If you’re on the hunt for a holiday that’s a little different from your run-of-the-mill getaways, then Romania is a fantastic option. It’s a country that bursts with character whether you’re in the city, on the beach or out in the countryside.
Romania: in the towns and cities you’ll find Parisian-style boulevards and neoclassical buildings side-by-side with buildings from the communist era, while the stunning countryside is peppered with rural charm and rustic villages that hark back to a simpler time. This Balkan beauty is still a fairly unusual holiday choice for Brits, but this is slowly changing.
Many are drawn here for the long hot summers, the fantastic seaside resorts on the Black Sea and the amazing value. As the holiday season approaches we’re here to give you a selection of some of the less well-known attractions that show a more peculiar side to this intriguing country. Let’s go.
1. Merry Cemetery, Săpânța
If you’re looking for laughs then perhaps the last place you’d look is a cemetery. But Săpânța village’s ‘Merry Cemetery’ promises to tickle you by the tombs. This unique resting place features hundreds of brightly-coloured crosses complete with ironic epitaphs and illustrated scenes of the lives (or deaths) of those beneath them. The crosses aim to give you an honest account of their character -like the village drunk, whose cross depicts him being dragged to the grave by a skeleton while he desperately glugs from his bottle marked “REAL POISON”. Villager Stan Patras began creating the crosses in 1935, first giving them vivid cartoons and later adding lines of writing that he felt accurately reflected their characters. Some were more complimentary than others, as one reads: “Ioan Toaderu loved horses. One more thing he loved very much. To sit at a table in a bar. Next to someone else’s wife.” Originator Stan Patras died in 1977, but since his death his protégé has continued his work to this day and maintains a workshop museum at the site that’s more than worth a visit.
2. Salina Turda Mine Park, Turda
Fancy spending the day in an old salt mine? Probably not. But a visit to Salina Turda might just be the most fun you’ll ever have underground. First excavated during the Roman occupation, salt from the mines helped raise Romanian blood pressure for two millennia before mining ceased in 1932. It was then used as a WWII bomb shelter and cheese-storing facility before falling into disuse once again. Its gargantuan caverns, tunnels and shafts were too awesome to stay empty for long however and in 1992 it opened its doors to the public as a subterranean theme park. Nowadays, this place of industry has transformed into a place of recreation. Expect bowling alleys, ping pong tables, an underground lake and even a Ferris wheel!
3. Berca Mud Volcanoes, Buzău County
And now, for Romania’s best kept secret... the moon! Well not exactly. But the bizarre landscape created by these rare mud volcanoes does give the landscape an undeniable otherworldly quality. Situated above oil fields 3km below, explosions occurring deep underground push gases, mud and water to the surface, creating sprawling, spewing, bubbling volcanoes of mud. Much like music festivals in the English summer, rivers of mud flow along the surface and create a surreal dystopia against a backdrop of lush forests. At just two and a half hour’s drive away from Bucharest, it’s the perfect sci-fi experience to tide you over until space tourism really takes off.
4. Constanța Casino, Constanța
Constanța Casino was built in 1900 by the rather festively titled King Carol. For a few decades it stood as the jewel of the Romanian Riviera, their worthy answer to Monte Carlo. As the most magnificent building in Romania this Art Nouveau triumph was a frequent haunt of the European elite, playing host to the gambling kings and queens of the continent. Then, during the two World Wars it played host to a different clientele, forming a Red Cross hospital in the first and accommodation for German soldiers in the second. It survived the Communist era but was closed in 1990. These days its main visitors are the photographers who brave the dilapidated building to capture images of the abandoned building from the inside. From the outside it remains a supremely impressive sight that’s made all the more unique in its current state of decay.
5. Geamana, Lupșa
In 1977 the lives of Geamana’s 1,000 residents were irreversibly changed when the Communist government demanded that they up sticks and get out of town. The powers that be had found copper in the hills nearby. Lots of it. And if they were to exploit it they’d need somewhere to dispose of the vast amount of waste produced. Sadly the village lay in a natural basin that was the perfect spot for draining the dirty by-products from the mine into. Barely a year later the picturesque village was submerged in a vast lake of toxic orange sludge. This surreal lake remains today, with the tall spire of the church defiantly poking through the water standing as the only visible trace of the life that once flourished there.
How about it?
Visit the less-trodden-paths of Romania before the secret’s out. And don’t forget to take us with you. For cheap, comprehensive travel insurance that flexes to your travel plans and budget, give us a try!