Transylvania’s traditional boundaries across the River Mureș into the plains of the Carpathian arc comprise roughly half of the modern area. This is the region around my hometown Cluj-Napoca, known for its universities and international music festivals. In Romanian, the region is called Ardeal or “Transilvania,” from the Latin “trans silva,” which means “across the woods.”
If you want to get to Transylvania, even today, that’s about the only way to get there.
Except for its large cities like Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu or Brașov, there are countless small Saxon villages worth a visit, featuring fortified churches and monasteries, fascinating in themselves but also exhibiting their reverence for the past, so well preserved.
So, it comes down to knowing what type of traveler you are: A “city tourist” who loves sightseeing and exploring the streets, museums, cafés and restaurants? A “resort enthusiast” relying more on comfort and an all-in physical pampering? Or a “rural culture absorber” with a desire to feel in sync with your natural surroundings.
Sighișoara, the Medieval City With a Soul
The medieval fort known as Castrum Sex (Fort Six), first mentioned in 1280 by Transylvanian Saxons, is now home to the Romanian town of Sighişoara (German: Schäßburg), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Still lived-in, it is unique in Europe – a medieval fort continuously inhabited since ancient times.
Here locals walk the picturesque streets on their way to work, their children to school and back, while tourists get to know the medieval citadel as more than just an open-air museum. The narrow alleys of the citadel are filled with colorful houses, where an annual medieval festival, through reenactments, parades and concerts, recreates life in the Middle Ages. Or visit the birthplace of Vlad Dracul (father of Vlad the Impaler, known as Dracula), in another corner of Sighişoara’s fairytale setting that is, miraculously, also a real place.
Luxury You Cannot Put a Price on
Half an hour by car outside Sighişoara is the lush, enfolding valley of the Saxon village of Cund (German: Reußdorf). Here, forest paths are perfect for hiking, foraging wild plants and mushrooms, and also truffle hunting. Truffles are the favorite food of bear, deer or foxes (and also mice), although trained dogs can sniff them out for guests to enjoy later, in the authentically Romanian gourmet cuisine of the Valea Verde Retreat.
In the Raven’s Nest, owners have assembled and restored a “hidden village” of 19th and 20th century farmhouses that provide accommodation for tourists seeking peace of mind in a secluded location. From a cliff-top, oven-warmed jacuzzi, the achingly beautiful Transylvanian landscape lies before you, or in the evening, a heaven full of stars. Or even an outdoor movie – a very different kind of luxury.
Much like its proud locals and its wild and mysterious forests, Transylvania guards its timeless beauty, its historic and natural heritage, never screaming to be noticed.
Unless, like us, you’re paying attention.