Visit an utterly unspoilt part of Europe
Amazing painted wooden churches are a testament to an age of faith, lost to the west
Unique fortified ‘Saxon’ churches reflect military struggles of Medieval times
Spectacular & varied scenery
A very warm welcome from local communities
Comfortable hotels with decent food & wine
A visit to Romania is like finding a well-worn, patched coat at the bottom of the drawer: it was grandfather’s, but oddly it is still serviceable, as well as a remarkable survival. The areas we shall be visiting - Transylvania in the centre of the country and Maramureș and Bucovina in the north – are still predominantly rural. The horse and cart is still a means of transport around the countryside, families still mow the hay with scythes, and their old-style cottages line the not-always-so-smart village streets. The Communist regime was never entirely able to collectivise the smallholdings, and we are looking at Old Europe.
Things are changing, of course: villages are reached by hard-top roads, forests are decimated by illegal logging, and the young emigrate, but environmental movements, with the leadership and support of HRH the Prince of Wales, are increasingly effective, demonstrating why and how the traditional landscape and the rural way of life should be conserved.
Transylvania was tributary once to the Ottomans in Constantinople and then to the Habsburgs in Vienna and Hungary, but the high, forested Carpathians form a natural frontier between these parts and the old Romanian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia to the east and south. So, the Hungarian landlords and German burghers of Transylvania were able to prosper with a degree of independence, though the Romanian population had no civic status here until the end of the First World War, when Transylvania passed out of Hungarian administration and became part of the state of ‘greater’ Romania. There are still around 1.8 million ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania today.
We begin in the north, where wooden Orthodox churches survive in the hills and valleys of Maramureș. With their traditional timber construction and characteristic shingle spires and steeply pitched roofs, they have eighteenth century frescoes that are touchingly simplistic examples of devotional folk art.
A day’s drive over the Carpathians from Maramureș leads to Bucovina, where the Orthodox ‘painted monasteries’ survive, re-established now as convents. Many were founded by the ruler of this region, Stephen the Great, at the end of the fifteenth century - one foundation, it is said, for each of the victories that he achieved over the Ottoman Turks. Uniquely, the entire exteriors of these churches were decorated, as well as the interiors. The brilliant representations of the heavenly host, the ancestry of Christ, the life of Mary and the perils of the Last Judgement that cover the walls of the monastery churches at Suceviţa, Voroneţ and Moldoviţa have outlasted both foreign marauders and winter weather.
The legacy of the German communities of Transylvania, known as ‘Saxons’, is remarkable. Invited by Hungarian kings to colonize this frontier of central Europe in the twelfth century, they created well-ordered settlements, where superb gothic churches – now Protestant - and baroque town centres survive. Looking at this harmonious period architecture, we can see how the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is linked in legend to the establishment of these towns. We shall be staying in three of them: Sighișoara, Brașov and Sibiu.
The ‘Saxon’ villages of Biertan, Viscri and Prejmer are also on our itinerary; they are amazing survivals, too, with their medieval churches fortified as well-stocked refuges for their inhabitants against centuries of threats from invading Mongols and Turks. Hugely reduced by two World Wars and Communism instead, there are now fewer than 50,000 Germans here.
Due to the amount of territory we need to traverse, we shall spend one night in each of Cluj and Sighetu Marmaţiei and two nights in each of Suceviţa, Sighișoara, Brasov and Sibiu, using locally rated, comfortable 3,4 and 5* hotels.
Day by day
- Day 1: Sunday 13 May
- We fly early afternoon from Luton to Cluj where we spend one night at the 5* Hotel Opera. We have dinner in our hotel – wine, water and coffee are included with group lunches and dinners.
- Day 2: Monday 14 May
- We drive through lovely countryside, the mountains and valleys of Maramures. We have lunch in Baia Mare and that afternoon we visit the wooden churches at Surdesti and Desești. We continue to Sighetu Marmaţiei and spend one night at the 3* (Superior) Hotel Gradina Morii and have dinner in our hotel.
- Day 3: Tuesday 15 May
- We drive across the spectacular Carpathian mountiains to Bucovina. We visit the wooden churches at Rozavlea and Ieud and have lunch en route at Borsa. We stay two nights at the 4* Popas Turistic Bucovina, near Suceviţa where we also have dinner.
- Day 4: Wednesday 16 May
- Today we see the famous painted monasteries at Suceviţa, Voroneţ and Moldoviţa. These are a remarkable survival, particularly as the painted exteriors seem to have surived all that nature (and man) has thrown at them. We lunch locally and this evening we eat independently in Suceviţa.
- Day 5: Thursday 17 May
- We continue across the Carpathians, stoping for lunch at Bistritsa, visiting the Palace of Culture in Târgu Mureș en route. We spend two nights at the 4* Hotel Central Park in Sighișoara and dinner will be in the hotel.
- Day 6: Friday 18 May
- We spend the morning in Sighișoara on foot, visiting the Citadel, the Clock Tower and Church on the Hill, after which we have a group lunch. In the afternoon we drive to Biertan village and visit the fortified Saxon church. This evening we eat independently in Sighișoara.
- Day 7: Saturday 19 May
- On our way to Brasov we visit Viscri and Prejmer villages to see their fortified Saxon churches; lunch is included in Viscri. We continue to Brașov for two nights at the 5* Hotel Aro Palace and we have dinner in a local restaurant.
- Day 8: Sunday 20 May
- We spend the morning in Brașov, visiting the old Romanian school in the Șchei quarter, the Black Church and the main Square. The afternoon will be free and lunch and dinner are not included today.
- Day 9: Monday 21 May
- On our way to Sibiu we visit the Saxon village at either Cisnădioara or Cisnădie. We have lunch en route and on arrial in Sibiu we have an orentation walk. We spend two nights at the 4* Hotel Continental Forum and this evening we have dinner in a local restaurant.
- Day 10: Tuesday 22 May
- We spend the morning in Sibiu on foot, with visits to the Brukenthal Museum and the Evangelical and Orthodox Churches. After some free time for lunch, not included, we drive out to visit the ASTRA outdoor ‘Museum of Traditional Folkloric Civilisation’. We have our final dinner at a local restaurant.
- Day 11: Wednesday 23 May
- There will be some free time this morning after which we drive to Sibiel village to visit the Glass Icon Museum, followed by lunch in a village house. We continue to Sibiu airport for the return flight to Luton.
- Price: £2,570 per person
- Price without : £2,415
- Deposit: £300
- Single Supplement: £235 (Double Room for Sole Use)
1 night in each of Cluj and Sighetu Marmaţiei and two nights in each of Suceviţa, Sighișoara, Brasov and Sibiu, using locally rated, comfortable 3, 4 and 5* hotels. Full details in Day by Day Itinerary
Outward: W6 3306 London Luton 1230, arrive Cluj-Napoca 1725
Return: W6 3771 Sibiu 1750, arrive London Luton 1900
7 dinners & 8 lunches with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, taxes, entry fees & gratuities, services of John Osborne and our local tour manager
Travel to/from Luton, 3 dinners & 2 lunches
Weather Conditions for Location in Month are:
Average Temperature between: 10oC - 22oC / 51oF - 72oF
Rainfall: 35mm / 1.4inches
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.