Seven Ladders Canyon Brasov Romania

Brasov, Romania: Hike to the Seven Ladders Canyon

One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Romania was to hike. When my dad and I originally picked the location for our next trip, it was simply because we had never been to Romania before and it had mountains. Romania is dominated by the gorgeous tree-covered Carpathian mountains that cover over 600 miles of terrain in the shape of an arch through the heart of Romania. In fact, over 30% of Romania is mountainous affording tons of opportunities to hike, bike, ski, climb, cave, horseback ride or simply just enjoy the beauty and peace of one’s surroundings.

Oddly enough, I had first learned about Romania’s impressive landscape as well as it rich culture and history from the Romanian summer staff at a resort I used to go to in Northern Minnesota. I remember asking them where they were from and when they said Romania, I instantly asked if there were mountains. When they told me, “Yes, of course there are mountains! The Carpathians!” I was instantly intrigued and Romania was moved up on my travel wish list.

Several years later the opportunity to go to Romania became a reality. We would go for a week in July. Unfortunately our time in country would be too short to do a week-long hike journeying hut to hut over the high peaks of the Carpathian Mountains. Instead, we would have to settle on a one-day hike because sadly that was all that we would have time for. I was disappointed but in my opinion it was better than nothing.

The Carpathian Mountains cover the orangish-brown boomerang shape throughout the heart of Romania as seen in this map. Photo Credit: www.ezilon.com

The Carpathian Mountains cover the orangish-brown boomerang shape throughout the heart of Romania as seen in this map. Photo Credit: www.ezilon.com

We had only five full days on the ground in Romania and a lot of things to see. We had spent a day in Bucharest and then headed south to the charming town of Brasov for the remainder of our trip. It was an excellent choice because it is beautiful and centrally located to numerous hiking trails as well as castles and towns to visit.

Figuring out what hike to do was extremely challenging. I read the Lonely Planet and searched online before we left for the trip but soon became completely overwhelmed. There were way too many amazing hikes and most of the good ones were multi-day treks. We decided to wing it and just ask at the local tourist office in town when we reached Brasov.

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Looking down on Brasov from atop of Mount Tampa

It is no surprise that the charming town of Brasov is often referred to as “the city at the foot of Mount Tampa”. Beautifully nestled within the natural protection and confines of the Carpathian mountains, the medieval town of Brasov was able to ward off invaders for centuries with its impressive fortification systems of walls, towers and gates. Today, Mount Tampa is an important landmark in Brasov whose lush forested peak can be seen from literally ever street within the old part of town.

The main reason why people visit the top of Mount Tampa is to see the spectacular panoramic view of Brasov. You can literally see where the old medieval town ends and the newer, Communist-era buildings begin. Mount Tampa is also a wonderful place to hike since most of the mountain is a nature reserve containing an abundant amount of wildlife and plants. Getting to the top of Mount Tampa was high on our list for our five days in Brasov and we were finally able to fit it in on our last day in town.

Brasov, Romania

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Brasov Romania

A Walking Guide to Brasov: The heart of Romania

Tucked majestically beneath the verdant hills of the Southern Carpathian Mountains in Central Romania lies the historic charming city of Brasov, one of Romania’s most visited cities. Awash with gothic, barque and renaissance architecture, this once walled city is one of the loveliest cities in all of Transylvania.

Brasov was founded on an ancient Dacian site in the 13th century at the crossroads of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and the rest of Europe. A thriving German mercantile community of skilled craftsmen enabled Brasov to dominate the economical life  and importance of the region during medieval times. Beautiful churches and colorful buildings were built along with fortifications to protect the city against invaders. Parts of the 15th century wall still exist as well as a couple of lookout towers.

Today, Brasov remains a charming city to wander and explore, enjoying its stunning architecture, its delightful bohemian walking streets and mass of fabulous outdoor restaurants and cafes. It is also an excellent launching off point to many hiking trails and day trips to medieval castles in Transylvania. I found Brasov delightful and the perfect place to base ourselves for the majority of our stay in Romania.

Brasov Romania

Brasov Romania

We arrived around mid-afternoon after a relatively straightforward three-hour drive south from Bucharest. Quite frankly, getting out of Bucharest took the longest and was the most difficult part of the drive given its swath of roundabouts and signs in Romanian. Thankfully we had GPS in our rental car or else we certainly would have gotten even more lost than we did.

As you leave Bucharest, you pass through the surrounding Romanian countryside a place of tranquility and beauty. In the Middle Ages, Romania was made up of three principalities: Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania with Transylvania inspiring the most legends and mystique. For it was here in Transylvania that the lore of Dracula began and it is easy to see why given the number of castles, fortifications and medieval towns.

Brasov, Romania

Approaching the city of Brasov which is located down in the valley surrounded by mountains.

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We based ourselves at the lovely Hotel Kolping located about a ten minute walk up above the city, in the mountains. It served as the perfect place to stay as long as your wore ear plugs at night or are a sound sleeper. (There is a bit of noise at night from the  barking dogs trying to ward off the bears coming down from the mountains for a midnight treat). But despite the noise, the hotel is lovely with an incredible view of Brasov, a wonderful friendly staff and excellent food.

When we first arrived in Brasov, it was overcast, gray and gloomy yet I still found it quite lovely nevertheless. There would be a day or two of rain followed by perfect, cloudless days. In my option, the grayness captured the romantic mood and sense of mystery of Brasov. It was also great weather for doing a do-it-yourself walking tour which takes only a couple of hours.

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We first went to the Council Square (Piata Sfatului) which is the heart and soul of Brasov, and one of the most beautiful squares in all of Romania. The street is lined with stunning red-roofed merchant homes which once belonged to the Saxons who built these homes in medieval times. The most notable sight to see in the square is the famous Biserica Neagra or “Black Church”.

The Black Church was built from 1383 to 1480 and is the largest Gothic church in all of Romania. It received its name due to the effects on its appearance after a fire damaged it in 1689. The inside of the Black Church can be toured however no photographs are allowed. The church can be seen from miles away and is especially magical viewed from above on Mount Tampa.

After touring the church, the winds came in and swept away the rain clouds. The sun appeared and shined down on the square illuminating its buildings and bringing Brasov  to life. Families were out playing with their kids by the fountain. Couples were walking hand in hand. People were enjoying a cool drink at one of the many lovely outdoor cafes in the square. Meanwhile I was taking pictures of the lively, colorful buildings that lined the square and were even more brilliant with the afternoon sun.

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What I loved most about Brasov was its bohemian, laid-back feel. For a town of its size, I was amazed by how many excellent outdoor restaurants and cafes there are in Brasov.  We found several that we thoroughly enjoyed. The only difficult decision was deciding where to eat! Also compared to other European countries, the prices in Romania are extremely good. We were able to have a three-course home-cooked meal with a bottle of Romania wine for under $25.
Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

One of several main walking streets

Brasov, Romania Brasov, Romani Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romani

Brasov, Romania

Brasov is a great city to spend time just wandering its cobblestone streets and soaking in the character and charm of the city through its elaborate buildings and facades. Some were beautifully restored and immaculate while others were in need of renovation yet still had a story to tell through its layers of peeling paint.

You can also hike or take the tram up to the top of Mount Tampa (where the Hollywood-like Brasov sign is above) for a bird’s eye view of the town. We opted to take the 1960s Communist tram up and hike down. The views were absolutely spectacular and worthy of a post all in itself.

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

Brasov, Romania

As I often do when traveling is make sure to look up. I thought about all the history that I’d witnessed in just a short time in Brasov and without the crowds that are common in so many other parts of Eastern Europe. It was lovely!

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We spent five days in Brasov using it as our base for exploring Transylvania. Within that short amount of time, I easily fell in love with Brasov’s unique beauty, charm and liveliness. I would go all the way back to Romania just to spend more time in this lovely town with its friendly people, beautiful architecture and relaxing feel.

This article is also available for download on the iTunes app GPSmyCity. You can download by clicking this link. GPSmyCity provides a GPS-assisted downloadable version of this blog post. 

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Heading to Romania? Be sure to spend a day or two in lovely Brasov. Check out my walking guide of the top sights in Brasov here.

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Strada Sforii Brasov

The Narrowest Street in Eastern Europe: Strada Sforii in Brasov

Nestled majestically below the peaks of the lush Southern Carpathian Mountains in Central Romania lies the historic, medieval city of Brasov, one of Romania’s most visited cities. Awash with gothic, barque and renaissance architecture, this once walled city is home to many beautiful historic buildings and churches dating back to the 12th century.

Brasov was founded on an ancient Dacian site by Teutonic Knights in 1211 at the crossroads of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and the rest of Europe. Beautiful churches and buildings were built along with fortifications (a wall and three lookout towers)  to protect the city against enemies in medieval times. Today, it remains a charming city to wander and explore, enjoying its stunning architecture, its delightful walking streets and mass of fabulous outdoor restaurants and cafes. It is also an excellent launching off point to many hiking trails and medieval castles.

One of the most famous streets in Brasov is Strada Sforii also known as “Rope” and “Skinny” Street as it is the narrowest street in Eastern Europe. Dating back to the 13th century, Strada Sforii is approximately four feet wide and it links Cerbului Street with Poarta Schei Street. The street was originally used as an access route by firefighters but today is one of the most interesting and fun tourist attractions in Brasov as visitors and locals alike wander its narrow, winding path.

Strada Sforri

The entrance to Strada Sforri

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Brasov, Romania

The Romance of Romania

“After decades, centuries in some cases, of an unseen hand leaning on Romania’s pause button, breathtaking change and development are under way. Not too long ago, this late-adopting, former communist dictatorship was considered an idiosyncratic, challenging destination, meant only for the hardiest of ex-Eastern Bloc travel aficionados. Well, Romania’s social, political and economic moons have finally aligned and the resulting tidal shift promises to wash away the old traveller stigmas and surge the country to the forefront of top-value European tourism.”  – Leif Pettersen, author Lonely Planet Romania 2009 edition

Brasov, Romania

 

Although I was there for a little less than a week, Romania succeeded in seducing my senses and awakening my imagination. A fairytale land covered in forested mountains, castles and fortresses, sheep and shepherds and the highest population of bears in all of Europe, the romance of Romania is hard to resist and easy to fall in love.

While the famous lore of Dracula remains strong there is so much more to Romania to discover.  Located in the southeastern half of Central Europe and bordered by Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and the Black Sea, Romania’s history is long and dramatic. The Romania we know today – which includes about 20 million people and spans the size of Oregon – derives from a complicated past beginning with the Dacians in 650 BC who lived in the area known as Transylvania. This mountainous country (over a third of Romania is covered in mountains) has witnessed the waves of migration from the Middle Ages to the sometimes violent expansion of the Ottoman Empire to the first formal formation of modern Romania in 1859.  With two World Wars, the industrialization and hardship of the Communist era and the 1989 Revolution which would bring communism to its final end, Romania has certainly experienced her share of drama. Today, she remains a peaceful, relatively homogenous country roughly the size of Oregon, awash in culture, history and promise for the future. Quite frankly, Romania is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited in Europe. There is simply no place quite like it.

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