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5 Great Medieval Places to Visit in Transylvania
Autumn offers an enchanting time to visit Romanian villages.
Explore UNESCO World Heritage sites, centuries-old villages and architectural gems across Romania on a trip to remember.(Getty Images).
Legends and lore surround Transylvania – a region of Romania that invites images of evening mists, deep shadows and ancient castles. But in the area's late autumn sunlight, its charming medieval towns and fortified churches often catch visitors by surprise. If you're searching for historic villages where the past is present, read on. A trip through Transylvania could be just the ticket.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sighișoara's 13th-century fortress features a fairy tale look. In the summertime, it's crowded with tourists, but when autumn leaves start drifting down on its ramparts, spires and cobbled streets, the pedestrian-friendly walled Old Town empties and returns to its residents. School kids playing can be heard and you can enjoy a leisurely walk, sip coffee at a cozy coffeehouse with locals or stop in and watch woodworkers carving bowls in a gallery. For timeless views over the red-tiled roofs of the town's buildings, hike up to the beautiful Church on the Hill or climb to the top of the Clock Tower, built in the 1300s.
There are numerous museums in town too, but if you're a fan of Bram Stoker's "Dracula," visit Vlad Dracul's (also known as Vlad Tepes) kitschy "birth room" and adjacent restaurant near the Clock Tower. The real Vlad (Stoker's inspiration) was born in Sighișoara. If you're looking to retreat to a luxury boutique hotel while in town, check into the restored Fronius Residence. Dating back to 1609, the building has 21st-century amenities, along with an ideal location within easy walking distance of the Old Town's attractions.
Considered one of the largest and best-preserved medieval towns in Romania, Sibiu still has some of its three concentric rings of fortified walls standing. Walking along its narrow streets in its historic heart feels like a time warp, taking you through passageways and staircases dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries, along with the town's pretty squares filled with cafes, bars and shops. Local guides can share historical and architectural information about this old Saxon city, including the unique "eyes of the city," the small oval-shaped windows set into the centuries-old roofs.
Visit the impressive Brukenthal National Museum, housed in a former palace, to admire magnificent European art or take a trek to the top of the 14th-century Council Tower for a different perspective of the city. For an unforgettable Transylvanian meal, don't miss Crama Sibiul Vechi – one of the city's atmospheric wine cellar restaurants located nearby the popular Casa Luxemburg hotel.
One of the loveliest of Transylvania's 150 fortified churches is located in the pretty little village of Biertan. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the now Lutheran church was built in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Perched on a hill, and once the stronghold of it residents, Biertan overlooks the quiet little town.
A fall visit here offers an uncrowded time to stroll the beautiful church grounds, connected by archways and gates. Admire the postcard-perfect vineyards and pastoral fields in harvest colors that surround it. Peek inside its towers, and ponder its matrimonial prison (folks desiring to divorce were locked in a single room for two weeks before they were allowed to make a final decision). Inside the church, you'll find exquisite paintings, stonework and woodcarvings by 16th-century masters. What's more, the town is easily walkable and offers several guesthouses and restaurants.
The tiny secluded village of Viscri is known for its fortified church, called the White Church, that dates back to the 1100s. But it's also famous for one of its homeowners: Prince Charles of Wales. Besides purchasing and renovating a traditional Saxon house in the village, Prince Charles also helped restore several others – and his continued admiration for this village and the Transylvanian countryside has been a huge benefit. Instead of being bulldozed as once planned, Viscri is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you can stay in numerous guesthouses in the village, buy locally handcrafted felt slippers, socks and hats, and explore the intriguing White Church. Exploring the village offers the chance to step back in time.
Located at the foot of the Southern Carpathian Mountains, the vibrant city of Brașov is approximately 17 miles from Bran Castle (often referred to as Dracula's Castle) and is also a popular winter skiing base for nearby Poiana Brașov – Romania's famous ski resort. While much of this city was industrialized during the country's communist regime, its medieval center remains intact. Brimming with color, the expansive Council Square is ringed with fancily trimmed and pastel-painted Baroque buildings filled with shops, bakeries and cafes. Festivals and markets often take place surrounding the 13th-century Old Town Hall in the center of the square; autumn is a perfect time for sampling some local delicacies, including its unique sheep's cheese and the sweet cinnamon chimney cakes known as kurtoskalacs. Free walking tours are offered year round, highlighting numerous museums, passing by the famous Gothic-style Black Church, and taking in the preserved medieval towers and walls, with glimpses into tucked away courtyards.
For accommodations in the historic area, the Casa Wagner is located right on Council Square, but for the finest view over the city in its striking fall colors, taking the Tâmpa cable car outside of town to Tâmpa Mountain's peak is a must.
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Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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