Experience peasant life on a full-day tour through the countryside of Maramures, Romania’s most traditional and colourful region. Don’t be surprised if you see horse-drawn carts along the road. Learn spooky stories while travelling through beautiful Transylvania, famous for its medieval fortified churches and as the birthplace of the inspiration for the world’s most famous vampire, Dracula. A home-stay with a local family in the Saxon/Roma town of Viscri will expose you to Romanian hospitality and some finger-licking home-cooked grub. Discover the incredible biodiversity of Romania’s remote Danube Delta. Take a boat through this unique ecosystem to where the river meets the Black Sea, and observe the traditional daily life of its remote communities
From the beautiful Baroque churches of Budapest to the remote lands of Bessarabia, this 22-day journey across the haunted heart of Romania’s Transylvania, Moldova – unbeknownst to tourism, the breakaway republic of Transnistria – where Soviet values persist – to the eerie wastelands of Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, provides a fascinating insight into an intriguing region and showcases some of the least visited sights in Europe. Become acquainted with traditional Romanian culture and customs in Maramures, tour the medieval churches of Brasov, dine with a local family on an overnight homestay in Viscri and visit the Black Sea Coast of Ukraine. Get ready for adventure.
Szia! Welcome to Hungary. Since the collapse of communism, Budapest has experienced something of a renaissance. The grand architecture and boulevards evoke a time gone by, while glamorous stores and restaurants make this one of the truly great cities of Europe. After the welcome meeting at 6 pm, you might like to head out to explore the city by night. Perhaps visit the Jewish Quarter for dinner and explore the many options for a nightcap.
Today enjoy a free day to explore Budapest. Hiring a bike is a great way to move between the sights. Perhaps head to Statue Park to see the communist monuments that were removed from the city after the fall of the Iron Curtain. One unmissable activity is a soak in Budapest's hot thermal baths. There are several around the city, ranging from elegant to simple outdoor types. The pools vary in temperature, and some even feature whirlpools or seats where you can play chess while you turn into a prune. You can wander the pedestrianised streets of the old district of Buda with the castle on the hill and the Matthias Church, then perhaps take a cruise along the Danube, discovering the history that unfolded along the riverbanks. Tonight perhaps discover some of the city’s ‘ruin bars’, cool places to grab a drink that are usually located in abandoned buildings in downtown Pest and are filled with thrift-shop décor and mismatched art.
Take a two-hour train east to Eger today. This beautifully preserved Baroque town is surrounded by hills and is home to some of the most renowned vineyards in Eastern Europe. Visit the wine cellars of the seductively-named Valley of the Beautiful Women with the group to sample some of the town's famous 'Bull's Blood' red wine, which supposedly gave the Hungarian army supernatural strength during their battle against the Ottoman Empire. Among the Turkish soldiers it was rumoured that the enemy army drank blood diluted with wine, as the firm resistance they encountered couldn't be explained any other way. In your own time, perhaps explore Eger's 13th-century castle, which was the scene of the historic siege that thwarted the Ottoman Empire's advancement into Western Europe. Here you can explore the Gothic Palace, a gallery of fine Hungarian art, and tour underground passageways of archaeological finds. You may also like to check out the town's 19th-century cathedral, the northernmost medieval minaret in Europe for views of the city, or the Minorite church in Dobo Square.
Debrecen / Maramures
Travel by bus to the pleasant town of Debrecen today (approximately 3 hours). While here, you'll have time to explore Deri Square with its fountains, colourful buildings, museums, and golden Great Church. Continue on by train and private vehicle across the central plains into the Maramures region of Romania. This second part of the journey should take around six hours. Time in Romania is an hour ahead of Hungary, so don't forget to set your watch. Maramures is also a place that can feel like stepping back in time. The region may be modernising, but among the traditional wooden houses and churches, the traditional music and forests, you can still find parts of life fairly unchanged since medieval times. Upon arrival, settle into your room at the pension, which is run by a local family, and look forward to some hearty home-cooked fare.
Today you’ll discover more about the region of Maramures ('mah-ra-moo-resh') and how it seems frozen in time. Rich in tradition and folklore, the music, costumes, festivals and ancient superstitions of one of the last peasant cultures in Europe continue to thrive here. Each village is distinctive in its colourful outfits and style of hat. Maramures is particularly famed for its wooden churches, many of which are World Heritage-listed. Set out on a guided group tour to explore the region. You’ll visit the unique Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, where the life stories of the deceased – the good and the bad of their lives – are displayed on colourful wooden crosses. There are poems and limericks, and little pictures illustrating how the person died, all single-handedly carved over 40 years by Stan Ioan Patraş until 1977. The work has continued for the last 30 years by his apprentice. You’ll also see the village museum in Sighetu, an assembly of beautiful local wooden architecture, along with stopping by various other traditional villages.
Today is a long day of travel (approximately 9 hours) through pastoral fields and untouched Saxon towns to Sighisoara in Transylvania. While the name may conjure up images of haunted castles, gothic churches and vampires, this is only a small part of what makes Transylvania such an enchanting and exciting destination. Medieval Sighisoara is likely to seduce visitors more than any other place in Romania. Another World Heritage site, the town was first settled by the Romans but flourished under the Saxons from the 12th century. Take a walk around the old town, which coils up a narrow hill and is surrounded on all sides by fortified walls, and explore the 64 metre-high clock tower that dominates the citadel. The town is famed as the birthplace of Vlad Dracul III, better known as Vlad the Impaler, whose name was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s iconic Count Dracula. Vlad III is revered as a folk hero by Romanians for driving off the invading Ottoman Turks, of which his impaled victims are said to have included as many as 100,000. Maybe have traditional Romanian fare at ‘Casa Dracula’ tonight.
While your next stop is less than an hour away, you'll feel like you've entered a different world. The small Transylvanian village of Viscri was originally inhabited by Saxons from the Luxembourg area, and the whole scene is picture-postcard rural. This idyllic village of red tiled roofs is a World Heritage site, virtually unchanged for 900 years. You’ll visit the town's fortified church (thought to be the oldest in Transylvania). You’ll also learn about the Sock Project, which supports the local Roma community. Time permitting, you may even like to go for a horse cart ride through the area, over pastures and through wondrous woods of oak and hornbeam. In the evening, indulge in a home-cooked dinner prepared by a local family, sampling fresh produce, homemade wines and schnapps. Tonight, stay in rustic houses that the locals rent out to visitors.
Today continue to the 13th-century Saxon city of Brasov (approximately 2 hours). Also known by its German name of Kronstadt, the town is flanked by mountains and city walls was once a major medieval trading centre. Enjoy free time to explore, checking out the ornate churches, townhouses and squares surrounded by gingerbread-roofed merchants' houses. It's worth visiting the town's main attraction, the gothic (Biserica Neagra) Black Church, which took its name from its blackened appearance after a fire in 1689. Stroll along pedestrianized Strada Republicii, take a cable car up to Mt Tampa, or maybe explore the nearby Rasnov Fortress. The fortification is perched on a rocky hilltop above the town of Rasnov, and was constructed by Teutonic Knights in the 13th century as a place of refuge for the common people from Tartar invaders. Otherwise, you could head to Bran Castle, said to be the inspiration for the home of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Though not exactly super spooky, it is undeniably impressive, perched on a high cliff top and surrounded by pine trees. For those looking for a little nightlife action, Brasov has plenty of funky bars and restaurants to enjoy once darkness falls.
Head south to Bucharest today (approximately 3 hours). The city is increasingly known for its cosmopolitan vibe and energy, and while not the most beautiful or stylish city, there are some wonderful art nouveau buildings, ancient churches and monasteries, lush parkland, lakes and elegant boulevards. Romania's interesting capital also likes big things. It’s home to one of Europe's biggest squares, and its Palace of Parliament is the second largest building in the world – former dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu ordered the construction of the 12-storied Palace of Parliament, a building of staggering scale and opulence that includes 1,100 rooms and 4,500 chandeliers. You'll embark on a guided walking tour around town to help you get your bearings, then in free time you can choose to further explore some of the sights pointed out. Maybe seek out some traditional home-cooked Romanian food with your fellow travellers tonight.
Enjoy a free day exploring Bucharest. You can check out the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. Another great way to see the city is by bicycle, perhaps exploring some of the city’s neighbourhoods for a glimpse into the daily lives of Bucharest’s residents. Indulge your inner foodie on a Home Cooked Bucharest Urban Adventure tour. Explore the city by night, or perhaps head out for another group dinner.
Bucharest / Tulcea
This morning there may be some time to explore Bucharest before heading off to the provincial city of Tulcea by local bus (approximately 5 hours) at around noon. Located in Romania's far east on the banks of the mighty Danube River, Tulcea is a typical Romanian working class town. This has been an important harbour city since ancient times, where the Danube empties out into the Black Sea. Its position has seen it under Byzantine, Genoese, and Ottoman rule before being reabsorbed into Romania at the end of the 19th century. In your free time you could visit the Azizie Mosque, an exotic and culturally rich heritage structure with quaint minarets, or enjoy the view from the Victory Monument east of town.
Danube Delta / Tulcea
Today, head out on a full-day excursion through the remote Danube Delta. This is a UNESCO protected area of ecologically significant lagoons, channels and marshes – one of the largest wetland areas in the world, and one that’s a paradise for birds. There are around 30 different ecosystems in this area of 4152 square kilometres, putting it just behind the Galapagos and Great Barrier Reef in terms of biodiversity. This is the place where the Danube empties into the Black Sea after journeying 2860 kilometres through ten countries. The Delta is also home to over 300 species of bird, so keep your eyes peeled for the avifauna that live around the floating reed islands, tree-fringed lakes, pastures, forests, sand dunes, and narrow canals lined with trees. The boat ride also gives you the opportunity to see local life from a unique perspective. The delta is home to an estimated 16,000 people, many of whom live isolated with no road access, surviving on traditional activities like fishing. At lunch time indulge in local specialties or the catch of the day. In the late evening, return to Tulcea.