Transylvania is probably the best known region of Romania and for the wrong reasons, often associated with some vampire. It is actually full of mountains, undisturbed forests, medieval villages, healthy food and a welcoming social life.
After the Communist dictatorship of Ceausescu, which lasted more than 20 years, Transylvania has changed by becoming more modern and open to change. Tourism is on the rise but it is still far from being ” annoying “ . Here is some local wisdom to get you started: from choosing a strategic base to the best Ciorba to fight the frost.
Fly to Cluj-Napoca
We left on January 2nd at random, finding the ticket on December 28th for € 9.99 a / r with Ryanair to Timisoara . But my advice is to use Cluj-Napoca as a destination : the airport is the largest in Transylvania and is served by 15 companies, including Ryanair and Wizz Air.
The historical knowledge of Transylvania
The population of Transylvania, just under 7 million, is a mix: about 70% Romanian, 18% Hungarian, with small communities of Roma, Ukrainians and Germans. Transylvania was a distinct territory until it was incorporated into the kingdom of Hungary into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867. But after the First World War and the dissolution of the empire, Transylvania came under Romania in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. The Kingdom of Hungary kept only 28% of its lands. With the treaty, the Hungarians in Transylvania became Romanian citizens. Old enmities and more recent tensions arise between the Romanian and Hungarian communities in Transylvania , so be sensitive to the region’s historical baggage.
Let’s get it out of the way: Transylvania is associated with vampire folklore and known as Dracula’s homeland thanks in large part to Bram Stoker’s novel ” Dracula “. The character of Count Dracula is said (but this has not been proven) was inspired by a 15th-century prince named Vlad III Drăculea, a military governor of noble descent with a penchant for impaling and enemies. The alleged home of Vlad (although according to historians it is another), the gothic fortress Bran Castle , is a national monument, among the best known in Transylvania. If you want to go all-in on the vampire theme, spend Halloween here, the only time of the year when the castle is open at night.
Brașov – Sibiu – Sighişoara are the heart of Transylvania. The three cities have a magnificent medieval historic center and are perfectly suited as a starting point for exploring the vast Transylvanian land . We preferred Brașov because there is more choice in both accommodation and social life.
Stock up on cash
The local currency is Lei and 1 Lei is approximately € 0.20. There are exchange offices in most cities, but they are less common in villages, so be prepared to venture into the next larger city if you’re short on resources. Credit cards are widely accepted in large cities, although grocery stores have only been catching up in the past few years.
Don’t refuse the palinka
Palinka is a local and traditional spirit, essentially a brandy made from plums , cherries, apples or other fruits. When it’s not used to lift the spirits, well, it’s a quick way to get drunk, locals drink it (on an empty stomach) as an appetizer. Palinka is traditionally produced by a few people in each village who then sell it to the rest of the city. So rest assured that every family will have them. If you are offered a shot of palinka, you are considered part of the family, so don’t refuse.
Rent a car
Romania’s railways are old and rickety , and the trains that cross the region are slow and tend to stop at nothing. It is more practical to rent a car, also because many mountains, castles and villages have not yet been touched by public transport. We relied on Autonom by booking on the spot.
Drink the forbidden beer
Forbidden beer is a notorious beer, called Csíki Sör from the Hungarian name of the small town Ciuc (many Transylvanian cities have both a Romanian and Hungarian name). Heineken was already making Ciuc beer and took Csíki Sör to court, claiming that the name was too similar to their product. Taking advantage of the controversy, the two producers of Csíki Sör, who lost the case, started marketing their beer as “ Csíki prohibited “. The Hungarian government obviously encouraged people to ” protect ” Csíki Sör and boycott Heineken’s product. You will find Csíki Sör in many different ways: blonde, brown, blueberry and honey.
Romania is in 4th place among the states with the highest speed of 4G, here you can take advantage of an average 4G speed of 35.61 Mbps against for example 19.5 Mbps in Italy (and in Western Europe it gets worse…. mmh mmh Germany). Timisoara is the city in the world with the fastest online download speed in the world. Read my article about the city of western Romania to know more about it!
Romania is a paradise for carnivores. Salami, sausages, chops, cans and so on. For us vegans / vegetarians Romania is a challenge like few others , I must admit. Do not despair, we have always managed with the vegetable Ciorba , always on the menu, to warm us up from the cold, accompanied by delicious bread. At the restaurant, in the worst cases, you can combine various side dishes, in Brasov and Bucharest you will find veg friendly places. An alternative we have chosen is the packed lunch , canned pate (also veg), bread and vegetables are delicious!
Pack up your English and… leave it at home
For us Italianз English in Romania is useless. As in most of Eastern Europe it is not so widespread but above all many Rumanians speak or understand Italian . To me, coming from northern Italy, Romanian sounds roughly like a narrow southern dialect. I understand a few scattered words. Romanian and Italian are in fact both Romance languages (or Neo-Latin) and many Romanian have lived in Italy or have relatives who live there, so they can understand what we are saying. All my attempts to speak English have been a flop and I have always found solace in Italian.
You will not starve
In Romania, there is no regulation on the opening hours of shops. Many shops are open 24 hours in every city. Usually, you can’t go to the shop at night, but they will open a small window and give you what you want. There are no restrictions on the purchase of alcohol : you can buy it at any time of every day. Fear not, if you have a hunger attack in the middle of the night, or crave something sweet, you will be safe. You will notice the words “Non-Stop” on their windows. Ask around, everyone knows where I am.