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

A day in Bucharest

The first time I visited Bucharest I think I left with the views of it being one of the worst capital cities I’ve been to and “never going back!”.  Perhaps that is a little harsh as, on second time visiting, and wandering through the Historic Centre I saw there are actually some impressive historic buildings and taking a tour to understand the history of Romania post WW2 is quite interesting.  I think it also comes down to if you go mid-week or at the weekends – the Historic Centre seemed to come to life at the weekends as they pedestrianised nearly the entire area and had more of a party atmosphere

 

That being said, I think you only really need a day in Bucharest and I’ve listed some top tips below for how to make sure your experience is like my second visit rather than my first!

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

A day in Newcastle

Newcastle has a great reputation for its friendly locals (and, let’s face it, the accent everyone loves to imitate) and its world-class partying / lash that comes from both the locals and its giant student population (locals, aka “Geordies” will often like to quote how many top 10 lists Newcastle appears in for a night out).  But it also has a surprisingly elegant city centre with a riverfront that rivals anything else in the UK outside of London, and 4 places to visit nearby that are equally surprising in just how gorgeous they are

If you’ve got only a day (in summer!), I’d recommend the below itinerary for the best of Newcastle and the surrounding area

A supercharged week seeing the highlights of Israel and Jordan

I say this trip is supercharged because it doesn’t leave much time for chilling out.  But, if you’re like most of us and only have a limited amount of vacation, then this is a fantastic weekend to weekend trip that takes in the world famous sites of Jerusalem, Petra and Wadi rum; while providing time for some fun experiences like floating in the Dead Sea, scuba diving in the Red Sea, driving through sparse deserts and a party in Tel Aviv

You’ll need energy for these 7 days, but you’ll be rewarded as, in my opinion, its one of the world’s best week long trips in the world

I was hesitating in going in winter as I’d seen low temperatures.  Don’t.  The winter helped with reduced crowds, not needing to book far ahead and not getting exhausted by the heat.  Perfect trip for a week-long winter break

Exploring Petra in winter

We’ve all seen the famous Treasury building that sits within Petra – yes, the one from Indiana Jones – but the Treasury is only one small piece of a vast network of ancient buildings that sit within a labyrinth of dramatic red stone canyons, and all surrounded by equally dramatic mountains and deserts.  To combine a visit to one of the Wonders of the World with an exploration of the broader area makes this a truly unforgettable experience

I’ve written below some tips for how to get the most out of a visit to Petra, but my #1 tip is to get  local guide to walk with you from Little Petra through the back entrance of the mountains, via the Monastery, and to the main Treasury / Siq (the famous bit).  You won’t be disappointed as the views are world-class and the crowds less keen to stray so far from the Treasury.  We visited in winter, which naturally thinned the crowds, but the site is so vast that even in the busy periods you will be able to get away

Jerusalem for a day on the Sabbath

One of the most famous cities in the world and the spiritual centre for three of the world’s major religions, Jerusalem is steeped in history and has sites that attract hordes of tourists and worshippers alike

We went on the sabbath, which in Israel means many things are closed, and in winter, which means it’ll be around 10-12 Celsius / 50-54 Fahrenheit in the day, so it was probably a bit quieter than normal and I think that was a positive on the overall experience

I’ve read in books like the Lonely Planet that you need four days to experience Jerusalem.  I think that may be true if you are deeply religious or have a passion for the history of the area, but for those who just broadly want to check it out, and have the right level of energy, you can have a great experience with only one day

So, if only have one day, I have 2 suggestions.  Firstly, focus on the key sites of the old city, in particular the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Temple on the Mount.  Secondly, don’t try to do more than that and, instead, get lost wandering through Jerusalem’s narrow streets and off the tourist trail.  You’ll notice subtle differences moving between quarters and stumble upon some of the lesser known sites.  Far more enjoyable that following a guided tour, and less tiring

Hiking along Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall runs 117km/73miles all the way across the narrow neck of England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea and was an immense engineering statement representing the furthest northern boundary of the Roman Empire.  Today, a walk along the still well preserved sections of the wall, seeing the old forts and milecastles, staying in Bed & Breakfasts and eating in local pubs along the way is the best way to get a feel for the wall and to see the beautiful Northumbrian countryside.  It also brings about that wonderful moment of trying to briefly imagine what it must have been like all those years ago as a cold, guarding, far from home Roman soldier to be looking out northwards from the wall into the dark forests and far off hills of a distant, unknown and unconquered barbarian land.  Great experience

 

 

Top tip – don’t walk the whole length of the wall, which takes 6/7 days.  The sections west of Lanercost / Walton are flat and with relatively little Roman pieces to see, and west of Chollerford / Heddon-on-the-Wall are basically walking along a road / west end Newcastle.  The sections between are the highlights with the best preserved Roman sites and the beautiful Northumberland countryside, and you need only 2 or 3 days to walk them.  Our route was to start in Lanercost, walk the first day to Once Brewed and then walk the second day to Collerford.  You could extend this by a day by starting in Walton and walking to Heddon-on-the-Wall.  Either options let you see the highlights

 

 

Interesting fact – whilst many people imagine the wall as being a defensive structure to keep the dangerous, marauding, barbaric Scots out of the Roman Empire (and indeed it was built to repel defensively if needed), it was actually more of an administrative boundary.  When Hadrian started to build the wall in 122AD, the age of the Roman expansion had largely ended and instead the empire was consolidating its vast land area that spread from the Atlantic to Syria, and from the Rhine and Danube rivers to the Sahara.  North of the wall were still farms and Roman towns built by people who felt safe enough to do so just by proximity to the northern point of this vast empire.  The Romans, who at the time were the European superpower with simply no rivals, had little interest in the land to the north, which had little minerals compared to the tin in Wales and Cornwall, and were certainly not fearful of the Scottish tribes.  The Wall was really to slow down any raiding parties stealing from farms in what is now Northern England and as a symbol from Hadrian that the growth should stop (sorry, proud Scottish folk)

3 week European roadtrip for mountains and wine

If you look through a typical European highlights itinerary it will invariably be dominated by the cities.  For instance, the Lonely Planet’s top itinerary for Europe is 12 cities and nothing else, and of its 24 overall European highlights, only 6 are not cities (the Norwegian Fjords, the Matterhorn, Greece’s Santorini, Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor, Transylvania, North Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid . . .  if you’re interested).  It’s understandable – Europe is a centre for culture and stunning capital cities, but it also has some world class experiences to be found outside of the cities and this itinerary gives you a flavour of those with a focus on its mountain and wine regions

 

With this itinerary you will enjoy:

  • Mountains – the most spectacular views of Europe’s premier mountain regions with Switzerland’s “big three” of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau from Interlaken, and the Pyrenes’ Cirques de Gavarnie
  • Wine regions – 4 of the best wine regions France has to offer with Bordeaux, Provence, Alsace and Champagne
  • Lakes – 2 of the world’s truly stunning lakes with the simply magnificent Lake Como and the Swiss Lakes surrounding Interlaken
  • Coastline – the epitome of luxury and style with the most famous stretch of coastline in Europe with the Cote d’Azur, its trio of corniches and Monaco
  • Hilltop villages and rural regions – the prettiest in Europe with the hilltop villages and elegant treelined streets of Provence and the timbered fairytale villages of the Black Forrest
  • Roman Ruins – some of the best preserved Roman Ruins with the Pont du Garde and the Arles Amphitheatre
  • Driving – and of course, some of the best driving scenery in all of Europe as you pass from one mountain range to another and along some of the prettiest countryside on the continent

A day trip to York

York is definitely worth a stop when in the North of England based on its rich and well preserved medieval history, the pretty lanes to wander through and the immense York Minister Cathedral.  5 basic tips:

  1. Can do as a day trip – you only need a day, so this is a simple trip from anywhere in the North of England.  You could even push it as a day trip from London as its only 2 hours up the east coast train line
  2. Walk the City Walls – a great way to see York is by walking along the City Walls.  They’re 3.4km / 2miles in length, so a decent walk, and are in place for around 3/4 of their total length, meaning you only have to walk off them 3 times to cover a section that isn’t walkable.  Friends of York Walls do a great simple guide for the walk here – York Walls Route
  3. Be sure to visit York Minister Cathedral – the largest Medieval Cathedral in Northern Europe and a must
  4. Have afternoon tea and scones – its the quintessentially York / English thing to do.  There are heaps of tea rooms to try, but Betty’s is the favourite
  5. Try to learn some of the history but don’t get museum’d out – York has some fascinating history dating all the way back to the Romans, but it can be a bit overwhelming for a day trip considering you also want to do the above things.  My suggestion is only to visit one of the museums / visitor attractions and for that to be Jorvik Viking Centre for an hour as it gives a good flavour of the time of the Vikings