The centuries-old legacy of the Saxon communities is a major attraction of Transylvania, Romania’s central region that has become for many an almost fairytale destination. If you’re looking to discover more about this rich cultural heritage, it’s best to start with the old Saxon villages from Transylvania, founded in the Medieval Ages by brave German colonists who settled here to defend the borders in exchange for rights and liberties.
This way you’ll get to discover traditional Saxon houses, visit the fortified churches and, in a nutshell, explore a world of traditions, kept alive by a very determined group of local people and organizations.
The most famous village from our list, Viscri — Deutsch-Weisskirch in German — is the best start for your rural journey. It’s so beautiful that even the bumpy road from Bunesti or Dacia will be worth it. In fact, the slower you drive, the more time you have to admire the rolling hills that surround the village that Prince Charles visits almost every year. His interest, presence and support have been fundamental, alongside with the work of the Foundation Mihai Eminescu Trust, to save the cultural patrimony of Viscri.
Besides the 12th century fortified church, included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you can admire the typical Saxon houses of the village — some of the best preserved in Transylvania —, and visit the local artisans. If you plan your walk around sunset, it’s even better, as this is the time when a funny mix of ducks, goats and cows find their way back home.
Location: Viscri, Brasov County
More isolated, but a definite must for your list, Malancrav or Malemkref is today the village with the largest Saxon population in the region. Coincidence or not, it’s also one of the most beautiful places in Transylvania. Take at least one full day to explore the village as you have plenty to do, from spending time with local artisans, taking hundreds of photos and observing local life to visiting the Apafi Mansion and the nearby fortified church where you’ll see the largest Gothic pre-Reformation fresco in Transylvania, in total 53 scenes from the Old and New Testament.
Location: Malancrav, Sibiu County
Less known, but only 2 km from Biertan and its great fortified church, Copsa Mare — or Grisz-Kapesch in the Saxon dialect — is a small village that dates from the 13th century. The remoteness of the village has helped conserve its traditional look, with wide streets and solid houses, you can admire today. Don’t forget to visit the large 14th century fortified church, equipped hundreds of years ago with firing holes and defense towers. For a complete experience, stay for the night in one of the guest houses of the Bassetti family who has done wonders to save their authenticity.
You can reach it easily by car, foot or bike from Biertan, Copsa Mare being the village at the end of the road.
Location: Copsa Mare, Sibiu County
Just a few kilometers from Viscri, easily reachable cycling on a route so scenic that you’ll stop many times for photos, Crit will greet you with its old facades, dusty road, colorful windows and an entire world of rural authenticity.
First mentioned in 1322, the village, known as Dutsch-Kreuzseems in the Saxon dialect, seems from another time even today. The main street of the village, declared a historical monument, will take you to the church from the 19th century, built on the location of a medieval fortified church that no longer exists. The enclosure walls and the original towers are only partly conserved, but well enough to let your imagination recreate the atmosphere of a medieval village when the church was ultimately the last refuge in face of enemy attacks.
Location: Crit, Brasov County
At first, you’d not think Cisnadioara, Mächelsbärch in the Saxon dialect, is a village. Its paved streets and car traffic would have you believe you’re in the suburbs. In a way, this is true as it’s located only a few kilometers from Sibiu. Still, Cisnadioara remains one of the most beautiful modern versions of the Saxon villages from Transylvania.
The main attraction is the 13th-century Romanesque basilica that dominates the village from the highest hill. Surrounded by defensive walls, the monument has splendid stone carved portals and conveys such an overwhelming feeling of peace that you’ll find it hard to leave. In Cisnadioara you can also visit the 18th century Evangelical Church and the Ethnographic Museum.
Location: Cisnadioara, Sibiu County
These are just five of the Saxon villages from Transylvania you should definitely visit. The list is much longer, but traveling from one to another you’ll reach even more off the beaten track communities, with their medieval fortified churches, typical Saxon houses and traditions that hopefully will survive in the years to come.