Out and about in Romania

Romania is regrettably, for one reason or the other – leaving Bucharest aside – not yet blessed with too many great hotels and accommodation venues. Finding a decent and satisfactory place for the night too often remains a lottery with only a few hits and far too many miss options. You will find plenty of Casas, Penisuneas or Hotels spread all over the country; but, unfortunately too often built only for the quick buck or without any knowledge or understanding of what the traveler needs and expects. Worse even if both are the case!
By Friedrich Niemann

I love to travel in Romania and explore the country as much as I can. When doing so, I try to avoid the big and commercial hotels – which I know too well for obvious reasons – but also places without a soul and sense of place. Throughout the years I have discovered several locations, which truly have this sense of place and are not necessarily posh and so perceptibly pseudo-luxurious, much better – they are just perfect in what and where they are. If I would play it smart, I obviously kept those places to myself, as otherwise I would be running the risk that soon these hidden secrets won’t be secrets anymore and overrun by the curious traveler. However, that would neither do the locations justice nor the sophisticated traveler’s thirst for proper accommodation. Hence, below please find my four favorite spots in Romania.

The Inn on Balaban


No, it is no coincidence that all of these locations are in Transylvania!  I have been taking that deprived gravel road up to the hill of Balaban already for years, every time when I was in dire need of a tranquil place to rest and enjoy the stunning beauty of the Carpathian’s Southern Range. The ‘Inn on Balaban’ is uniquely located while it sits on a hill high above the village of Simon, next to Bran in Brasov County. Once up here the visitor can enjoy 360 degree views of the Carpathian Mountains; the Piatra Craiului to the west and the Bucegi mountains to the east, the famous Rucar – Bran corridor stretches to the South – scenic views as many and as lasting as you wish.

Casa Balaban is a purpose-built house that resembles a traditional Transylvanian farmhouse as exhibited in Sibiu’s village museum. That is where the owner of the house picked up the idea a few years ago, realized his dream and opened the Inn in 2006. It really puts you back in time in rural Romania. There is a large living room on the ground floor, with a fire place, comfy sofas, a library about Transylvania and its history and lots of antique and rural Romanian furniture. The six bedrooms on the ground – and the first floor are furnished with antiques or rebuilt traditional Romanian peasant furniture. The beds and their linen are so horrendously comfortable that you don’t want to get up in the morning anymore. Bathrooms have floor heating and tiny little windows allow you to enjoy those spectacular views even in the most private moments. As there is no other place for dinner in the area, the inn usually offers half board, which comprises a country style three-course dinner (the mamaliguta is outstanding), accompanied by a decent selection of fine Romanian wines. In the morning a very rich and local breakfast is served in the dining room.

Over the last years they have also added two more buildings, one being a beautifully restored old farm house from Simon and a second building, following the same architecture as the first, accommodating spacious meeting facilities as well as another two bedrooms.

To get there, while coming from Brasov, you need to pass through the village of Bran, about 1 km after passing Bran castle take a left following the signs for Simon. In Simon turn left at the church and follow the signs and the gravel road for approximately 4 km. Once there and no matter the weather, you don’t want to leave. And in winter, when the road is inaccessible by car, they come and pick you up with a sledge in Simon – being the truly romantic alternative. The Inn at Balaban is the perfect retreat for a weekend or a short vacation for those who enjoy nature, quietness, hiking and a sense of place. What I enjoyed most, apart from the stunning nature: there are no telephones or TV’s in the house – ok, they do have WiFi.  More about the inn on Balaban, here.

Count Kálnoky’s guesthouse in Miclosoara; Valea Verde resort in Cund

I suppose ‘Count Kálnoky’s Guesthouse’ in Miclosoara is no secret anymore, as this place has been in the media regularly and not only because of the occasional visits of the Prince of Wales. Miclosoara is about one hour north of Brasov in Szeklerland, Covasna County. So instead of Romanian, one is better advised to speak Hungarian with the local people.

The Kálnoky Family have returned to Transylvania after 50 years of exile and had since found ways to save their heritage and reinstate the estate to its former character. In the tiny village of Miclosoara the family has restored several farm houses, dating from the 18th century and now offers eight guest rooms in different buildings scattered around the village.

The guesthouses have been carefully restored in order to preserve their original Transylvanian charm and character and are situated within spacious gardens, with storks nesting on nearby rooftops. All rooms are amazingly comfortable, decorated in the old Transylvanian Szekler and Saxon styles. In order to create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, the rooms do not have television or radio; instead, you will find plenty of interesting books on the shelves. You will also find tea and coffee making facilities and very comfy en suite bathrooms with hair dryers, floor heating and historic bathtubs. One should however avoid the room next to the sauna, as this does not have a private bath and one has to use the bathroom of the sauna, which is not really the best alternative. Right, there is also a sauna, a billiards room and equipment for badminton or table tennis in the garden. If you are staying for a few days, the guesthouse even offers to store your emptied luggage away, in order to clear space in your room.

Like on the Inn on Balaban (which we covered in a previous article here), the price usually includes dinner, which is served family style, meaning that most guests sit at long tables and enjoy good country style fare, served either in the rustic and charming wine cellar or underneath the vine arbour in the garden. The food is organic and mostly produced in the village.

Apart from the comfort of the accommodation and the overall flair of the place, it is this family atmosphere, which always attracted me most. Every time I visited the place I enjoyed unforgettable evenings, which we spent and enjoyed with total strangers (in the beginning of the night!), either playing cards for hours with a table full of British guests or getting nicely smashed with visitors from the US embassy in Sofia.

The Transylvanian Castle organizes all kinds of tours and trips during your stay, be it wildlife walking tours in the neighbouring woods or culture and history trips to Brasov or the fortified churches in the area. The place is also very famous for its riding holidays as the family too breeds its own horses in a nearby stable.

Coming from Bucharest, you have to pass through Brasov in the direction of Targu Mures until you reach the DN13. At Maierus leave the main road and turn right, following directions for Belin, Aita Mare and Baraolt. The village after Aita Mare will be Miclosoara. It will take you about fifteen minutes for the 17 km from leaving DN13. Pass the white church and go down the hill, to your right you will see a large wooden tastefully furnished old farmhouses, all with their separate entrances and large terraces as well as en suite bathrooms. All apartments are carefully furnished in order to create a relaxed, cosy and friendly atmosphere and in every living room you will find a wood-burning stove alongside the central heating to add extra warmth and comfort. For larger groups and higher demand one will find about ten other apartments in restored Saxon farmhouses scattered around the village, all preserving the simple and authentic charm of their past.

What really sets Valea Verde apart from many other rural retreats in Transylvania are Jonas’ skills at the stove. Although he had never enjoyed any kitchen education, he has become a master, offering beautifully created three – or four course dinner menus, an a la carte gourmet breakfast some five star hotels can only be dreaming about, and all accompanied by a very selective and high quality wine list. If you plan for a diet or want to stay sober; sorry this is the wrong place. But if relaxation and gourmet life aren’t everything for you; they also do offer a wide range of special recreational activities, like cycling tours, horseback riding, wood crafting or painting classes.

Getting there! Either you travel by public transportation to Sighisoara, Medias or Targu Mures and they will pick you up or by car you follow the DN13 from Brasov to Sighisoara, switch on to DN14 until you reach the town of Dumbraveni. From here it gets a bit complicated for another approx 10 km through Dumbraveni, always following the signs for Viisoara on the 142C. About one kilometer after leaving Dumbraveni, you need to take a left turn onto local route 151B. There is no sign, but you’re right when the road turns into gravel; you’re wrong when it’s still asphalt! After about 6 km you will reach Cund (asphalt again!), here you will need to turn left shortly after the church, cross a small bridge and after approx. 400 meters you will be in front of Valea Verde Resort and welcomed with a bright smile and a glass of Prosecco.

More details about the Transylvanian Castle here.   More about traveling in Transylvania, here and here.
Friedrich Niemann has been the general manager of the Athenee Palace Hilton hotel in Bucharest until 2010. He has moved to Germany to run the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Berlin. This article has been originally written for and published in City Compass’ English – language guide ‘Bucharest, Romania & Beyond’.