Discover Romania: Sinaia, summer residence of royalty

So you’ve picked Romania for your holiday destination, and probably landed in Bucharest, where you booked some kind of accommodation. Maybe you’re staying for more than a weekend, and are considering getting out of the capital and discovering other places.

The good news is that from Bucharest you can pick a number of nice destinations in Romania, easy to reach even without a personal car. E.g., from Gara de Nord train station, there are trains that can take you to several interesting locations, of which the most sought by tourists (and closest) are the mountain resorts in the Valea Prahovei area.

Of the the touristic towns in this area, Sinaia, is the closest to Bucharest and the one with most potential, both from a cultural point of view and as a starting point for mountain hiking courses. And if you are looking for a place outside Bucharest that is easy to get to and return from in the course of the day, then this is definitely the right choice, as this cozy mountain town is just 1,5 h from Bucharest by train.

How to get there:

By train:

CFR trains: access the CFR website, select your travel date, enter Bucuresti Nord as your departure point and Sinaia as arrival point, then click Search. You will get a list of available trains. It’s possible to buy tickets online and print them. You can also create an account on bilete.cfrcalatori.ro, as this allows you to select your train and return train in an easier manner. You get a 5% discount for buying online, and another 5% if you check the return ticket box.

Other discounts you might qualify for (please read the rules, these discounts usually aren’t cumulative):

  • Anticipation discount – 10-25% for buying in advance (6-21 days); to get this discount, you have to buy separate tickets (uncheck the return ticket option).
  • Group discounts – 25% (for groups of 2-5 adults, advantageous if you don’t get the anticipation discount)

Please keep in mind that trains (especially return trains) can be delayed, especially in the summer, when the lines get too hot and trains become slower to avoid accidents.

REGIOTRANS trains: access the Regiotrans website (only in Romania) and select the departure and destination points, just as for CFR. Note that these trains are almost an hour slower than the CFR Inter-regio trains, but are also cheaper (the same prices as Regio trains from CFR).

By bus or minibus:

MementoBus is a company that allows you to book buses and minibuses to various destinations, working on the principle of promotional low prices if you book well in advance. Their website is in Romanian only, but it’s intuitive enough. In case a trip gets canceled, they will notify you as early as possible.

From Autogara RITMULUI, you can take one of the minibuses that leave every 30 minutes. However, they are not much faster than the train, just a bit cheaper, and the degree of comfort might be smaller than with a train. To make sure you get a seat at a certain hour, you must reserve in advance by phone.

About Sinaia

First, you might want to print a map of the town. Though it’s not very complicated to get to the main points of interest, you might lose some on the way if you’re not aware of their location. You can also download a great map of town-walking tours here.

The first settlement in this area was a monastic community, Schitul Sf. Nicolae de pe Molomoţ, first mentioned in documents in 1581 . Nowadays, the spot of the old Skete is marked by the Molomoţ cross reachable from Furnica street.

The Sinaia Monastery, built on the orders of spatharius Mihail Cantacuzino in 1695, is considered the nucleus around which the settlement later known as Sinaia started to take shape.

In the second half of the 19th century, through the development of the road connecting Sinaia to Brașov, of the Bucharest – Sinaia railroad and of Peleș Castle, Sinaia started flourishing as a touristic resort. Nowadays, the town is known as a location preferred by history enthusiasts, as well as by outdoors activity and mountain hiking fans.

While the town provides all sorts of accommodation, from luxury hotels to cozy cottages, as well as restaurants, bars, banks and all that is needed for the modern traveler, Sinaia is also a great starting point for several beautiful mountain hiking routes, starting either in town, or from Cota 1400/Cota 2000, after taking the Telegondola  (driving there is also possible). Some of these routes are described here and here (the 2nd one also has some maps, but unfortunately it’s in Romanian only – but the automatic Google translation can be quite helpful). Each route is marked by a specific color (usually, on trees or rocks), and it can be quite hard to get lost, but in any case, you can try to get the special Bucegi mountain trails map and, if possible, a Romanian guide to go with you.

What to see in Sinaia

Sinaia is actually the only Romanian town to have two Royal Train Stations. The first one, built in 1886 for Carol I, had only one room and was functional until 1940, when it was used as a reception room for those wounded in World War II. The former royal parlor of the first royal station is all that’s left of it (on the right side of the station), and in the present it hosts the miniature trains museum.  In 1911, due to the fact that the station was too small for the number of tourists, the old building was demolished and a larger one was built in its place (the ticket room we see today is the central body built in 1911).

 

The second royal train station (on the left side of the current one) was built for Carol II between 1937-1938, following the plans of architect Duiliu Marcu. This building was used for receiving Carol II and Michael I of Romania. Today, it is used as a protocol room.

 

The miniature trains museum is the first objective you’ll run into if you come to Sinaia by train, as it is right on the arrival platform, on the right side. It’s actually a small cafe and a museum combined. The museum consists of an installation of dioramas representing railways and the scenery around them. Several model trains run through the various decor sets. This blog article has a lot of shots from the museum. The museum may seem small or fit for children, but you might find that it’s very exciting to discover yourself the many micro-scenes, some funny and some sweet (and maybe contemplate how small and insignificant we are, just as the tiny plastic people in the diorama :D). The ticket costs 10 lei and you can take photos inside (and it is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

 

After exiting the train station, the stairs right in front of you will bring you to the beautiful Caraiman hotel, built in 1881 in classical Romanian style.

 

From the hotel, you can easily reach Dimitrie Ghika park. This park was established in 1881, and in it you can admire several secular trees, statues of famous Romanians, and Muzeul Rezervaţiei Bucegi (a museum displaying flora and fauna from the Bucegi area, rare and protected species, species, endangered and extinct species, as well as endemic species).

 

In summer, various events are organized in the park, and in September, the park hosts Festivalul Toamnei “Sinaia Forever” (an autumn festival). During the weekends, you can usually find handmade sweets and other stuff being sold by producers who display their merchandise in special area with tables.

In the North side of park you can see the Sinaia Casino, built between 1912-1913, now a conference center. Guided tours in the Casino rooms and art gallery are available for a fee (15 lei for the full tour, 5 lei for the art gallery only). Not far from the Casino you can also admire Hotel Palace, built in 1911 in neo-Romanian style, after the plans of architect Petre Antonescu (who also designed the Casino).

 

If you exit the park near the Casino, you will reach a small roundabout with a fountain. Across the street you will easily spot Cimitirul Eroilor (Heroes’ Cemetery), where soldiers (both known and unknown, Romanian, German, or Hungarian) from World War I are buried. In the cemetery there is also a stone chronicle raised in the memory of the 365 American soldiers who have died or were taken prisoners in Romania during World War II.

 

On the left side of the cemetery, you will notice some stairs. They take you up to Manastirea Sinaia (Sinaia Monastery), first passing by a fountain from 1880 (the same year when Sinaia was declared a town).

Scari (2)

There are actually several historic fountains in Sinaia, built for quenching the thirst of travelers who arrived on horseback or in carriages pulled by horses or cattle, on the roads connecting Wallachia to Transylvania. After a long, difficult road, they would stop at one of these fountains to get some rest and fresh water, and thus these spots became known meeting places, gaining their own names.

Walk up on the path towards the monastery, where you will actually find two buildings: the old Sinaia Monastery, and the new one.

The old Sinaia Monastery (Biserica Adormirii Maicii Domnului – dedicated to Mary) was build during the reign of Mihail Cantacuzino, commander of the Wallachian army in the 17th century. He decided to build it after a visit to Mount Sinai, where he saw a 16th century orthodox church which impressed him. The monastery was designed with a double role in mind: to protect the commercial road along Valea Prahovei, and to host the many monks who lived in the Bucegi mountains. It was built in Brâncovenesc style, a Baroque-inspired architectural style found all over Romania (especially in churches and old villas), recognizable especially by the columns and door/window frames adorned with sculpted floral elements. Usually, the buildings in Brâncovenesc style have a porch sustained by columns around the main entrance, which is reached by climbing a few stairs. The old monastery complex also includes a chapel with paintings that are 300-years old.

 

While first there were just 12 monks at Sinaia Monastery, as their number grew, a second building became necessary. The New Court (Biserica Sfânta Treime – dedicated to the Holy Trinity) was built in 1843-46 (it was smaller than what we see today, as the belfry was added in 1892 – and the bell was actually brought from Bucharest, from the former Colțea tower). Inside it are the stalls reserved for the former royal family, as well as an epitaph sewn in gold thread and colored silk on cotton cloth, which is listed by UNESCO.

 

The entire monastery complex (churches, museum, annexes) is open to the public for a small fee (5 lei in 2016) and can be visited between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

From Sinaia Monastery, you can easily reach the most famous tourist attraction of Sinaia: Peleș Castle. Take Aleea Carmen Sylva (right) and follow it straight to the castle.

Peleș Castle was commissioned by King Carol I in 1873 and completed in 1883. Several auxiliary buildings were built together with the castle: the Economat building (now a hotel), the „Foişor” hunting lodge, the guards’ chambers (now „La Tunuri” hotel and restaurant and „Cafenea Regal Peleș” cafeteria), the royal stables, and a power plant (thus, Peleș becoming the world’s first castle to be fully powered by locally produced electricity).

 

The castle, which served as summer residence to the royal family until 1947, is composed of 160 rooms decorated with the finest examples of European art, Murano crystal chandeliers, German stained-glass windows and Cordoba leather-covered walls. Its name was given from neighboring Peleș Creek, which passes right through the courtyard. Some images from the lushly decorated interior can be seen here (to photograph inside, you need to pay a photo fee, and can’t share the images on the Internet without the museum’s approval…or so it says in the museum’s notice 🙂 Also, be prepared to pay in cash and have Romanian lei. Even if hundreds of tourists visit the castle every day, the administration hasn’t changed their rudimentary payment system. As a bonus, the cashiers hardly speak any English, so come prepared with patience 🙂

 

Th castle was confiscated by the communists in 1948 and in 1953 it was declared a museum (and such it is today, though it has been re-conveyed in 2006 to Michael I of Romania, who still owns it today). Visiting hours are available here, and the ticket prices, here. Please remember that the museum is always closed on Mondays, plus on other days, as specified in the visiting schedule.

Pelișor Castle was built in 1899–1902 by order of King Carol I, as the residence for his nephew and heir, the future King Ferdinand I of Romania. It was designed in Art Nouveau style, and comprises 99 chambers, of which the most important are: the hall of honor (simple style, stained glass skylight), King Ferdinand’s work cabinet (German neo-Renaissance style), Queen Maria’s work cabinet (Brâncovenesc/classical Romanian style), the golden bedroom (Byzantine and Celtic elements), the golden room (Byzantine and Celtic elements), the Chapel. This castle has also been re-conveyed to the former royal family in 2006, same as Peleș (since the lands were bought and the buildings raised on their expense). A montage of exterior and interior images is available here.

 

!! Tickets for Pelișor are bought from the same office, so if you plan to visit both museums, buy the tickets together, otherwise you risk to stand in line twice.

After you finish visiting the Peleș and Pelișor museums (unfortunately, the „Foişor” hunting lodge is not open to visitors), you can spend some time admiring the castle statues and park, walk in the beautiful surrounding area, or stop for a refreshing drink at „La Tunuri”, enjoying your view of the mountain and Peleș castle.

 

On your return, you can take Strada Furnica, which will get you at the Crucea de pe Molomoț (Molomoț Cross, near Hotel Furnica) marking the spot where the altar of Sf Nicolae (Saint Nicholas) church once used to be (as I wrote earlier, the Sf Nicolae skete was the first settlement in the area).

 

From Strada Furnica, you will reach a point where there is an alternative stairway taking you downwards, to Strada Aosta. This street exits into Bulevardul Carol I, from which you can reach two more interesting attractions: Muzeul Orașului Sinaia (Știrbey Palace) at no. 28 Bulevardul Carol I (behind Hotel New Montana), and Sinaia Town Hall.

Muzeul Orașului Sinaia (Museum of Sinaia) has been opened in 2015 in the oldest villa in Sinaia, Florescu Știrbey Palace (built in 1875). The museum presents the history of the Știrbey family and offers, among others, a room dedicated to the communism period in Sinaia, a room about the royal family, a multimedia room playing documentaries, various exhibits of objects grouped by theme (e.g. old sports equipment), etc. The museum’s exhibits were donated by locals and by people who used to live in the Valea Prahovei area. Some images from the interior and exterior can be seen in this post.

Besides the various exhibits, visitors can stop and savor a delicious coffee, or even spend the night in one of the museum’s six rooms that are rented as hotel rooms. The visiting hours are available here and the ticket is 15 lei (2016).

Near the museum (towards the cable car building), you can also check out the Știrbey Chapel, now in really bad shape and awaiting rehabilitation. It was built in 1878 and the interior was painted by Gheorghe Tătărescu, a well-known Romanian artist who painted between 1853–1892, with help from his students, more than 50 churches in Romania (most of them in Bucharest and Iași).

 

The building at no. 47 Bd. Carol I has been home to Sinaia’s town hall since 1905. Near it, at no. 49, you can admire the beautiful Vila Salamandra from 1912 (currently for sale).

 

And besides checking out all of the more important buildings (either half timbered, or in classical Romanian style), walking around town can prove to be just as delightful, as Sinaia is a colorful, peaceful place with pretty flowers hanging from balconies and a beautiful background of mountains covered in pine trees.

 

 

If you’re in Sinaia for more than a day…

…then you might really consider visiting a neighboring town, such as Bușteni, or, even better, going hiking in the mountains, taking one of the popular routes, such as:

The St. Ana rocks in the NE side of the resort mark the oldest religious location on Valea Prahovei (a skete was functioning here in 1453). You can reach it by cutting through the Furnica neighborhood and then following the road to Cota 1400).

Poiana Stânii is a glade that once was home to the royal family’s stables and cow herds. Nowadays, tourists that get here can stop to eat (or even stay overnight) at Cabana Stâna Regală.

Stânca Franz-Josef is called this way because the area next to the two rocks was improved (stairway and handrails to facilitate the access) on the orders of Carol I, on the occasion of Austrian emperor Franz-Joseph’s visit to Sinaia in 1896. A plaque with the profiles of Franz-Joseph, his wife and Carol I can be seen on one of the rocks.

This latter tour is one of the most beautiful, but you should consider taking the earliest cable car possible to Cota 2000, or spending the night at the Bolboci mountain cabin, as this route can take more than planned and you would not want to return when it’s getting dark. There is also the possibility to take a minibus back to Sinaia from the cabin, provided it has enough free seats and you are there at the right hour (several minibuses used for private tours pass through the area every day, usually stopping at the end of the bridge opposite the Bolboci cabin).

Some pictures from the route towards Bolboci:

 

On your way, you can encounter dogs from the nearby sheep cots or cabins. While they’re mostly friendly, try to approach them carefully and interact with them in a friendly manner. They might wait for you to feed them, or follow you around for a while.

Bolboci Lake, your final destination, is an artificial lake in the Bucegi mountains, placed in an area surrounded by pine trees and in an atmosphere that seems far away from everything.

 

The Bolboci cabin built in 1928 is the only accommodation in the area, aside from your own tent, if you brought one. Camping is free in the cabin’s yard, and it comes packed with dogs, cows, and sometimes even pigs.

 

Even if you’re not staying at the cabin, you can always enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine up on the terrace, especially in the morning, when the mist starts to rise over the lake, transporting you in the most wonderful state of mind.

The surrounding area is very nice, and you can take long walks on the forest paths, discovering pretty glades with flowers and bees, and picturesque mountain views.

 

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2 gânduri despre “Discover Romania: Sinaia, summer residence of royalty

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