Not long after my first adventure, I felt my feet itching again for a new one! As I said before, I made a list and mapped out every place I wanted to see in my home country of Romania. This time I headed for Sibiu, a picturesque city at the heart of the country. I took the scenic route there – the Transfăgărășan Road, and also crossed off other sights off my list: Stone Ravens Monastery, Vidraru Lake, and Bâlea Lake. Hope you enjoy reading my second adventure in the series: Romanian Wanderings: Charming Sibiu Weekend Getaway.
IN A NUTSHELL
In order to get to the charming city of Sibiu from where I live, I can either take the E81, a beautiful but straightforward road through the Olt River Valley (right pass Râmnicu Vâlcea and the other spots I crossed off my list last month), or I can take the Transfăgărășan Road and see Poenari Fortress, Vidraru Lake and Lake Bâlea. Also on the way to Sibiu and before getting on the Transfăgărășan Road, there was one more item on my list that I wanted to see: the Stone Ravens Monastery.
- Stone Ravens Monastery (Mănăstirea Corbii de Piatră);
- Transfăgărășan Road;
- Curtea de Argeș – I left a bit later for the trip than I had anticipated and I couldn’t stop, but it’s a famous pitstop on this road and I almost always stop here on the way up the mountains;
- Poenari Fortress – unfortunately, the fortress is closed for tourists these days due to renovations and bears (more on that later) so I couldn’t see it, but it should be on anyone’s list that’s going this route;
- Vidraru Lake – all about it here;
- Lake Bâlea;
Stone Ravens Monastery
The Stone Ravens Monastery is literally built into the stone, and that sounded and looked interesting enough for me to want to see it. It’s also fortunate that it’s not very far from where I live either. Its located in the village called Jgheaburi, in the Argeș county, 50 km from Pitești and 30 km from Curtea de Argeș. The road getting there is a good one also, so you need not fear. I wrote about the importance of monasteries in Romania’s history before, but here’s a little summary so you know what’s up:
Old churches and monasteries in Romania are NOT just a place of worship and therefore you don’t need to be religious to enjoy what they are, and what they used to be. They are historical monuments due to their place in shaping Romania’s past, or they are architectural masterpieces, or they were at their time important cultural centers, or they are the resting place of important Romanian leaders. As it happens, Romania has A LOT of monasteries and churches that are famous for not necessarily religious reasons.
The enchanting monastery was built in 1512 and it is to this day a pretty unique sight. The modest interior is made up of two rooms, one of which is the altar room. The altar room has old paintings on the cave walls, which have never been restored. Outside past the entrance, there are stairs going up on top of the stone the monastery is built-in, where you can take a good look around the area.
It’s quite a fast visit, I finished seeing everything in about 20 minutes. It took me so long because it was pretty crowded – there were busses full of people coming into those two small rooms and up and down the stairs which are quite steep. It’s definitely worth seeing if you’re in the area as it’s not something you see every day!
Transfăgărășan is an absolutely SPECTACULAR winding mountain pass through the Carpathian mountains. Between its starting point in Pitești and its ending point in Cârțișoara, apart from the many points of interest – Curtea de Argeș, Poenari Fortress (Dracula’s residence), Vidraru Lake and Dam, Bâlea Lake and Waterfall to name a few, the road is riddled with AMAZING views, GORGEOUS waterfalls and twisty little rivers. Many times the road gives the impression that it is leading you straight into the clouds!
It’s 152 km/95 miles long and it climbs to an altitude of 2,042 meters, making it the second-highest road in the country. The road connects two of the three main regions of the country – Wallachia and Transylvania and also crosses between two of the highest mountain peaks of the Romanian Carpathians: Moldoveanu (2,544 m/8,346 ft) and Negoiu (2,535 metres/8,317 ft).
A little history: the road was initially built as a strategic military route in the ’70s by Ceaușescu (Romania’s communist leader until 1989) in case of Soviet Union invasions. It was actually dubbed “Ceaușescu’s Folly” due to the many military personnel who lost their lives and the insane amount of dynamite that was used constructing it.
Due to severe weather conditions (snow, avalanches, landslides and all other fun stuff you can think off under this category) the pass is only open during the summer. During all other months, you can only travel to kilometer 104 on Muntenia’s side (Piscu Negru – Argeș county) and to kilometer 130.8 on Transylvania’s side (Balea Waterfall – Sibiu county). During the summer it can also be closed for sports events, but you can always find updated info about the road here.
Curtea de Argeș
Curtea de Argeș was the first ever capital of Wallachia and its monastery named as a royal necropolis in 1886 by King Carol I. It’s a nice pitstop on the way up the mountains but because I left later for the trip than I anticipated, I had no choice but to skip this one. Hopefully I’ll be able to make up for it very soon as it’s not far away from home.
I wrote at length about the Vidraru Lake and its Dam here. Nothing has really changed since. Except maybe my photo editing skills.
Poenari Fortress was one of the residences of Vlad the Impaler a.k.a. Dracula. Unfortunately, the fortress is closed for tourists these days due to renovations and bears. Yes, bears. Bears are coming down the mountains and into human areas due to lack of food. I’ve actually met a
Bâlea Lake is a STUNNING glacier lake located at 2,034 metres/6,673 feet in the Carpathian mountains, at the highest peak of the Transfăgărășan road. Geographically speaking, the lake was formed when a glacier eroded and melted here a long time ago. It’s a great place for summer road trips where you can take in the views, breathe in the fresh, cool mountain air and do some hiking. In the winter it’s also a great place for skiing. From here you can also take a cable car, hike or drive to the Bâlea Waterfall, located lower on the Sibiu county side.
EAT & STAY: There are two very affordable rustic chalets right on the lake here with their own restaurants which serve traditional Romanian food (Bâlea and Păltinu Cabins), and in the wintertime, there is also an ice hotel with 16 igloos, built exclusively with ice from the Bâlea Lake. I had a decent lunch at the Bâlea Cabin during my stop here where I had the vegetable soup, the grilled trout with polenta and garlic sauce (the trout is kind of a tradition I have whenever I go up there) and papanași for dessert – the best Romanian dessert ever!
It’s a highly trafficked road, but I’ve always found parking here so if you’re going up and seeing lots of cars waiting in line, do not worry, there is parking for everyone. As I mentioned above, the Transfăgărășan road is only open during the summer months, so if you want to reach the lake during the other months, it is only reachable by cable car from the Bâlea Waterfall on the Sibiu county side.
Sibiu is a fairy-tale-like city in Transylvania, Romania. Founded sometime in the 12th century by Saxons (German) settlers brought here by a Hungarian king (the Austro-Hungarian empire was the boss at the time), it is known for its historically important cultural, economic and trade center throughout the centuries and for its idyllic historic center. When Romania was split into three regions back in the day (Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldavia), Sibiu was the official capital of Transylvania. After World War 1 and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Great Union of Romania happened and Sibiu, like Transylvania, officially became part of Romania.
I spent the night at Continental Forum Sibiu, right next to the city’s historic center, in the Unirii Square. So basically exactly where you want to be – next to all the places you should see while in the city, and all the good restaurants, cafes and pastry shops
There are TONS of restaurants to eat at in Sibiu and I wished I would have stayed longer to experience them all!
LA ARHIVE: I had a wonderful traditional dinner on the terrace enjoying a house red wine, a super tasty goulash and a specifically Romanian bean paste (iahnie de fasole) with pickles appetizer. The portions are huge, the service is very nice and it’s also very inexpensive! The restaurant is located just off the Grand Square/Piața Mare on Arhivelor street.
ATRIUM: A cozy restaurant with outdoor seating right in the Lesser Square/Piața Mică, just off the famed Bridge of Lies, perfect for people watching. The food was super tasty, I had a goulash soup (I have a thing for goulash if you haven’t noticed), and the staff was great!
IOAN: In my humble opinion, Romanian pastry shops definitely rival French ones! I’ve had the best chocolate filled doughnut I ate in a while here, and Sibiu has quite a few of these delicious places.
Truth be told, Sibiu, or at least its old town can be thoroughly visited in one day. I loved wandering aimlessly through the main streets, plazas, through the random medieval side streets and its nooks and crannies and going into all its museums. And sitting down for a coffee here and there on the terraces sprinkled throughout the colorful city. The first thing I would advise any new-comer into the city to do is to grab a city map at the Tourist Info Center in the City Hall in the Great Plaza. It’s very informative and you’ll find there everything worth visiting in the city. Here’s what I did:
Great Plaza/Piața Mare: Walked from the hotel on the Nicolae Bălcescu street all the way to the Great Plaza, which is basically the heart of Sibiu. The busy plaza is surrounded by cafes and restaurants (as the entire old town) where you can relax with a snack or a drink, do some people watching or just enjoy the vibrant and colorful atmosphere of the city. Grabbed a map from the Info Center and went straight for the Brukenthal Museum across the way.
Brukenthal National Museum: The oldest museum of Romania used to be the palace of the Austro-Hungarian governor of Transylvania – Samuel von Brukenthal, who also started its first collections back in the 18th century. It’s technically an art museum featuring European and Romanian works, but what I loved most about it was seeing how the people that inhabited it used to live! Here I got the 45 RON/$11/€10 ticket which gives you access to the Brukenthal Museum, as well as: Natural History Museum, Hunting Museum, Pharmacy Museum, Cotemporary Art Galery, and History Museum (Altemberger House).
Lesser Square/Piața Mică: Connected to the Great Plaza by a narrow passageway beneath the Council Tower – one of the 39th of the city’s defensive towers, a symbol of the city, this smaller plaza feels like a cozy respite from the busier Great Plaza next door. Here you can find the Bridge of Lies – another symbol of Sibiu and the Pharmacy Museum – a small and quirky Viennese style museum where Samuel Hahnemann invented homeopathy.
Huet Plaza: By crossing the Bridge of Lies you go straight into another cozy little square, the Huet Plaza. The plaza is home to the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral, one of the city’s main sight. I regret I couldn’t go inside the cathedral as it was closed for renovations as I heard it was very beautiful! However, I did get to go up the tower and admire the colorful city from above – a must! It was 5 RON/$1/€1 and fortunately, it did not feel like there were so many steps to climb as you get a few breaks between different staircases!
Passing through the Passage of Stairs, another of the city’s must-sees I ended up on Mitropoliei street and visited both the History Museum at the Altemberger House and the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral. Made my way back and came almost full circle on the Nicolae Bălcescu street.
Sibiu is easily one of the best cities to visit in Romania! Its medieval, colorful, and vibrant atmosphere, along with its old buildings, narrow passages, and stairs, give you the feeling of going back in time mixed with the vibes and advantages of modern-day. Not only that but if you’re coming to Sibiu through the Transfăgărășan road, you also get to see some magnificent sights and also enjoy Romania to the fullest!
Did you enjoy me Romanian Wanderings: Charming Sibiu Weekend Getaway article? Do you have questions, comments or concerns? Leave me a note below or contact me, I would love to hear from you!