All new itinerary for 2024! Details to follow…
Leaving Budapest and Hungary we travel east and north east to the Maramures region of northwest Romania where century-old traditions are still part of daily life. The inhabitants of this area have preserved, to an amazing extent, the rural culture and crafts of their Dacian ancestors. Maramures villages are distinguished by their unique wooden churches with tall spires and shingled roofs. Woodlands still account for more than four-fifths of the land surface of Maramures. Traditional Carved Gate in Maramures, Northern RomaniaIt is understandable, therefore, that wood has long been – and continues to be – the medium of expression for the region’s artisans. Elaborate woodcarvings decorate the eaves, entryways and windows of houses. The local handiwork is also seen in the hand-woven carpets and intricate embroidery that adorns folk dresses still worn by the locals.
With a start at the Barsana monastery, we are heading east, from the beautiful hills and valleys of Maramures County to Bucovina. Following some nice and flowing back country road the first section takes us along a scenic river and up into the forests of the Maramures Mountains. The first mountain pass in the outback will reward us with an amazing views and fantastic riding. We leave the forests alongside a beautiful river to finish the day off on nice country roads that will take us over the spectacular Rarau Mountain and to Vatra Dornei. National Parks abound as we make our way further north before turning east along the Tihuta Pass – currently one of the most important tourist attractions in Bistrița Năsăud county, gaining world recognition after it was depicted in the opening chapter of Bram Stoker’s Dracula as the famous ‘Borgo Pass’. The Bârgău Valley embracing the pass indeed encompasses some of the most exquisite unspoiled mountain scenery in the Carpathians, revealing picturesque traditional villages peering up the hillsides. All in all, the surroundings are ideal premises for hiking, riding or discovering the region’s old customs, handicrafts and folklore.
Today takes us into the heart of Romania, the mystic region of Transylvania. Starting with a smooth dam ride alongside the river, we dig deep into the forests. Scenic landscapes and well-maintained roads await us, We meander our way south via the Bicaz Gorges, Praid pass and onwards to the Bogatti forests. The road that slices through the gorges is among Romania’s most spectacular. There are many excellent photo opportunities along the way with bazaars where one can buy products made by the Romanian and Hungarian craftsmen from the area. The gorge twists and turns steeply uphill for 5km, cutting through sheer, 300m-high limestone rocks. At one point, the narrow mountain road runs uncomfortably beneath the overhanging rocks in a section known as the ‘neck of hell. A long day ends at Sighisoara, one of the seven towns (=”Siebenbürgen”, seven castles) of Transylvania that were founded by German settlers in the 12th century. Sighisoara has a beautiful old town to visit and if you take a stroll, you will come across the truly creepy house in which Count Dracula is said to have been born!
Today our route takes us through some beautiful and un-spoilt villages on route to Brasov. Fringed by the peaks of the Southern Carpathian Mountains and resplendent with gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture, as well as a wealth of historical attractions, Brasov is one of the most visited places in Romania. Founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1211 on an ancient Dacian site and settled by the Saxons as one of the seven walled citadels, Brasov exudes a distinct medieval ambiance and has been used as backdrop in many recent period films. The location of the city at the intersection of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and western Europe, together with certain tax exemptions, allowed Saxon merchants to obtain considerable wealth and exert a strong political influence in the region. Brasov is home to one of the narrowest streets in Europe.The Rope Streetis approximately four feet wide and it links CerbuluiStreet with PoartaSchei Street and was initially used as an access route by firefighters. A stroll around the old Town Hall Square is highly recommendedwhere you can admire colorfully painted and ornately trimmed baroque structures. Take a peek inside the Black Church, the largest gothic church in Romania. Its name derives from damage caused by the Great Fire of 1689, when flames and smoke blackened its walls. The interior is impressive and well-kept and houses one of the largest organs in Eastern Europe.
Day 5 – Rest Day with optional ride-out to Bran Castle and Bucegi Mountains
Bran Castle – Surrounded by an aura of mystery and legend and perched high atop a 200-foot-high rock, Bran Castle owes its fame to its imposing towers and turrets as well as to the myth created around Bram Stocker’s Dracula. A little history. Although Stoker never visited Transylvania, the Irish author relied on research and his vivid imagination to create the dark and intimidating stomping ground of Count Dracula, leading to persistent myths that it was once the home of Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracul), ruler of Walachia. While the association with Dracula is sketchy at best, the castle continues to hold a strong attraction for all fans of the Count. Because Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that actually fits Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle, it is known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle. From 1920 to 1957 Bran served as royal residence, a gift of the people of Brasov to Queen Marie of Romania. The castle is now a museum open to tourists, displaying art and furniture collected by Queen Marie. Narrow winding stairways lead through some 60 timbered rooms, many connected by underground passages, which house collections of furniture, weapons and armor dating from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Well worth the tour!
Arguably the two main reasons why most people travel to Transylvania are on offer today as we traverse the Bran – Rucar Pass and the magnificent Transfagarasan road. More than 150 kilometres in length theTransfagarasan Highway is Romania’s most spectacular and best known road and, thanks to an appearance on BBC Top Gear in 2009, now one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. Fully open only from June to October, the road’s highest point is at 2042 metres: the tunnel which links the northern and southern sides at Lake Balea (Balea Lac). The Transfagarasan was built between 1970 and 1974 by military forces. After the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviets, Nicolae Ceausescu had it built as a strategic military route to cross the mountains in the event the Soviets attempted a similar move into Romania. The builders used 6000 tons of dynamite to clear a path for the road on the northern side of the mountains (this is the most spectacular) and on the tunnel. 40 soldiers lost their lives during construction. Facts and figures tend to vary but you get the jist.
Day 7 Rest Day – with optional rideout
The highlight today is a motorcyclists dream as we traverse the TransAlpina, known locally as ‘the Kings Road’ and sometimes referred to as ‘The Devils Path’. The TransAlpina road (DN67C) is the highest road in Romania and one of the famous Romanian high altitude roads. With a length of 146 km, it crosses the Southern Carpathian Mountains and reaches a maximum altitude of 2,145m above sea level at PasulUrdele. It is considered one of the most spectacular roads of the Carpathian Mountains and offers breathtaking views together with an exhilarating ride.Arguably the oldest road over the Carpathian Mountains, TransAlpina was built at the beginning of the 2nd Century AD by the Roman legions during their war campaign to conquer Sarmizegetusa – the capital of Dacia (modern-day Romania). After the conquest of Dacia, the Romans used the TransAlpina to transport gold to Rome extracted from Transylvania.
Sibiu, voted Cultural European Capital in 2007, was the largest and wealthiest of the seven walled citadels built in the 12th century by German settlers known as Transylvanian Saxons.Sibiu’s Old Town retains the grandeur of its earlier days when rich and powerful guilds dominated regional trade. Like Sighisoara and Brasov, it has a distinctly Germanic feeling. Sections of the medieval wall still guard the historic area, where narrow streets pass steep-roofed 17th century buildings with gable overhangs before opening into vast, church-dominated squares such as Great Square and Little Square. Renowned composers Strauss, Brahms and Liszt all played here during the 19th century, and Sibiu has stayed at the forefront of Romania’s cultural scene through its festivals of opera, theatre and film, as well as rock, jazz and more. The country’s first hospital, school, library and pharmacy were all established here, and locals are justly proud of the spirit of enterprise that endures to this day.
Today sees us ride through a number of national parks and to our most southerly point on tour, where the mighty Danube acts as a natural border between Serbia and Romania.
Today we follow the banks of the Danube west and north through more national parks on route to Timisoara.
With a short ride to the Hungarian border we leave Romania behind us in search of Budapest. For those who fancy some R&R or extending their holiday we would highly recommend a couple of days in Budapest either before or after the tour.
Divided in two by the Danube, the city is made up of Buda on one side: with Ottoman-era thermal baths at the foot of the spectacular Gellért Hill, the royal palace and Matthias Church, it radiates calm and peace. One the other side lies Pest, vibrant and lively, with its slew of museums rich in cultural and historical treasures, extraordinary Secessionist architecture, its majestic Parliament building considered as one of the most magnificent in the world, Saint Stephen’s Basilica surrounded by pedestrian streets, and its entirely renovated Jewish Quarter and Palace District. Besides its historical value, Budapest has a highly developed cultural scene with its world-class festivals, theatres, museums, concert halls and sporting events. For relaxing and enjoying nature, Margaret Island is the city’s “green heart” (considered by many to be one of Europe’s best city parks) – the perfect place to enjoy a stroll, various sports, swimming in outdoor pools or soaking in thermal baths and spas. As for foodies, the celebrated creations of Hungarian cuisine are a definite must!
We will be providing a more detailed itinerary on arrival to include hotel info and GPS co-ordinates. Please note that this is an outline route and maybe subject to change.