Laziness. That’s the best word to describe my state of mind and body, during the long weekend I spent in Sibiu county, right in the middle of the hottest month of the year: August. The trip came after months of lockdown in Bucharest, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and for the first time since I can remember, one of my journeys didn’t follow the usual (traveling) routine.
I decided to go with the flow. I did not walk tens of kilometers, nor I searched too much for cool restaurants or cafes; instead, I used much of the time to relax and recharge my dying batteries – one of those things that need to be done, every once in a while. The result was satisfying: I ended up enjoying more the little things in life, which I used to ignore in the past. And that’s not all. I was still able to do some sightseeing and to discover a small part of the county: the towns of Avrig and Mediaș, and the villages of Biertan and Cârța.
Sibiu county lies right in the center of Romania and is part of the region of Transylvania. It has a pretty varied landscape, ranging from over 2,000-meter peaks in its South (max altitude: Negoiu Peak – 2,535m), to a minimum altitude of 228m in its North, where large plateaus are located. Aside from this impressive natural environment, Sibiu county is widely known for its rich Saxon heritage, represented by beautiful fortified churches (almost each village has one) and almost intact medieval fortresses.
Its capital, the city with the same name, has one of the best preserved medieval old towns in Romania, and it’s one of my favorite travel destinations. It has a fast-growing international airport, which connects the city (as of September 2020) with Bucharest, London, Wien, Madrid and a few German cities. I’ve visited Sibiu pretty often in the past two-three years – and even covered some of its main sights in this broader post about Romania; but this time, my focus was only on the county itself.
I found a stylish and quite affordable accommodation for the three nights: Palatul Brukenthal Avrig (Strada Gheorghe Lazăr 39). This Baroque palace used to be the summer residence of Samuel von Brukenthal, the Habsburg governor of Transylvania, back in the 18th century. The hotel is located inside the renovated orangery and features a restaurant with garden terrace, an event area and a pool. Despite not offering a wide variety of dishes, the food here is good and the prices are just right. And there’s nature everywhere, as the palace has its own park, preserved according to the initial plans.
Guide to Sibiu County
The town of Avrig lies in a beautiful scenery, between the river Olt and the Făgăraș Mountains. It’s a small town, with no so many landmarks around, but it’s pleasant enough for a short visit. The Brukenthal Summer Palace is for sure its most important objective. Have in mind that if you’re not staying at the hotel, you’ll have to pay a 20 RON entrance fee.
History tells us that the Summer Palace was built after the famous Schönbrunn Palace – at a much lower scale, that is. Once inside the courtyard, you can check the small museum located inside the main building, containing a collection of old Saxon house goods, or take a relaxing walk in the gardens. The palace has seen better days for sure, but the good news is that the current owners are planning for a full renovation, in time.
Apart from the palace, Avrig has a fortified Evangelical Church, dating from the 16th century, and a few streets filled with traditional old Saxon houses, which are nice to discover on foot.
70 kilometers North of Avrig, you’ll find a fairy-tale looking village, located along a valley and surrounded by green hills: Biertan. It is well-known thanks to the Romanesque Fortified Church, completed in 1524 and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on a small hill, right in the middle of the village, the church provides a 360° panorama over Biertan and dominates the entire area. The admission costs 10 RON.
The church has three rows of exterior fortifications, connected by a total of nine gate towers. Legend says that all couples seeking divorce were first locked inside the Prison Tower for a couple of weeks, after which they had to make their final decision. In over 400 years, only one couple decided to go through with the divorce.
I was a bit unlucky to visit the village and the church on a rainy day. The bad weather stopped me from both strolling and getting some great shots of the valley, using the drone I purchased some months ago, while in lockdown. That’s why I’m really hoping to come back soon.
Mediaș is a provincial town, the second largest urban area in the county, that has a nice medieval old town. Since I knew almost nothing before, I was pretty surprised by its fine looks. The Gothic Church of St. Margaret, dating from the end of the 15th century, stands out among all buildings, with its five defensive towers. The church clock tower, known as Turnul Trompeţilor (the Tower of the Buglers), is 70 meters high and comes with a cool fact: it’s a leaning tower, having a deviation at the top of 2.28 meters.
In order to capture a nice view of the old town, I suggest spending some time in the town’s main square: King Ferdinand I. The square is flanked on all sides by historical buildings, such as Casa Schuller or Casa Rosenauer, and by many shops, restaurants and cafes.
The last destination I’m going to talk about is Cârța, a village not far from Avrig, located in a similar scenery. It’s a tidy village, with traditional houses and lots of flowers in front of almost each one. It grew in popularity over the last few years due to the 2018 Hollywood horror movie The Nun. Despite being filmed in other locations throughout Romania, its action actually takes place at the Cârța Monastery, a real place, pretty different than the one depicted in the movie.
The official name of the former monastery is the Cistercian Abbey of Cârța, and it’s the most Eastern built Cistercian monument in Europe, and the only one of its kind in Romania. Some of its structures are still standing, like the bell tower or the main gate, while some have collapsed over the centuries. The place is filled with fascinating history and mystery – a true fact, even if you haven’t seen the movie, which probably skews a bit the perception. There’s an entrance fee of 5 RON, which is ridiculously cheap.
Well, this is it. Hopefully, I’ve been able to cover a tiny part of what Sibiu county has to offer. I know I could have seen and done more, but the time was limited, I felt lazy, and in the end I just wanted to take some time off and not do anything (that’s probably why I did not mention the day I spent at the pool and in the palace gardens). It’s definitely a spectacular county, with charming settlements and breathtaking landscapes, so I encourage you go there and let yourself travel back in time, at least for a few days. Don’t be in a rush and take your time. And in case you decide to extend your stay, I recommend checking out the neighboring county: Brașov.
La revedere, Sibiu!
Author: Marian Bulacu
Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.