Visit castles and meet bear cubs in Romania
A fantastic alternative to typical European tours
Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is Romania.
"Why Romania?" That's the question my friends asked when they found out where I was taking my family on vacation, said Dionne Searcey at The New York Times. Well, my husband and I had previously dragged our three "difficult-to-impress" young children to Rome and Athens, where tours of museums and archaeological sites failed to hold their interest. We figured our kids needed to roam free, and Romania seemed a good fit, with its mountain trails and castles that rival those of the Loire Valley. Plus, with the cost per adventure about a third what it is elsewhere in Europe, the former communist country is "the T.J. Maxx of European vacations."
Our trip began in Bucharest, where we spent our first afternoon wandering around in a cold drizzle before stumbling into Caru cu Bere — a Belle Epoque restaurant with tall ceilings and stained-glass windows. The food, a warm heavy meal of cheese-stuffed sausages and pork-and-bean soup, turned out to be "just what we needed." Driving into the Carpathian Mountains the following day, we whizzed past white-haired women who were selling flowers and moonshine by the roadside and "looked as if they had walked out of a painting of 1600s-era peasants." Before reaching our Airbnb, we stopped at Peles Castle, commissioned by King Carol I in the 1870s, and toured its 160 ornately decorated rooms. The next morning, we hiked past shepherds guiding flocks across steep mountainsides on our way to Seven Ladders Canyon, where long, steel ladders are set beside raging waterfalls. "The children loved the thrill of the climb."
A long drive amid speeding Mercedeses and horse-drawn carts brought us to a Transylvania eco-lodge where we hoped to spot brown bears. At dusk, a guide led us to an observation post, where we were told to sit and remain as silent as possible. Forty-five minutes passed painfully slowly before a mother bear and two cubs plodded into view. "We watched as they rummaged through the grass, the babies tumbling over each other — and gasped when we spotted a huge male bear stalking the little family." He gave chase, but the mom and cubs slipped off just in time — "a happy ending to our very own private nature movie."