|OFF the BEATEN TRACK|
The 5800 sq km (2238 sq mi) Danube Delta, just south of the Ukrainian border, is Europe's youngest land geologically, and a magnet for birds and birdwatchers. Amid this wetland of reed beds and waterways, lily-covered lakes and shifting sand dunes, the Danube River completes its journey from Germany's Black Forest. Just over 14,500 people live on the Delta. Traditional wooden kayaks and rowing boats are the primary means of accessing the Delta's 57 fishing villages. Ceausescu's project to reclaim 38% of the delta for fish farming, forestry and agriculture was abandoned after the revolution. Today the Danube Delta is protected, and 273,300 hectares (675,051 acres) of it are strictly protected zones, off limits to tourists and fishermen. If you want to see wildlife, your best bet is to explore smaller waterways in a kayak or rowing boat or with a local fisherman. There are no shops, so take supplies with you. And don't forget the insect repellent! The gateway to the delta is Tulcea, with good bus and train connections. From there you can hire rowing boats and kayaks, or arrange trips with fishermen. You'll need a permit to visit the Delta, which you can get at travel agencies in Tulcea.
The Fagaras Mountains, in the centre of Romania, form part of the Carpathians and stretch for some 75km (47mi) south of the main Brasov-Sibiu road. The mountains are peppered with more than 40 glacial lakes, the highest of which is Lake Mioarele at 2282m (7484ft). The famed Trans-Fagarasan Highway cuts through the Balea Valley across the mountains from north to south, a mountain pass which is said to be the highest road in Europe. The Balea tunnel, cutting between Romania's highest mountains - Mount Negoiu (2535m; 8314ft) and Mount Moldoveanu (2543m; 8341ft) - is 845m (2771ft) long. The Fagaras Mountains offer the most spectacular hiking in the country, with well marked trails and an abundance of wildlife. The main drawback is the difficulty in getting there. The trailheads are 8km (5mi) to 15km (9mi) south of most train stations along the Brasov-Sibiu line, and the region is poorly serviced by bus. The main access point to the trails is Victoria, which you reach by getting off at the train halt 7km (4mi) north at Ucea. If you have a car, follow the Trans-Fagarasan Highway to Poienari Castle, just over the border in Wallachia. This was built for Vlad Tepes, and is regarded by Dracula buffs as the real McCoy. You climb 1480 steps to reach it from the side of a hydroelectric power plant below.
Welcome to Nicolae Ceausescu's birthplace. Here in Wallachia, the dictator's Romania-wide systemisation scheme began in 1988, when villagers' homes were bulldozed and replaced by 10-families-to-a-kitchen apartment blocks. Afterwards, a gigantic football stadium was added to the concrete montage - a present from the president to his home town. Gee, thanks, Mr President! Amazingly enough, the bulldozers did not make their way to Ceausescu's childhood home which is now the main attraction here. It's at the northernmost end of the village and is not officially open to visitors - but the women in the kiosk opposite will sell you a 50 cents ticket, escort you down the path, and leave you to face the wrath of Ceausescu's sister who lives opposite. Act humble, and she'll invite you inside the two-room house where Ceausescu lived until the age of 11, when he moved to Bucharest to become an apprentice cobbler. Scornicesti is accessible only by car, west of the Pitesti-Craiova road.
The painted monasteries of southern Bucovina are among the greatest artistic monuments of Europe. The outside walls were erected at a time when northern Moldavia was threatened by Turkish invaders. They sheltered large popular armies. To educate and entertainilliterate soldiers and peasants, well known bible stories were portrayed on the outside walls in cartoon-style frescoes. Some frescoes have been badly damaged by 450 years of exposure to the elements, but the intense colours - green at Sucevita, blue at Voronet, red at Humor - have been preserved. If your time is limited the Voronet and Moldovita monasteries are accessible by bus and train and provide a representative example of what Bucovina has to offer. To do a complete circuit of all the monasteries on your own requires three days; and it's best to hire a car, though it is possible to trek between the monasteries. Outside the main tourist season, you have a decent chance of being able to spend the night in Humor.
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