6 day itinerary for Romania and the Transylvanian region

Romania, and in particular Transylvania, conjures up images and feelings of some far off place . . . in the mountains . . . in the forests . . . with castles . . . kind of like Lord of the Rings, but with a spooky vibe . . . and indeed it is all of this.  And while there are not as much of a concentration of stellar attractions as you would get in Western Europe, that is kind of Romania’s charm and it makes for a great roadtrip for a week or so, with the itinerary below

Driving through Transylvania’s Fortified Saxon villages and exploring Bran Castle

Once you creep over the Transylvanian Alps, you’re into a wide lowland area of rolling hills that is dotted with picturesque Fortified Saxon Villages, well preserved Old Towns and, of course, the famous Dracula castle of Bran Castle.  Whilst some parts of more worth visiting than others, the whole area easily allows you to dream back to what it must have been like in a bygone age untouched by the modern world
The Citadel of Sighisoara, Bran Castle and the fortified church of Viscri are must sees.  The rest is more about the slow paced vibe of the Transylvanian lowlands.  Total of 2-3 days is probably enough, and I’ve listed some tips below

Eger – wine tasting in the Valley of the Beautiful Women

Eger’s central square is very pretty and worth sitting around in whilst looking at the views of the Minorite Church, but it is the wine tasting in the Valley of the Beautiful Women that gains the attention.
To manage expectation though … it’s not quite what you’d expect.  There doesn’t quite seem to be the hoards of beautiful women helpfully grouped together in one picturesque valley.  It’s also not quite a valley …. more like a park around 70m x 35m / 230ft x 135ft with a few wineries round the outside.  False advertising? Yes for sure, but it is worth a visit as once you get past the initial surprise at what you’ve taken a 2 hour train from Budapest for, it does kind of grow on you.   Firstly, the wine cellars are deceptive – there must be around 40 of them and most have cellars / drinking / eating areas that go back around 100m / 330 feet under the hills, which makes for quite a lot of wine drinking area around such a small park.  And secondly, the Valley of the Beautiful Women attracts locals and tourists alike to generate what must be quite an atmosphere in this compact spot in the summer festivals (sadly we missed one by a couple of days)
Worth a day trip / overnight trip, but manage expectations
Some high level tips:
  • Getting there – trains leave every hour or so from Budapest’s Keleti station, and it’s less than a 10min taxi into the centre of Eger / the Valley of the Beautiful Women
  • Accommodation – we stayed at the Hotel Senator which had a perfect location and felt like going back in time a bit.  Slightly overpriced (USD100 per night) and maybe a tad basic in places, but worth it for the location and the randomness

3 days in Budapest for baths, architectural gems and nights out in the ruin bars

Big fan of Budapest.  The city itself has a certain unusual quality compared to other well known European cities just because of its history in the Austro-Hungarian empire and strong Eastern European (and Middle Eastern) influence.  This combined with the bath culture and great energy from the easily accessible night spots (think beer gardens rather than clubs) make it quite a gem for a long weekend trip

A day wandering through Bratislava

Was disappointed with Bratislava. There is an ok old town, the castle is worth a look and there are nice spots to walk along the river, but it is a far poorer version of some of the magnificent spots nearby like Vienna, Prague and Budapest, or other “cute old towns” such as Ljubljana or Krakov
My suggestion is to allocate the time you have to those cities rather than making the trip to Bratislava
Then again, if you’re on a stag do / bachelor party, I could see the appeal as it looks well set up for this. A few drinks in the square, boat party and then on the lash, happy days. Less so for anything else
Extra tip – watch out for the taxi drivers charging high prices, especially from the station or airport. They’ll tell you it’s a minimum charge of €20 / €40, which is nonsense. Should be less than €10 from the station and and around €20 from the airport

Palaces, Concerts and Cathedrals in Imperial Vienna

Vienna is right up there with the great European cities of Paris, Rome and London for history and may be in a league of its own for palaces. It seems everywhere you turn there is another palace, cathedral or concert hall that would be the prize asset of almost any global city

The trick is to not let them tire you out – walking around so many places (especially the giant palaces) can be a exhausting. So, I’d recommend 4 tips to make you get the most out of a couple of days here:
  1. Be selective in which sites you go for. I found the Schönbrunner Place for its magnificent grounds and main building; Saint Stephen’s Cathedral for its views from the towers, the Hofburg for wandering in and nearby; and the Karlskirche for its magnificent interior and evening concerts the highlights and for a first timer I’d go with them. All have wow factor
  2. Buy a ticket for one of the concerts. There is nothing quite like a live event, in this case of classical music, in an atmospheric venue. I went to listen to Vivaldi’s 4 seasons in the Karlskirche and it was absolutely fantastic (€12 – €48 and very easy to buy just outside the venue / online).  They were also advertising for similar concerts in Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, and I’m sure you can find them in other venues. The dress code is fairly easy for these events – I was told smart casual and to avoid flip flops / shorts, but several people were wearing them. Should last around 1.5hours – 2hours
  3. Take a wander around a slightly different part of Vienna for a mini break from the grandness! I walked along the Danube Danube and Alte Donau river areas, which were gorgeous and gave a view of what a more suburban setting in Vienna looks like (Das Bootshaus was a great restaurant along there as well)
  4. For where to stay. It’s probably easiest to base yourself anything within or just next to the Innere Stadt ring of the city (fairly obvious when you see it in a map), just for ease of walking to a few of the highlighted places. But, the subway system is super easy and Ubers are widely available so I don’t think it really matters where you stay

Fairytale views by Lake Bled

Wow it really is as picture-perfect as you’ve been led to believe! All the ingredients of a fairy tale:

– small church perched perfectly on a small island ✅

– sitting in the middle of crystal clear water with only the light lapping of town boats ✅

– castle nearby hanging over a precarious ledge to the water ✅

– backdrop of the Julian Alps ✅

An Instagrammer’s dream!

The 6km / 3.7mile run around the lake, the swim over the island and the variety of other outdoor options nearby make this a great experience
Make sure to stay for 1 or 2 nights (as opposed to a day trip) so you can soak up the magical feeling of the place

2 days by the beautiful Lake Como

It’s a big shout when people say somewhere is the most beautiful place in the world . . . but, yep . . . Lake Como takes it.  Picture perfect Italian villages punctuating luscious forests as they meet the lake’s crystal clear waters, and all against the stunning dramatic backdrop of the Alps.  It’s hard not to just stop and gorp at it over, and over again

Naturally in such a beautiful place, it comes with a huge demand from others wanting to visit and, especially in summer, the costs go through the roof.  The cost is something hard to avoid, but it’s actually relatively easy to avoid the crowds with a few simple tips and enjoy what makes this place such a world famous destination

A day for the highlights of Milan

Milan felt like the definition of style – not only the perfect buildings and the art, but everyone walking around looks like they’re just about to hit the catwalk.  Maybe this was just a summer thing, but either way it seemed to ooze style!

That being said, I didn’t find it a particularly deep city for things to do / see, so I’d say a full day is enough, with some obvious sites to draw your attention

Portugal highlights on a 2 week roadtrip

Portugal is a great country for visiting for 10/14 days as it has a heap of varied things to experience and not vast distances to cover.  By basing yourself in the 3 major areas of Porto / The Douro Valley, Lisbon, and the Algarve, you can use each as a hub for adventures nearby and also be able to stop off on a few places directly in between that are great for a couple of hours or so

 

Big highlights for me were actually some of the smaller places that I’d never heard of before I arrived in Portugal.  In particular the gorgeous Duoro Valley wine region, the hilltop town of Sintra and the beautifully charming streets of Cascais.  Plus, the more famous highlights of port tasting in Porto and various neighbourhoods of Lisbon

 

Each piece that makes up this itinerary has its own travel post, but I’ve also condensed the key points and listed some more general tips below