop. |l 11 it I Mihai Saulescu is the main street In town, running north-south, parallel to tile train tracks. It's right outside the train lldlion. The post office and telephone office UmiIi ® 8am-7pm Mon-Fri, 9am-2pm Sat) are just n|i|iosite the Complex Commercial (B-dul Mihai IIuIcmii 62a), a shopping centre where you'll llliil sports stores, exchange offices, ATMs ■mil last-food joints. Just north of here is Ihi Polidinica Farmacie (®9am-6pm Mon-Fri, »«in Jpm Sat-Sun).

Hie best map is included in Amco Press' MitifOV City Plan.

I'redeal's chair (telescaun) and drag (tele-ikl) lifts, run by the ClabucetZona deAgrement (WI56 451), depart from the eastern end of pi Telefericului, which is on the eastern tide of the train tracks, best accessed by an underpass approximately 350m south of the liiiln station along B-dul Mihai Saulescu.

Activities

I lie Fulg de Nea (Snow Flake; ® 456 089; Str Tele-Mi nlui 1), close to the ski lift, is Predeal's irnlral ski school, a ski club with fitness

II nire, sauna and an ice skating rink in win-lei (€2 including skate hire). Horse-drawn ilelgh rides can also be arranged. Outside there are three tennis courts (€2 per hour). A six-day ski school comprising four hours' Million per day costs €30. A day's rental of <kl equipment is €5. Most of the hotels also ■ii l unge ski school and rental; however, they go Ihrough the ski school and add a small iiiinmission.

Sleeping

II you can make it through the swarm of liilbushkas at the train station offering you moms to stay, there's an accomodation office (dlspecerat cazare; @ 455 042; Str Panduri 6; S 9am-fl|ini) which can help find rooms in private homes, usually for around €10 per person Including breakfast. Booking through the

Tourist Information Centre can get you discounts on some hotels.

Predeal boasts villas galore, many very luxurious and privately owned. A handful of these upmarket properties - including one which belonged to Ceaujescu (see Eating, below) - are owned by the government but can be rented out by the Predeal Protocol Service (@ 455 222; Str Nicolae Balcescu 39). They cost between €40 and €150 a night for the entire villa. The Fulg de Nea ski school (see Activities, above) operates a 16-bed villa (per bed €6) behind the ski centre. Book in advance as it is often filled with groups of school children. Breakfast isn't included.

BUDGET

Cabana Sosire (©455 431; d/tr €14/20) Practically located at the foot of the ski lift, this cabana has slightly above-average rooms. There's also a disco for apres-ski unwinding. Bookings are made through next-door Hotel Premier (see below).

Chalet Vanatorul (@ 455 285; Str Trei Brazi 3; d €18) Some 3km west of the resort on the road to Trei Brazi, this is a lovely place, and meat-lovers will find their paradise in the restaurant.

Hotel Carmen-Ana (fs] 456 656; Str Mihai Saulescu 121; s/d €13/20) Opposite the train station, this is reasonably priced, reasonably cheerful, and all the rooms have private bathrooms.

MID-RANGE

Hotel Orizont (@ 455 150; [email protected]; Str Trei Brazi 6; s/d €22/27) This is Predeal's top hotel. It has all the mod cons, including a health club, swimming pool, tennis court, sauna and massage parlour. The hotel's Romanian restaurant and flashy cocktail bar overlook the pool.

Hotel Premier (if) 457 140; [email protected]; Str Teleferic; s/d €29/41) This is another modern, first-class hotel, boasting a fitness centre, billiard room and sauna.

Eating

Most hotels have a restaurant of sorts, and there are plenty of fast-food options along Str Mihai Saulescu.

Casa Taraneasca (Str Libertatii 63; mains €2-6; Sl0am-11pm) Housed inside what was Ceau^escu's private holiday villa in the northeast of the village, this is highly recommended. The luxury villa, with its large,

I.im11' Iii leu.ici' surrounded by fir trees, is now a folklore restaurant. It serves traditional Romanian dishes to the sound of serenading violinists.

Getting There & Away

The Agentie de Voiaj CFR (® 456 203) is inside the train station {© 456 330; Str Intrarea Gârii 1).

Predeal is on the main Cluj-Napoca-Braçov-Bucharest line, with most local and express trains serving this route stopping here. Between here and Braçov (35 to 45 minutes) there are some 35 trains daily. The Dacia, Pannonia and Ister Exprès trains to Vienna, Prague and Budapest, respectively, call at Predeal exactly 30 minutes before/ after calling at Braçov.

AU maxitaxis heading to/from Braçov stop at Predeal's train station on the way, making it a quick and convenient way to get to Braçov and points south, such as Bucharest.

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