We continue our series of 100 places to see in Romania with a list of 20 great attractions to discover in Southern Romania, the historical province of Wallachia. From the snow-capped Carpathian peaks in spring to the medieval ruins from the time of Vlad the Impaler, from cosmopolitan Bucharest to castles and centuries-old churches, this part of Romania is a great destination if you’re looking for both hidden gems and more famous destinations.
The capital of Romania, Bucharest is a city of contrasts. Its time as ‘Paris of the East’ is long gone, and Bucharest is today an uneven mix of late 19th century French-style monuments, interwar modernist construction and communist neighborhoods.
There’s a bit of history every corner even if only the ruins of the Old Court remain from its medieval time. Attacked for centuries, set on fire, destroyed by earthquakes and irreversibly changed by the communist regime, Bucharest is simply fascinating.
For the best experience, choose one or more thematic tours of the capital.
One of the many extermination prisons from the communist period, this site bears another tragic mark. It was here that the communists organized one of the most dramatic and cruel psychological experiment in the world, known as the ‘Pitesti phenomenon’. The former prison is open now as a Memorial.
Don’t miss a visit here if you want to learn more about how extreme the communist regime was for Romanians.
The Memorial can be visited every Saturday. For the visiting schedule, check http://pitestiprison.org
Photo credits Pitesti Memorial Facebook
Sinaia, today a small mountain resort from Prahova Valley, was for decades the summer destination of the royal family. It’s here that King Carol the 1st built his favorite residence, Peles Castle, in a dense forest from the Carpathians. A smaller and more personal castle, the nearby Pelisor, was used by Ferdinand and Maria, the heirs of the throne.
Both castles are open to the public and are among the most visited attractions in Romania. For the best experience, avoid the weekends.
You can check the visiting schedule on http://peles.ro
Don’t miss a visit to Sinaia Monastery, the oldest monument in Sinaia, where King Carol the 1st and Queen Elisabeta spent their summer before they moved to Peles Castle.
Just a short drive from Sinaia, you’ll find another spectacular Carpathian castle. The early 20th-century Neo-Romanian style castle belonged to the richest man of the time, Gheorghe Cantacuzino, a politician and important landowner, famous for his extravagant residences.
You can take a guided visit every day of the week.
You can check the visiting schedule on http://cantacuzinocastle.com
Only the church of the medieval monastery exists today, surrounded by the calm waters of Snagov Lake. An important cultural center in the early 18th century when a printing press functioned here, the monastery is featured in many legends related to the mythical Vlad the Impaler.
The only remaining palaces of Prince Constantin Brancoveanu, an almost legendary ruler who supported arts and culture in the late 17th and early 18th century, Mogosoaia and Potlogi are must-see historical monuments.
Built for two of his four sons, both palaces were done in the Brancovenesc style, an original and eclectic style, considered to be the first Romanian architectural style.
Both palaces are open for visitors from Tuesday to Sunday.
The only UNESCO World Heritage Site from Southern Romania, Horezu Monastery was founded by the same Prince Constantin Brancoveanu. A masterpiece of the Brancovenesc style for its architectural balance and richness of stone-carved details, painted decorative works and religious composition, this site is one of the most important historical and cultural attractions in Romania.
Don’t miss a tour of the ceramic shops in Horezu, world-renowned for its pottery tradition.
A major political center of Southern Romania centuries ago, Targoviste conserves until today old monuments from its glory days. The ruins of the Princely Court, once used by famous princes like Vlad the Impaler, Matei Basarab and Constantin Brancoveanu, are the key testimony of the importance Targoviste had.
You can check the visiting schedule on http://muzee-dambovitene.ro
While in Targoviste, save some time for the old churches of the city, and if you’re interested in recent history, for the execution place of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
The capital of Southern Romania hundreds of years ago, this small town is best-known today for its one of kind Curtea de Arges Monastery. Besides this glamorous 16th century monument that also serves as a necropolis for the royal family, don’t miss the 14th century Saint Nicolae Domnesc Church. In the garden of the church, you will see the ruins of the 14th-century residences of the Basarab princes.
The real fortress of 15th century Vlad the Impaler, the medieval site from Poenari is the perfect combination of history and cardio exercise. The ruins of the old site, located at 850 meters altitude, are at the end of 1,480 steps, the stairs winding across the forest that shelters the fortification. It’s a thrilling walk up to the fortress used by Vlad the Impaler as the last defensive option on his way to Transylvania.
The monument can be visited daily.
Vidraru Lake, one of the biggest dams in Romania, is located on the southern part of the high-altitude Transfagarasan Road. Built during 1961 and 1965, the dam is truly impressive: 166 meters high, with a surface of 870 hectares and 42 km of underground galleries plus an underground power plant. An ambitious communist project done, unfortunately, with the cost of many human lives.
The city capital of Gorj County, Targu Jiu, conserves an impressive ensemble of three large-scale sculptures done by Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi. Dedicated to the soldiers of Gorj who lost their lives in the First World War, the ensemble that includes the Endless Column, the Gate of the Kiss and the Table of Silence was inaugurated in 1938.
Photo source https://pixabay.com
Spend one more day in the historical province of Oltenia and visit the manors of the old boyards. These aristocratic residences ̶ known as ‘cule’ in Romanian ̶ combine fortification elements with rural architecture, and were a favorite type of construction in the past centuries when even the richest families were afraid for their lives.
Stop in Maldaresti, Valcea County, and visit the manors Greceanu, Maldarescu and the memorial house of the politician I.G. Duca.
You can check the visiting schedule on http://www.muzee-valcea.ro
If you’re looking for a completely different landscape to discover, then the mud volcanoes from Berca, Paclele Mari and Paclele Mici (Buzau County) are the best option. The miniature volcanoes, made of mud and created by the force of underground natural gas, create a weird and memorable scenery.
Spend one night in the region to visit the next attraction on our list.
The cave churches from Buzau Mountains, the area of Alunis-Nucu- Bozioru, are among the most mysterious attractions in Romania. Decorated with Christian and Pre-Christian symbols, this network of cave churches counts 30 sites and covers 80 km. The marked itineraries will take you to Dionisie’s Cave, Iosif’s Church, Agatonu Nou, Agatonul Vechi, Spatarului Cross and Fundatura Hermitage.
Al the information you need about visiting the cave churches on http://bozioru.ro
Cozia National Park offers some of the most incredible panoramas in the entire Carpathian chain. Lower in altitude than the famous Bucegi or Fagaras Mountains, the area of this national park is, nonetheless, magnificent and can even prove to be an adventurous hike. Its dense beech forest, one of the most beautiful in Romania, the monasteries scattered on its slopes and the breathtaking views make it one of the most impressive nature attractions in the country.
One of the youngest national parks in Romania, Buila-Vanturarita is also the smallest one in the country. Extending across Capatanii Mountains, the maximum altitude of the park is 1,885 meters on Vanturarita Mare Peak. It’s a true labyrinth of limestone and karstic landscape, virgin forests, caves, gorges and cultural attractions if we count in the nearby monasteries and churches.
Almost 2,000 caves of various sizes and origins have been discovered until now in Gorj County. One of them, Cioarei Cave, is the place of a major archaeological discovery as the oldest Paleolithic habitat in the country was found here, the cave being inhabited 50,000 years ago. While most caves are closed to the public, you can still visit the caves Polovragi and Muierilor.
Dedicated to the heroes of the First World War, the Caraiman Cross measures 39,3 meters and is located at an altitude of 2,291 meters in Bucegi Mountains. Built at the initiative of King Ferdinand and Queen Maria, the cross had from the beginning its own electrical generator as the aim was to make it as visible as possible.
To reach the cross, you can take the cable car from Busteni to Babele and hike on the red cross from that point on. However, we recommend you skip the cable car, and save one full day for the real hiking experience.
This protected area is the perfect escape from noisy Bucharest. Part of the Ramsar network of wetlands, Comana Nature Park is a small paradise for over 140 species of birds, 31 species of mammals and over 1,200 species of plants. You can easily spend an entire day here, observing wards, kayaking or simply relaxing.
Photo source https://commons.wikimedia.org
Don’t forget to visit Uncover Romania again as Part 3 of the 100 Places to See in Romania will be all about Transylvania. If you think we missed any great destinations, let us know in the comments section below.
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