If you have travelled in Europe, you have no doubt encountered remnants of the House of Habsburg. It was one of the most important royal houses in Europe and the throne of the Holy Roman Empire was occupied by the House of Habsburg from 1438 until 1740. Like all the royals, they made marriage for alliance and power, not love, so they controlled most of Europe until the late 18th century. They are especially in evidence in middle Europe.
That is why it should not have been such a surprise to find a lot of German influence in Peles Castle. The building of the castle began in 1873 under Viennese architect Wilhem Doferer and continued in 1876 under his assistant. Work was abandoned during the war and the castle wasn’t completed until 1883. It was built for King Carol I, who became the first king of an independent Romania. The general style is German Renaissance but, like most buildings in Romania, it is a magpie construction that includes Italian Renaissance, Gothic, German Baroque and French Rococo.
It is situated in the gorgeous Carpathian Mountains near Sinaia. It is not as over-the-top as Versailles but it is a very impressive building in a spectacular setting and well worth the visit.
I would also highly recommend the hotel I stayed at in Bucharest. It’s the K+K Hotel Elisabeta. It’s in a great location close to the Old Town, the city centre and the metro. The staff and service is outstanding. It has an exceptional breakfast. One of the other great perks was that they organized tours for me so I just had to show up. Of course, that also meant I was already scheduled to go on a gigantic tour of the Romanian countryside even though I had only had a couple of hours of sleep. There are a lot of mountains and trees – I did sleep through some of the scenery 🙂
I had a very friendly driver named Marco who was a James Blunt fan. American media has taken over the entire world but the Brits still hold their own when it comes to music. It was a big day but very worthwhile. First, we had to get out of Bucharest. Our first official stop was the Sinaia Monastery. There was an Orthodox Church with a separate bell tower. Like Poland, church is important in Romania, but the vast majority are not Roman Catholic but, rather, Eastern Orthodox.
The monastery and church were first built in 1695 to commemorate a religious pilgrimage to Mount Sinai made by Mikhail Cantacuzino. The church is old Orthodox so there is no organ and no seats.
We then headed to the main attraction for the day, Peles Castle. We actually also saw Bran Castle that day, so, that statement might seem surprising but Peles Castle is absolutely the star.
Romania is still fairly new at the tourism game – and capitalism’s penchant that the customer is always right – so the organization part was a total gong show. Marco got my ticket organized and put me in the right place but then I was on my own. There was a long wait as the room filled with a large crowd of Romanian speakers. I had understood I was joining an English tour but they forced me in with the Romanians. I think they likely enjoyed the tour. Our guide was a mumbling robot with a Romanian accent, so technically things were repeated in English but I only managed to understand random
Nevertheless, the place was fascinating. Full of wood, crystal and weapons! The wood carving was especially over the top, gorgeous and ornate. No surface was left without ornamentation. There was beautiful stained glass and many chandeliers. It was tough to photograph with all the dark, heavy wood and shining, glittering objects.
There are also lovely gardens and it was a perfect blue sky day so it was a spectacular sight.
From the castle, we headed on to Brasov. It started medieval but added on some gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture, making it another super cute town that looks as though Disney came to town with some pixie dust. I only had a fleeting visit but you can take the train from Bucharest and spend more time. I did get to check out the Black Church, the largest gothic church in Romania, so named due to the damage sustained from the Great Fire of 1689.
The city was at the intersection of the trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire to western Europe and allowed pre-Communist Saxon merchants to make fortunes and meddle in politics. Once you have some money, you need a gated community to keep out the riff-raff so some serious city walls were erected along with several towers maintained by the different craft guilds, as was the real estate development custom in medieval times.
After lunch, we strolled through the town square (full of completely adorable buildings just dying to be photographed) and then took a walk around the remains of the city walls. Marco convinced me I should climb to the top of one of the towers to get a view over the town. It was a serious workout and the view was a bit hazy but it was good exercise 🙂 Of course, I have climbed to the top of a lot of towers in Europe and seen a lot of terracotta roofs but – if you haven’t – you may be more impressed…
The terracotta roofs of Brasov may have been underwhelming but the other sights were anything but and – not only should you check out Romania while it is still under the radar – you should get out of Bucharest and see the bucolic countryside. You can always pretend to be a Habsburg checking out your territory 😉 They apparently died out due to in-breeding… there is a mini-series here…