Transylvania or Transilvania (from Latin – “the land beyond the forest”)
Romanian: Ardeal or Transilvania, Hungarian: Erdély, German: Siebenbürgen – The seven towns (Bistrita, Brasov, Cluj-Napoca, Medias, Sebes, Sibiu and Sighisoara), Latin: Transsilvania
Location: Central Romania – surrounded by the arc of the Carpathian Mountains
Area: 88.518 km2
Population: Approximately 5 milions. 7,221,733 (in 2002 Census) includind Maramures, Banat and Crisana, with a large Romanian majority (75.9%). There are also sizeable Hungarian (19.6%), Roma (3.3%), German (0.7%) and Serb (0.1%) communities.
Main cities: Alba Iulia, Bistrita, Brasov, Cluj Napoca, Medias, Miercurea Ciuc, Sebes, Sibiu, Sighisoara, Targu Mures
Transylvania is the largest region of Romania and probably the best known one. When you visit Transylvania you dive into a mix of cultures, nature and history. Transylvania is a diverse region: it is worth trying to observe the differences that exist within the region, both culturally and naturally. This region is a place with abundant history and multicultural convergence. All over Transylvania the cohabitation of Romanians, Hungarians, Saxons and Roma is the leading theme. Transylvania is rich in myth and misty medieval sites: there about 100 castles and fortresses and about 70 fortified churches. Romania’s greatest and best preserved castles and fortresses are to be found here. But for the more curious traveler, there are many small villages with old houses and fortified churches. As Transylvania is circled by the Carpathian mountains there are a lot of mountain forests and hiking or climbing possibilities. All over the Carpathians there are great national parks. In the center of Transylvania there are green hills and rivers. Most big cities are very western Europe like, and the infrastructure is generally good, making it easy for travelers.
Transylvania is so stuffed with attractions of all types of adventurous, cultural, historical and natural interest that there really is something for everybody. Those wanting to ski will find slopes that suit all from the beginner or families with young children to those wanting to ski off-piste or try cross-country skis on rugged mountain plateaux.
Those who would like to hike, cycle or just ramble through stunning countryside, track bear, lynx or fox, watch birds or admire wild flowers in the unspoiled landscape can find many places where they can wander undisturbed on a journey back in time. Culture vultures will enjoy discovering the Saxon villages, each guarded by a magnificent fortress church, and beautifully restored historic town centres crammed with museums, galleries, bars and restaurants. Horror fans can pursue the legend of Dracula and his inspiration Vlad III Ţepeş. Spa holidays are becoming increasingly popular and Transylvania is home to a number of fun resorts.
As getting around Transylvania is still quite tricky and time consuming, it might be a good idea to pinpoint your interests, but here is a general overview of things to think about including on an itinerary.
• Sighişoara The most eye-catching Saxon fortress town, Sighişoara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and birthplace of Vlad III Ţepeş.
• Biertan One of the most easily accessible Saxon fortress church villages, Biertan has great places to stay, eat, walk and ride horses.
• Sibiu European Capital of Culture 2007, Sibiu is full of fascinating museums, buildings, cafés and restaurants.
• Sovata Băi A relaxing spa resort with top-notch hotels, facilities and therapeutic wallowing in the salty Lacul Ursu.
• Zărneşti Wolf Tours Spend the days walking and wildlife-watching in the Piatra Craiului National Park.
• Turda Salt Mine A fascinating journey underground in the historic town of Turda.
• Turda Gorge A great place for a hike in beautiful countryside, Turda Gorge has a variety of morphological features.
• Bicaz Gorges and Lacu Roşu Incredible crags and a sinister lake.
• Braşov An exciting modern city with a medieval heart, Braşov is surrounded by mountains and hiking regions.
• Deva funicular Take a space-age ride up the ‘Hill of the Djinn’ in this lively town.
• Retezat National Park Hike in this national park to the scenic dam and see wildlife and wild flowers.
• Lacul Fântânele A tranquil and scenic spot in glorious surroundings of the ethnic Hungarian Kalotaszeg region.
• Prejmer The most impressive of all Saxon fortress churches with a fascinating history enclosed within mighty walls.
• The Apuseni Mountains With the Padiş Plateau, the Scarişoara Ice Cave and the contentious Roşia Montana gold mines.
• Mămăligă and ţuică Don’t miss out on Transylvania’s culinary delights: polenta, a huge range of fresh fruit and vegetables, great beer and the fiery spirits.
• Folk music Visit the village of Sic (Szék) for Magyar folk music or hunt down Roma musicians in clubs and restaurants all over Transylvania.
• Negreni annual fair (and girl fairs all over) The many open-air festivals with music, folk crafts, eating, drinking and general merrymaking.
• Transylvania film festival, Cluj-Napoca, a great place to spot the latest cinematic talents.
Transylvania’s cuisine displays a variety of flavors with dishes spiced with thyme, red pepper or tarragon. Meats, such as pork, mutton, veal, are among the most popular ingredient in Transylvania’s cuisine. The soups, to which sour cream and egg yolk are ofted added, also include flour dumplings or homemade pasta.
Romania is one the world’s leading producers of cabbage (varza). Make sure you don’t leave the region without trying the delicious “Varza a la Cluj” – the Romanian version of lasagna – prepared from several layers of finely shredded cabbage (fresh or sour) and minced pork or veal mixed with rice and bacon and baked in the oven.
Transylvanians among whom the Saxons make their particular contribution – are not only artisans in producing fragrant, pleasant and light wines, but also sophisticated double-distilled liquors: palinca, horinca and rachie (varieties of brandy). These are made of fruits, particularly plums, apples, and pears, aged in mulberry tree barrels, acquiring a golden color and a taste often rivaling whisky.
The vineyards in Tarnave area: Blaj, Jidvei, Medias, Tarnaveni, Zagar and Valea Nirajului are known for their excellent white wine producers. With its cool climate and vineyards on slopes that stretch from the Tarnava Mare to the Tarnava Mica rivers, Tarnave is ideal for fruity white grapes with a very good acidity. The area has a long tradition of producing excellent dry, and medium-dry flavored wines such as Feteasca Alba, Feteasca Regala, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Ottonel, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Traminer.
Even if wooden tools have been replaced by modern winepresses and state of the art technology, grape picking, the control of fermentation, clarity, stability, the storage and maturation of wine are all carried out according to a special set of rules handed down from generation to generation. There are also traditions of wine making in some of the Saxon villages in this region, with small vineyards producing must for the larger wineries.
Other local vineyards: Aiud, Alba Iulia, Lechinta, Sebes-Apold