As countries go, Romania often gets a bad rap. What associations come to mind when you think of Romania? Maybe it’s roaming gypsies or hordes of stray dogs. Hardly makes you want to book a ticket on the next plane to Bucharest. What about its tourist highlights? It seems they often revolve around medieval sights and fortified churches. But I found a different Romania, one with bucolic valleys, scenic mountain villages, fine wines, verdant parks and chic boutique hotels.
Cafes & Crafts
Just off Bucharest’s broad thoroughfare, Calia Victoriei, a shaded alley beckons. On the weekend, the Green Garden, an outdoor crafts market, is in full swing. Hand-painted cotton slippers, ceramic plates with images of bay windows, felted animals, collage ceramic pendants, glass jewelry, even an origami candleholder are all for sale. As I wander among the vendors, I gaze past the clutch of shoppers to the alley’s terminus where Green Hours 22 Club Jazz Cafe is situated. Sitting under an old sycamore, I ordered one of their many freshly made lemonades (one with rose syrup) and a pizza topped with red onions, corn and tuna. One resident who lives down the street tells me this is his favorite spot where all the cool people hang out — he’s seen celebs that include Keifer Sutherland and Demi Moore. The place has such a low-key but hip vibe that it wouldn’t be out of place in Manhattan. I return the next day for a glass of full-bodied wine from Romania’s Prahova Valley.
The middle of Bucharest is coated with an expansive green space that’s the second oldest park in Bucharest. Cismigiu is populated by a diverse selection of 19th- and 20th-century trees, including weeping willows, oaks, red spruce and Japanese red pines. On Saturdays and Sundays, the whole city seems to gravitate here to row on the man-made lake, stroll the network of paths and picnic on the spacious lawns. Several cafes are positioned with scenic lake views. I wander to the many petite gardens, including a peaceful Asian-landscaped plot with trickling water. Nearby, a long pedestrian way is crowded with flea market vendors selling everything from herbal tinctures to fur coats.
Sinaia is dominated by the Carpathians, which form a dramatic backdrop in this charming ski town that’s also popular in the summer for its hiking. Most of the buildings in town display a mountain chalet-type architecture that is more typical of Swiss villages. Located in the Prahova Valley, the town is rimmed by thick forests. Beyond, cable cars rise up the slopes of the Bucegi Mountains. I escape the summer heat in nearby Dimitrie Ghica Park, an oasis with conifers, spruce and chestnut trees. Snuggled in the park are two hotels from another era: the Caraiman Hotel dates to the late 19th century, and the Palace Hotel has been open since 1911.
Set at 3,000 feet above sea level, under the shadow of the massive Caraiman and Costila peaks, Busteni is a much more economical resort compared to Sinaia. Rugged heli skiing, rock climbing and extreme skiing are the prime activities here where the sawtooth mountains display their barren pinnacles. Visitors can stay in the town’s few hotels and then take a quick train ride to Sinaia for more skiing options.
At an even higher altitude (3,400 feet), Predeal is at the border between Transylvania and Walachia provinces.
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