Romania is regrettably, for one reason or the other - leaving Bucharest aside - not yet blessed with too many great hotels and accommodation venues. Finding a decent and satisfactory place for the night too often remains a lottery with only a few hits and far too many miss options. You will find plenty of Casas, Penisuneas or Hotels spread all over the country; but, unfortunately too often built only for the quick buck or without any knowledge or understanding of what the traveler needs and expects. Worse even if both are the case!
By Friedrich Niemann
I love to travel in Romania and explore the country as much as I can. When doing so, I try to avoid the big and commercial hotels – which I know too well for obvious reasons – but also places without a soul and sense of place. Throughout the years I have discovered several locations, which truly have this sense of place and are not necessarily posh and so perceptibly pseudo-luxurious, much better - they are just perfect in what and where they are. If I would play it smart, I obviously kept those places to myself, as otherwise I would be running the risk that soon these hidden secrets won’t be secrets anymore and overrun by the curious traveler. However, that would neither do the locations justice nor the sophisticated traveler’s thirst for proper accommodation. Hence, below please find my four favorite spots in Romania.
No, it is no coincidence that all of these locations are in Transylvania!
I have been taking that deprived gravel road up to the hill of Balaban already for years, every time when I was in dire need of a tranquil place to rest and enjoy the stunning beauty of the Carpathian’s Southern Range. The ‘Inn on Balaban’ is uniquely located while it sits on a hill high above the village of Simon, next to Bran in Brasov County. Once up here the visitor can enjoy 360 degree views of the Carpathian Mountains; the Piatra Craiului to the west and the Bucegi mountains to the east, the famous Rucar – Bran corridor stretches to the South – scenic views as many and as lasting as you wish.
Casa Balaban is a purpose-built house that resembles a traditional Transylvanian farmhouse as exhibited in Sibiu’s village museum. That is where the owner of the house picked up the idea a few years ago, realized his dream and opened the Inn in 2006. It really puts you back in time in rural Romania. There is a large living room on the ground floor, with a fire place, comfy sofas, a library about Transylvania and its history and lots of antique and rural Romanian furniture. The six bedrooms on the ground – and the first floor are furnished with antiques or rebuilt traditional Romanian peasant furniture. The beds and their linen are so horrendously comfortable that you don’t want to get up in the morning anymore. Bathrooms have floor heating and tiny little windows allow you to enjoy those spectacular views even in the most private moments. As there is no other place for dinner in the area, the inn usually offers half board, which comprises a country style three-course dinner (the mamaliguta is outstanding), accompanied by a decent selection of fine Romanian wines. In the morning a very rich and local breakfast is served in the dining room.
Over the last years they have also added two more buildings, one being a beautifully restored old farm house from Simon and a second building, following the same architecture as the first, accommodating spacious meeting facilities as well as another two bedrooms.
To get there, while coming from Brasov, you need to pass through the village of Bran, about 1 km after passing Bran castle take a left following the signs for Simon. In Simon turn left at the church and follow the signs and the gravel road for approximately 4 km. Once there and no matter the weather, you don’t want to leave. And in winter, when the road is inaccessible by car, they come and pick you up with a sledge in Simon – being the truly romantic alternative. The Inn at Balaban is the perfect retreat for a weekend or a short vacation for those who enjoy nature, quietness, hiking and a sense of place. What I enjoyed most, apart from the stunning nature: there are no telephones or TV’s in the house – ok, they do have WiFi.
More about the inn on Balaban, here.
Friederich Niemann has been the general manager of the Athenee Palace Hilton hotel in Bucharest until 2010. He has moved to Germany to run the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Berlin. This article has been originally written for and published in the English - language guide 'Bucharest, Romania & Beyond' (that you can buy here). The remainder of the text, about other travel destinations in Transylvania, will be soon published, so stay tuned for more recommendations.