Transylvania: 10 Reasons To Visit Now

Blood-thirsty vampires, ferocious packs of wolves and castles clinging to craggy, forested cliffs. Ask your average person what they think of when they hear the word ‘Transylvania’ and they are likely to come up with plenty of wild inaccuracies. So don't listen to them. Go see for yourself; there really is no better time. Transylvania, a historical region in central Romania and made famous as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is a land of extraordinary cultural and natural beauty. Our Founder Oli Broom spent 6 months there in 2016 and, in between hosting cycling guests, has been exploring the best of one of the loveliest, light-filled and magical places in Europe.

 Here is the lowdown on why Transylvania should be on your hit list!

1.     THE NATURE IS AWE-INSPIRING

Romania's Carpathian Mountains are home to Europe’s largest populations of bear, wolf and lynx, as well as huge numbers of other wild animals, from wild boar to eagles, red deer to kestrels and buzzards. These animals live mostly in vast, ancient and little-visited beech, oak and pine forests that are simply extraordinary to pedal or walk through. 

Transylvania Forest

2.     CHARMING SAXON TOWNS & VILLAGES

In the 12th Century, when Transylvania was ruled by Hungary, King Geza II invited Germans from Flanders, Luxembourg and the Mosel Valley – so-called Saxons – to settle, farm and defend the region from invading Ottomans and Tatars. They stayed for 800 years until they began returning after the second world war, and later after the fall of communism. In that time they built over 200 villages and several larger towns and cities that today are home to magnificent houses, fortified churches and some of Europe’s best-preserved medieval citadels. Many are UNESCO World Heritage Sites; visit the right one and you’re likely to have it all to yourself.

Mesendorf, Transylvania

3.     IT'S A STEP BACK IN TIME

If you have ever wondered how your ancestors lived two hundred years ago, book yourself an airline seat bound for Transylvania. Horse drawn carts rumble along dirt roads, women bake bread in huge ovens, shepherds watch their flocks by night and cows trundle into villages and find their owner’s home when their day of grazing is over. It is magical to see that simple lives still have a home in a modern European Union.  

 Photo credit: Daisy Honeybunn

4.     WILDFLOWERS, WILDFLOWERS, WILDFLOWERS

Quite simply, if you visit Transylvania at the right time of year (May or June) you will be amazed by the flowers: ragged robin, cowslips, hellebore, wild orchids. They're everywhere and they're incredibly beautiful.  

Wildflowers Transylvania

5.     HILLTOP CHURCHES & CASTLES

If you've ever imagined Transylvania, you've probably imagined castles clinging to a cliff face. Well, there are a few of those, but the best and most interesting look more like this. They're everywhere, except this one isn't a castle. It's a church, albeit a fortified one, built in the 11th Century in a village called Viscri, a picture-perfect collection of pastel coloured houses surrounded by magnificent meadows and forests.  

Viscri Fortified Church Transylvania

6.     BEARS

Did we mention bears? Transylvania is home to thousands of brown bears and Romania as a whole is said to have the largest population in Europe. And the government are on the right track, having recently banned the trophy hunting of many of the country's most iconic animals including wolves, wild cats, lynx and . . . brown bears. 

Bear Transylvania

7.     TRUFFLE HUNTING

From September to January you can sample the wonderful, secretive world of truffle hunting in one of the most prized truffle regions in the world. Although the French and Italian truffles are better known, expert ‘trufflers’ agree that those found in Romania are of equal or superior quality. These truffles are so exquisite because the soil is rich and the temperate climate perfect in their ancient, pristine forests. And the experience - led by trained dogs - is wonderful, especially once the leaves have turned in late September. 

Truffle Hunting Romania

8.     IT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR A PRINCE

HRH The Prince of Wales first discovered Transylvania back in 1998. A passionate supporter of the countryside and a keen amateur botanist, he fell in love with the place. He even bought himself a cottage in the tiny Saxon village of Viscri and has recently set up a charitable organisation, The Prince of Wales’s Foundation Romania, which aims to support heritage preservation, traditional agriculture and sustainable development. He has donated the house in Viscri to the charity and now has another guest house (below), in which visitors to the region can stay.

Prince Charles House Transylvania

9.    IT'S INCREDIBLE CYCLING COUNTRY

Over the past couple of years some imaginative locals have built over 80 kilometres of cycling trails from Sighisoara to Viscri. They enable riders to get well off the beaten track and see the best bits of some incredible countryside, including the celebrated forests. And if you choose your route carefully the cycling doesn’t have to be tough.

Cycling Transylvania

10.     NO MEAL STARTS WITHOUT THE LOCAL TIPPLE, 'PALINKA'

Rural Transylvanians like to start a meal with a slug of double-distilled brandy, called ‘palinka’. This fiery aperitif sometimes reaches 60% alcohol content and is the perfect accompaniment to a traditional ‘ciorba’ or soup, some perfectly grilled pork and a plate of homegrown salad. Did we mention that if you spend a week staying in local homes and guest houses in Transylvania, you won’t eat a thing that hasn’t been homemade? The food is to die for . . . just like the place! 

Noroc Romania

To get the best out of a region that should be enjoyed at a slow pace, join The Slow Cyclist on a cycling adventure through the Saxon region of Transylvania later this year, or enquire about our schedule for 2018. 

8 Exquisite Photographs of Transylvania, by Viv Blewett

Many of our guests carry a camera on their travels with us, but - and I hope I won't cause offence by saying this - few have been able wield it with greater effect than photographer Viv Blewett. 

Along with nine friends, Viv spent a week traveling by bicycle, on foot and in horse and carts through the Saxon villages of Transylvania with us this May. We asked her to choose a few of her favourite photos from the journey and to explain her choices. 

1. Lady in Biertan

This lovely old lady sitting outside her house in Biertan, home to the first fortified church in the region to be listed with UNESCO, was happy for me to take her photograph. The colour combination of the rusty background and her clothes go so well together and I love her gentle hands and her trainers.

  

2. Mr Schass

Mr Schass, the Keeper of the Keys of Richis church, is the last Saxon in the village. Sergiu, one of our guides, is translating his stories for us. Mr Schass’s hand gesture and Sergiu’s expression perfectly convey what is going on.

Church key keeper in Transylvania

3. First Horse & Cart

When we were driven from the airport to our first stop in the village of Cund, we were so excited to see a horse and cart. We soon realised that it would be a sight we'd see many times a day. This shot of a farmer making his way home with his cart full of hay was taken while on our own cart ride...

Horse and cart in Transylvania

4. Carpet & Colours

I love the colours and textures of the brickwork and the carpet hanging out to air. Everywhere we stayed I took photos of the mats and woven wall hangings.

Beautiful textiles in Transylvania

5. Daia Dirt Road

When I talk to people about the villages and the main roads being dirt tracks this is what I keep in my mind. This shot of Daia is a perfect example of what we saw in many of the villages. I love the pastel colours and the threatening sky.

Daia, Transylvania

6. The Blacksmith's Wife

The blacksmith’s wife: the blacksmith was out for the day with his brother - apparently a rare occurrence - but his wife was kind enough to let us in to see the small forge behind the family home.  

The BlackSmith's wife, Transylvania

7. The Shepherd

After a two hour cart ride in the rain up the hills to the shepherd’s hut we were welcomed into their meagre living quarters and invited to watch the milking of the goats. This shepherd had just picked a rather large mushroom.

Sheepfold in Transylvania

8. Three Friends

Once again I have chosen a photo of people. When I look at it, I wonder if these three also sat together on this seat when they were young adults, teenagers and even as toddlers.

The people of Transylvania

If you are interested in joining us to explore the incredible villages of Saxon Transylvania please get in touch. We are leading a limited number of private trips in May, June, September and October 2017. 

Top 10 tips to get you on your bike this summer

Summer is finally here, days are longer, evenings warmer and it’s the best time of year to get outside, dust off your bike and go exploring! To give you a few ideas about what sort of cycling stuff you could get up to this summer, we have pulled together our top ten here.

1. Give your bike a spring clean

If your bike has been tucked up behind the lawn mower at the back of the garden shed, it is time to pull it out and get it in ‘tip top’ condition ready for your summer cycling! If you are unsure how to clean your bike properly, have a look at London Cyclist's top tips. They include everything from cleaning your bike chain and removing the gunk from the front and rear sprockets, to giving your bike frame some tender loving care. They even include a section on common cleaning mistakes too. So get your bike sparkling soonish!

Cycling in Transylvania

2. Microadventure with friends

Fed up with the grind? Take a mid-week break, leave work early one afternoon, cycle until dark, camp on a hill and cycle back to work the next morning. Remember to pack deodorant, a tooth brush and something to eat. 

The concept of Microadventures was dreamed up by Alastair Hunphreys. For inspiration visit www.alastairhumphreys.com

 

Cycling for transport

3. Exchange your car for a bike

Next time you need to pop to the local shops consider cycling instead. It is not only healthier, it saves money and it's better for the environment too. There are loads of saddle bags, back-racks and baskets to choose from to make carrying your shopping super easy. And, why not cycle (or partly cycle) to work too. 

4. Learn a new skill

If you don’t know how to change an inner tube, adjust your brakes and gears. It may be a good time to take a course. There are plenty of courses available - just ask your local independent cycle store what they offer or join one of Evans’ fortnightly classes here.

 

Cycling in Transylvania

5. Introduce someone to cycling

When it is cold, wet and miserable outside you are far more likely to cancel a ride if its you just cycling. So persuade a friend to join you, pick a scenic route, find him/her a bike and take them for a spin. It also means you have someone to chat to which makes riding more fun too. Find bike hires near you.

6. Join a local cycle event

As summer starts to kick in, so do the cycling events. There are thousands to choose from all over the country, from sportives to more leisurely family rides.  A good place to start is the British Heart Foundation which offers loads of on-road or off-road mass participation events. Find out more here.

 

Cycling in Rwanda

7. Donate to a cycling charity

Make a difference and change someone’s life – help provide a bike for a needy child in rural Africa. The most recent completed evaluation done in Zambia showed a 28% increase in school attendance rates and 59% increase in academic performance amongst girls who received bicycles. In the long term, keeping girls in school has shown to have a multiplier effect as educated women tend to be healthier, earn more, have fewer children and lift families out of poverty across the generations.

Donate to World Bike Relief here.

8. Cycle somewhere new

Keep your cycling fresh and interesting by cycling somewhere new. If you are unsure where to start, check out the National Cycle Network (NCN) which offers a series of safe, traffic free cycle paths connecting all major cities and towns in the UK. And, if you log into the Sustrans website and add your post code, you will be directed to some great cycle routes in your area including a description of the route and ‘things to see and do’ along the way.  

9.  Watch the big names in cycling at the Tour de France

Soak up the action this summer and head over to France to watch the big names in cycling compete for one of the most prestigious events on the calendar – the Tour de France. This event starts in Normandy on the 2nd July and is made up of 21 stages, a lot of hills and a distance of 3,519 kms! If you want to experience what it is like to ride the tour, take your bike over early and ride one, or some of the stages before. Find out more about the event here.

Cycling in the Transylvanian forests

10. Explore a new country by bicycle – slowly…

Get the best out of a country by taking your time cycling around new areas. Cycling allows you to immerse yourself in the region, delving into the history and customs of the area, enjoying the food, exploring the landscape, and of course, meeting the local people. At The Slow Cyclist we take small groups of curious, open-mind travellers on imaginative journeys in Transylvania and Rwanda. If you want to take the slow road and get to know a new place, come with us! Find out more about The Slow Cyclist adventures here.

 

The Important Places

This film moved us to tears at The Slow Cyclist HQ last week; and again this morning. It's about a poem the narrator's father wrote for him when he was born; a warning never to forget the path that leads back to The Important Places: "the cave behind the waterfall, the arms of the oak that hold you high, the stars so near on a desert ledge."

Years later, with the old man's health failing, they take a journey down the Colorado River and the result is a beautiful reminder that however old we are, and whatever we've done with our lives, we're all still trying to find that path. 

You must watch it, and then send it to your parents. 

Clowns Without Borders

I've known about Doctors, Teachers and even Engineers Without Borders for a while now. But this week I came across Clowns Without Borders. They're brilliant and even though they've got nothing to do with cycling, I thought I'd post about them to share the great work they're doing. 

They recently visited Greece with one aim: to bring smiles to the faces of refugees fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course, laughter is a language that doesn't recognise cultural, religious or racial differences; that's a fact I was reminded of when I joined a Laughing Club in Kolkata (excerpt from my book) a few years back. We all deserve to laugh. 

I love this video. Keep chuckling folks.