Romania’s tourism profile has been slow to rise since EU membership and discount airlines both arrived in 2007. But with the country’s incredibly diverse, rewarding and relatively affordable offerings, that is not likely to last. Among the attractions currently drawing only modest crowds, here are five outstanding Unesco World Heritage Sites.
historic centre of Sighişoara
A recently completed, comprehensive
restoration of this hill-top citadel
has made this already popular attraction the busiest site on Romania’s World
Heritage List. Among Sighişoara’s film-worthy
attractions are a 500-year-old
clock tower, neat cobblestone streets lined with colourful buildings and a
collection of arresting museums.
Dracula enthusiasts will want to set
aside 30 minutes or so for a generous pour of the reddest wine served at Casa
Dracula, the restaurant that now occupies the home where little Vlad did
fortified church of Biertan
The imposing 15th-century Saxon church of Biertan is
located 27km southwest of Sighişoara in central
Transylvania. Any medieval looters cunning and
gutsy enough to thwart the rising, double-walled fortifications would have
still had to contend with the formidable door to the church’s sacristy, armed
with a demoralizing 19 locks.
The astonishing engineering of these locks, operated by a single, intricate
mechanism, won first prize at the Paris World Expo in 1900.
The church grounds hold several
smaller buildings, including a tiny bastion which was legendarily used as a
last-ditch attempt to discourage couples seeking divorce. The couple would be
locked in the bastion together for two weeks, sharing just one bed and one set of
cutlery. This method was allegedly so successful that only one couple decided
to go through with their divorce in 400 years.
Saxon village of Viscri
Roughly 40km southeast of Sighişoara is this
restored, atmospheric Saxon village, still home to some 25 Saxons. The 12th-century fortified church has
a short tower with a rather frightening, open staircase leading to the top with
lovely views of the valley. The less intimidating climb to the top of the
bastions provides virtually the same views. Additionally, the church has a
surprisingly worthwhile two-level village museum.
However, the real allure of this
low-key detour are the brightly painted homes lining the dirt road, the
free-roaming ducks and the quiet, traditional village experience. One can spend
the night here, with a little luck, sleeping in one of the coveted 200-year-old
“Saxon beds”: oversized cabinets with a pull-out mattress. Prince Charles, a
frequent visitor and supporter of Romanian heritage, has purchased and restored
houses in Viscri.
painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina
The historic region of Southern Bucovina,
located in northeast Romania, is scattered with a collection of 15th-century
painted monasteries – many of which have the unusual distinction of having
murals painted on the outside as well as the inside – ranking them among
Europe’s most fascinating artistic achievements. How these vibrant, exterior
murals have survived, after centuries of being exposed to the elements, is only
part of the appeal. The cartoon-style frescoes depict popular biblical stories,
contain realistic portrayals of human figures and use backdrops that appear to
resemble the nearby Carpathian foothills.
Many of the monasteries were founded
by Stephen the Great as thanks to God for his victories over the Ottomans.
While many of the monasteries can be accessed by public transport, joining a
guided tour is a good idea to maximize time and glean the most information.
wooden churches of Maramureş
Maramureş is home to some of
Europe’s last peasant villages, strewn among rolling hills and steeped in local
customs and history. These villages contain an assortment of ancient wooden churches,
ingeniously hand built using logs, then thick beams with remarkable joins and
no nails. Eight of these churches are World Heritage Sites, including the
ancient church in Ieud (dating from 1364) and the church in Surdeşti, with a
disproportionately gigantic steeple (72m), one of the tallest wooden structures
The article 'Romania’s top five World Heritage sites' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.