Sighiara

Of all the dreamy spots throughout Tran sylvania that make you feel like you're floating through another time and space, Sighi?oara's citadel wins the time-travel cake by a long shot. Sighi?oara (Schassburg in German, Segesvar in Hungarian) has an enchantingly preserved medieval citadel as its core, and is surrounded by beautiful hilly countryside. It tends to seduce visitors' hearts more than any other city in Transylvania.

Nine towers remain along its intact city walls, which encircle sloping cobbled streets lined with 16th-century burgher

»PACED OUT

Walking the charming cobblestone alleys of Sighijoara, the idea of space exploration might seem lOlnrwhat out of place. Yet it wasn't for one of Sighiçoara's most beloved residents. Though h» was born in Sibiu, Hermann Oberth (1894-1989), considered one of the fathers of modern lltronautics and rocketry, is revered as a local boy (don't remind anyone that he spent only a years here as a child). A square is named after him, and a corner of the History Museum IpW J) is dedicated to him.

Inspired by Jules Verne as a sky-gazing tyke, Oberth started to design space rockets at the au«" of 14. Later, studying medicine and physics in Munich, he wrote prolifically about the possibility and mechanics of space travel. Most of his dissertations were dismissed by the scientific ((immunity but in 1929 he had what ended up being his big break: his designs were used to lullld model spaceships for the kitschy Fritz Lang film Woman on the Moon. That year, the German army launched a rocket research program. Hmm...

During WWII, Oberth codeveloped the V2 rocket for the Germans, then continued research in the ll'l before retiring and publishing books on alternative energy sources and space exploration.

There is a Hermann Oberth Space Museum in Germany, near Nuremberg.

liinmcs and untouched churches. There are I thousand corners to discover here. Yet as M»y as it is to get lost in fantasy land, there mi- enough kicking clubs, interesting places In visit and ace accommodation to keep lull focused on more earthly pleasures.

I Inr could easily spend several days in and mound Sighi$oara.

Settled by the Romans, the town was first itni umented as Castrum Sex. Saxon colonists (titled here from the 12th century and built

II Into a thriving crafts and trading town; today, there are fewer than 500 Germans In tile city. Sighi$oara was also the birthplace ul Vlad Tepe$ (you can fill your tummy In his natal home; see pl29) and therefore attracts hordes of Dracula tourists.

Sighi^oara is in the midst of rejuven-iilion; only in recent years has a sudden intlux of (German) investment started pouring into town, resulting in painted houses and new hotels and pavement cafés. Locals are already decrying that the citadel is not as 'local' as it was. No matter how full ol tourists the citadel gets, however, it somehow never loses its unhurried natural charm.

It is worth visiting the market on Wednesday and Saturday, when Roma and villagers from outlying regions come into town on their horse-drawn wagons to sell I heir wares. The week-long Medieval Festival of the Arts in late July is more of a wild drinking party than anything cultural, but I he colourful costumes are pretty to look at, especially through beer suds.

Orientation

Follow Str Gârii south from the train station to the unmistakably Soviet war memorial, where you turn left to the St Treime Orthodox church. Cross the Târnava Mare River on the footbridge here and take Str Morii to the left, then keep going all the way up to Piata Hermann Oberth and the old town. Many of the facilities you'll want are found along a short stretch of Str 1 Decembrie 1918.

MAPS

Cartographia publishes the highly detailed, excellent Sighifoara fold-out map (€2), covering the city and environs.

information

CULTURAL CENTRES

Thanks to major funding by aircraft manufacturers Messerschmidt, the Stag House (Casa CuCerb; @776425;Str^colii 1) is in a slow process of turning into a German Cultural Centre; call to see if it has officially opened.

INTERNET ACCESS

There is Internet access in the basements of the Burg Hostel (see Sleeping; per hr €0.40; S 7am-1am) and the Café International & Family Centre (see Eating; per hr €0.40; ® 10am-6pmMon-Sat). Otherwise, there's Internet Café ( ® 771 269; Str Libertâtii 44; per hr €0.60; H9am-11pm), directly south from the train station.

MONEY

There are numerous exchange offices lining the city's main street, Str 1 Decembrie 1918.

Train Station

To Hula Dane} (4km); \ Motel Restaurant Draëula (6km); Biertan (27km); Mediàf (35km); Sibiu (90km)

-Botea Team-

To Albe$ti (4km) Brafov (120km,

Muzeului

Covered. Stairway-

* Piafa Hermann-Oberjh. _

INFORMATION

Costacos 2 C3

Internet Café 3 C1

Post Office & Telephone Centre 4 C3

Stag House 5 C3

Steaua Agence de Turism (see 24)

SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES (p127)

Church of the Dominican Monastery...6 C3

Church on the Hill 7 B4

Clock Tower & History Museum 8 C3

Collection of Medieval Arms 9 C3

German Cemetery 10 B4

Goldsmith's Tower 11 B4

Lutheran Church 12 B1

Roman Catholic Church 13 C2

Saint Treime Orthodox Church 14 C2

Soviet War Memorial 15 C2

Statue of Vlad Tepe§ 16 C3

Torture Room Museum 17 C3

Bed & Breakfast Coula 18 B3

Burg Hostel 19 C3

Casa Wagner 20 C3

Elvis Villa 21 C1

Hotel Chic 22 C1

Hotel Sighi$oara 23 B3

Hotel Steaua 24 C3

EATING

ID (p129)

Café International & Family Centre...25 C3

Casa Dracula

26 C3

L&M Alimentara

27 C4

Market

28 B2

Pizzeria 4 Amici

29 C3

Rustic

30 C3

DRINKING Q (p129)

Black Box 31 D2

Insomnia 32 C3

No Limits 33 C3

DRINKING Q (p129)

Black Box 31 D2

Insomnia 32 C3

No Limits 33 C3

SHOPPING Q (p129)

TeoCoroian 34 B3

TRANSPORT (p129)

Agentie de Voiaj CFR 35 C3

Bus Station 36 D1

SIGHISOARA

Banca Comercialâ Românâ (Str Justitiei 12; ® 8.30am-4pm Mon-Fri)

Costacos (Plata Hermann Oberth 21; S 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat) Gives cash advances.

POST & TELEPHONE

The post office ( g 771 055; Str 1 Decembrie 1918, 17; ®7am-8pm Mon-Fri) and telephone centre ( S 7am-9pm Mon-Fri, 8am-8pm Sat) share the same building.

TOURIST INFORMATION

Sighiçoara has a dearth of reliable travel agencies and no official tourist information office, reflecting a nascent, inept tourism infrastructure - suprising in a city that's an obvious tourist magnet.

Café International & Family Centre (raí 777 844; Piata Cetatii 8; ® 10am-6pm Mon-Sat) This is a multifunctional, nonprofit agency (see also p129), founded by Nazarenes from Massachussets, whose staff can effectively double as a tourist office; they know more about the city than most official agencies! They also organise the city's best tours: three times daily Monday through Saturday, they do 75-minute walking tours (suggested donation €2) of the Old Town, and twice a week they do a more adventurous 'off the beaten track' tour, taking in the city's outskirts and a gypsy neighbourhood. They also sell some of the best local crafts and souvenirs. All proceeds go to help local homeless children and the elderly. Steaua Agentie de Turism (Bj 772 499; fax 771 932; Str 1 Decembrie 1918,12; ® 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat) Sells city guides and maps, and arranges private accommodation.

lights

All Sighi^oara's sights are in the old town -ilu delightful medieval citadel - perched on « hillock and fortified with a 14th-century Mull, to which 14 towers and five artillery hmtions were later added. Today the cita-th l, which is on the Unesco World Heritage lint, retains just nine of its original towers Olid Iwo of its bastions.

f iltering the citadel, you pass under the HtKwiive clock tower (Turnul cu Ceas). Formerly the main entrance to the fortified i lly. the tower is 64m tall with sturdy base Willis measuring an impenetrable 2.35m. Illnidc the 1648 clock is a pageant of slowly (evolving 80cm-high figurines, carved from linden wood, each representing a character limn the Saxon pantheon: Peace bears an "live branch, Justice has a set of scales and I aw wields a sword. The executioner is alio present and the drum-player strikes ilic hour. Above stand seven figures, each ^presenting a day of the week.

The figurines can be inspected through I! I ins from the History Museum (©771 108; (Hi Muzeulul 1; adult/child €0.80/0.40; ® 10am-3pm Mnn, 9am-6.30pm Tue-Fri, 9am-3.30pm Sat-Sun) in the I I111 -century tower. This highly worthwhile museum has a good collection of Renais-iiince furniture, medical instruments and ii superb view of Sighi§oara from the 7th lloor. Under the clock tower on the left is the small but memorable Torture Room Mu-M>um (admission €0.25; ® 10am-3pmMon,9am-6.30pm tiif fri, 9am-3.30pm Sat-Sun), which displays dia-(finms of torture methods, lovingly detailed in their original German language.

Past the clock tower to the left is a small house containing a collection of medieval arms (iidult/child €0.40/0.30; ® 10am-3pm Mon, 9am-6.30pm Ptic Fri, 9am-3.30pm Sat-Sun).

I mmediately inside the citadel, just north ol the clock tower, is the 15th-century Church of the Dominican Monastery (Biserica Manastirli; iVI 9am-7pm Mon-Sat, 10am-2pm Sun). The Gothic iliurch became the Saxons' main Lutheran i liurch in 1556. Classical, folk and baroque concerts are often held here.

Continuing west towards Piata Cetatii, you come to the house in which Vlad Tepe? was born in 1431 and reputedly lived until I he age of four. The pretty Casa Dracula, complete with its original river-stone floor, Is now a restaurant (see Eating, pl29). For more Vlad worshipping, head to the nearby statue of Vlad Tepej, hiding itself behind the Church of the Dominican Monastery.

The quiet, minuscule Piata Cetatii is the heart of old Sighi^oara. It was here that markets, craft fairs, public executions, im-palings and witch trials were held. The 17th-century Stag House, overlooking the square on the corner of Str ijcolii, is considered the most representative example of the citadel's architecture.

From the square, turn left up Str §colii to the 172 steps of the covered stairway (scara acoperita), which has tunnelled its way up the hill since 1642, to the 1345 Gothic Church on the Hill (Biserica din Deal, Bergkirche; admission €0.25; ® 8am-8pm May-Oct, 9am-4pm Nov-Apr). This Lutheran church, sternly presiding at a height of 429m, is in a perennial state of restoration but worth a visit; the painted altar is lovely, as are the wooden pews (with wafer-thin blankets on them to ease the pain). Right in front is the weedy German cemetery, a must for wanderers of cemeteries.

Behind the church are the remains of the Goldsmiths' Tower. The goldsmiths, tailors, carpenters and tinsmiths, the only craftsmen to have their guilds and workshops inside the citadel, built eight wells (34m deep) within the city walls to ensure a continuous water supply during times of siege. Guilds existed until 1875.

From the church, head back down the hill, cross Piata Cetatii, then head down Str Bastionul. At its northern end is the Roman Catholic church (1896).

Apart from their two churches in the citadel, Sighi§oara's Saxon community had a third Lutheran church, deliberately sited well outside the city walls. The tin-spired church, sitting inauspiciously at a rail crossing just west of the train station off Str Libertatii, was used from the 17th century for victims of the plague and infectious diseases.

Sleeping

As elsewhere in Romania, you are likely to encounter people eager to take you home with them at the train station; the prominent operator here is a charming young man named Radu. Readers' letters have been very mixed about him, as the houses he uses, though in the citadel, tend to be in dire need of repairs.

BUDGET

Elvis Villa (§ 772 546; www.elvisvilla.com/sighisoara; Str libertatii 10; bed €10; (0) This is practically an institution here. Located just 250m west of the train station, it's sadly not in the citadel, but nothing's far in this small, walkable city. Lots of pluses, such as half a litre of free beer and Internet access, help make this a fun, lively place.

Burg Hostel (@ 778 489; Str Bastionului 4-6; dm €7, d €24) This is a multistorey, German-run (ie efficient) hostel in the citadel, with a restaurant terrace and a smoky basement lounge bar. Rooms are simple but sterile, and the place has a vibrant, busy feel to its narrow corridors.

Bed & Breakfast Coula (§ 777 907; Str Tampla-rilor 40; per person €12) Right inside the citadel, this guesthouse is a good choice, with six rooms in a large home where you can share morning tea with grandma in a charming, overgrown garden. Not only does the father make and serve his own wine, the friendly, English-speaking family rent bicycles and organise day trips at very reasonable prices to Biertan and other towns to see some fortified churches.

Hula Dane; (§774 754; tent space €1.30, 2-/4-person hut €5/8) The owners don't mind picking you up from Sighi?oara if you call in advance, but it's only 4km out of town on the road to Media?; buses to Dane?, Media? and Sibiu will stop in front of it, or it's a €2 to €3 taxi ride there. It's not bad as far as Romanian camping grounds go, with a decent restaurant and nearby forest hiking trails. Male visitors are likely to be overfly propositioned by the staff, however.

Hotel Chic (§ 775 901; Str Libertatii 44; dm without with TV €10/13, d without/with private toilet €12/15) In name may be wishful thinking, but foi ii place directly opposite the train station this is very quiet and clean. Dorm room are small (two to four persons), toilet clean, and the cafe downstairs serves decent meals. Local kids outside will ask you tin money all the time, but the neighbourhood is safe, if colourful.

Motel Restaurant Dracula (§ 772 211; draoiln .[email protected]; d €20, ste €27-36) It's much bellet than it sounds. Located 6km west of town near Dane? on the main route 14 toward» Media?, this pleasant, villa-like motel has a lot going on, including an ostrich farm, an adjacent equestrian centre (€7 per hour) I and a restaurant noted to be Sighi?oai.i' best (brains reign supreme on the menu but there's more to choose from, and all produce is fresh and locally grown; mains €2 to €5). The rooms are a tad somber and dull, but the surroundings are nice.

Hotel Steaua (§771 594; Str 1 Decembrie 191«, 12; s/d without private toilet €14/19, with private toilet €17/23) The friendliness of the staff is sur prising considering that they work is such a grim, musty place. The carpets are seetli ing, the toilets grimy, and the rooms and corridors dark and dank. You might see a vampire or two here. It is, however, cheap and central.

MID-RANGE

Hotel Sighi;oara (§ 771000; Str Scolii 4-6; s/d €40/45) This is a great deal; the wooden furniture and slanted ceilings (with windows over looking citadel rooftops) give a tasteful,

AUTHOR'S CHOICE

Casa Wagner (§ 506 014; www.casa-wagner.com; Plata Cetatii 7; s/d/ste €35/45/70; 0) ^) This is arguably Romania's loveliest hotel. The attention to detail in this subtly elegant place just off the central square shows impeccable taste. The Dutch owner and his Romanian wife have lovingly recreated a Saxon atmosphere with the use of period pieces and antiques: each room is decorated differently but you can find carved wooden bedposts, wrought-iron candle holders, paintings, armoirs, chests and woven carpets on hardwood floors. However, this is not a case of antique overload; simplicity and restraint are key design elements. The apartments (especially room No 3) are large enough to host a ball in and most rooms have off-lit arched or slanted ceilings. The full comforts of modernity (Internet connection, bathrooms with all the frills) have been seemlessly integrated into the old-world design. The equally lovely restaurant (mains €2-5; S 9am-midnight) has excellent food at reasonable prices and live violin music after 8pm, plus there's a cosy wine cellar (® 6pm-1am). Needless to say, the service is impeccable. Anything similar in western Europe would cost two to three times what it does here. Rarely is a hotel this memorable.

tlilnlortable ambience. Corridors under lil|ili arched ceilings lend a feel of pleasant Ft»»illness. Plus, there's an indoor pool!

(asa Cu Cerb ((g 777 349; Str $colil 1; d €50; Cgl) i H Interest mainly to royalty fetishists: I'l liue Charles slept here on a visit in 2003. I Hlirrwise, the rooms are elegant, yes, but i old .ind starchy, and the overarching atmosphere is unfriendly and elitist.

Pizzeria 4 Amici (Str Octavian Goga 12; mains €2-4; ftl llam-llpm) The pizzas are very doughy; brut to stick to the pasta dishes.

Café International & Family Centre (@ 777 844; P141 Cetatii 8; mains €1-2) Right on the main »t|liare, this is a double-whammy oasis: to W'KCtarians (all the meals here - mainly quiches, soups and salads - are veggie) and homesick Americans (where else in Romania 1 an you find a peanut butter and jam sandwich, brownie, grilled cheese and lemon pie?).

Rustic (@ 0743-805 355; Str Decembrie 1, 7; mains • 7 4;® 9.30am-12.30am) Very popular with for-rigners, this has a very 'man's man' brick-tiild-wood tavern-style decor, replete with mllmal pelts on the walls. The price is right, however, the menu is varied, and they serve ri mean sarmalute (vine or cabbage leaves •luffed with meat).

Casa Dracula (@ 771 596; Str Cositorarilor 5; mains »7 6; ® lOam-midnight) It has a nasty local repu-tation as a tourist trap. Considering its name and the fact it's located in the house where little Vlad Tepe? took his first tender steps, at llrst glance it would appear to be true. However, the Dracula motif isn't jarring, the interiors are comfortable, the menu is varied - of Course (bloody) steaks feature prominently, but there are vegetarian dishes too - and the (bod is good (though not excellent).

The daily market off Str Tárnavei has a good selection of fruits, vegetables and cheese. The L&M Alimentar (Str liarle Chendl 4; ® 24hr) grocery store is well stocked.

Entertainment

Occasional classical concerts are held in the city's churches; check for posted adverts.

No Limits ((g 518 961; Str Turnului 1; ® 8pm-4am) This slightly upmarket disco is to the right of the arched entry to the citadel, just below the clock tower. It borders on tackiness but gets steamy on weekends.

Insomnia ((Bj 0744-172 498; Str Turnului; ®10-2am) Also to the right of the citadel entrance but up the outdoor staircase, this is Sighi-?oara's best club, a funky mix of bar, lounge, disco and performance/cinema space. The music is nonpop alternative, the views over the lower city are splendid, and there's a rooftop terrace.

Black Box (@ 0742-668 385; Str Horea Teculescu 37; ® 10pm-4am Thu-Sat) For a grungier local bar, try this one outside the centre that gets very popular on Friday and Saturday nights.

Shopping

Teo Coroian (§) 771 677; [email protected]; Str §colii 14; ®9am-9pm) The owner here has a good life: he makes and sells wine as well as plum, pear and apple palinka (brandy or schnapps if you will; 65 to €10 per bottle). If the doors are closed, just ring the bell and he'll come downstairs and offer you a taste.

Getting There & Away

The Agentie de Voiaj CFR (® 771 820; Str 0 Goga 6A; ® 8am-4pm Mon-Fri) sells tickets in advance for all trains. Sighi?oara is linked by train with Bucharest nine times a day, eight of them going to or from Cluj-Napoca, Satu Mare, Arad, Oradea, Budapest, Prague or Vienna. For trains to Sibiu you have to change at Cop?a Mica or Mediae (three daily).

The bus station (@ 771 260) is next to the train station on Str Libertatii. Daily bus or maxitaxi services include between three and six daily services to Sibiu and Bistrita, eight to Targu Mure?, six to Apold, and hourly services (from 6.15am to 8.15pm) to Bucharest via Bra?ov. There are regular services to Dane? and Media?.

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