International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
On the Wallachian plains, between the Carpathian Mountains and the banks of the Dâmbovit¸ a River, Bucharest was once a grand neo-classical city. Much damaged in WWII, it now combines a mismatch of architectural eras, from President Ceausescu’s 1970s, communist-era housing blocks to medieval churches.
The infamous Palace of Parliament was built in 1984 by order of President Ceausescu, Romania’s former dictator. Its 12 storeys and 1,100 rooms cover 330,000 sq metres. The opulent rooms can be viewed by guided tour only, which must be booked a day in advance (00 40 21 311 3611; B-dul Natiunile Unite; 10am-3.30pm; £3.50).
Bucharest’s heart – often called the Lipscani quarter after one of its main streets – is the centrepiece of efforts to revitalise the city’s historic core. At its western end, Str Lipscani crosses Calea Victoriei, one of Bucharest’s oldest streets, built in 1692.
In 1941, 800,000 Jewish people lived in Romania, but around half were killed in the war. Housed in the beautiful Tailors’ synagogue, the Museum of Jewish History highlights Jewish contributions to the country (00 40 21 311 0870; Mamulari 3; 9am-1pm Sun-Wed and Fri, 4pm Thu; donation).
Lake Snagov is a weekend retreat for city residents. A monastery said to be the resting place of Vlad Tepes, the prince who inspired Dracula, sits on an island in the lake. Tours from Bucharest finish at the monastery (£140 for two people minimum).
The National Museum of Art houses Romanian icons and carved altars from pre-communist era churches. The European wing features Rubens, Rodin and Monet (00 40 21 313 3030; Calea Victoriei 49-53; 10am-6pm Wed-Sun Oct-Apr, 11am-7pm Wed-Sun May-Sep; £3).
Eat and drink
Bistro Vilacrosse is a café-cum-restaurant, with sepia photographs, wooden floors and gingham tablecloths. The service is friendly and quick. The food’s good too, and includes wine-soaked Transylvania pork fillet on a bed of fries and cabbage (00 40 21 315 4562; Pasajul Macca/Vilacrosse; lunch and dinner; mains from £2).
Fine clay-oven-baked pies – thin and crispy, with fresh ingredients – are served at Casa Veche. Enjoy them in a trellised courtyard or the wood-beamed dining room (00 40 21 312 5816; Str George Enescu 15-17; lunch and dinner; mains from £4).
Despite a touristy atmosphere, with peasant-girl waitresses and Roma song and dance, beer house Caru’cu Bere draws a strong local crowd. The interior dazzles with its stained-glass windows and the food is a treat, especially the mixed sausage platter (00 40 21 313 7560; Str Stavropoleos 3-5; lunch and dinner; mains from £4).
The cuisine at St George tends toward the heavy, with lots of stews and pork dishes, but you can wash it all down with hard-to-find wines. Dine out on the terrace in fine weather (00 40 21 317 1087; Str Franceza 44; lunch and dinner; mains from £5).
Balthazar is one of the city’s most upmarket restaurants, filling the ground floor and courtyard of a superbly maintained old villa. Locals and business lunchers come for the Thai/French blend and seafood (00 40 21 212 1460; Str Dumbrava Rosie 2; lunch and dinner; mains from £9).
Hotel Amzei is a tastefully refurbished villa just off Calea Victoriei. The spacious reception has a refined feel and the rooms have the same understated elegance, with faux period furnishings, marble bathrooms and warm ochre colours (00 40 21 313 9400; Str Piat¸ a Amzei 8; from £85).
Stylish beyond its three stars, the Rembrandt Hotel faces the landmark National Bank in the historic centre. Built in 1925, it has a characterful atmosphere. The rooms have been tastefully modernised, with wooden floors, contemporary furniture and white linen. Book in advance as the few tourist-class rooms go quickly (00 40 21 313 9315; Str Smârdan 11; from £90).
Hotel Capsa served as a bohemian hangout through the 1930s. Its rooms have period features such as wood panelling, high ceilings and large French windows. The furnishings are in keeping: heavy mahogany, with fleur-de-lis print bedspreads and curtains (00 40 21 313 4038; Calea Victoriei 36; from £110).
Vila Arte is a superb, art-stuffed boutique hotel. The Ottoman room is in updated Turkish style, with deep-red bedspreads, fabrics and oriental carpets. The service is top-notch (00 40 21 210 1035; Str Vasile Lascar 78; from £120).
The queen of Bucharest hotels, the Athénée Palace Hilton is testament to a century-past infatuation with Paris. Like its grand, marble-pillared entrance, the hotel’s 272 rooms are dressed to impress, albeit less characterful than the public rooms. In summer, cocktails are served on the terrace (00 40 21 303 3777; Str Episcopiei 1-3; from £120).