Although visitors to Romania head first for the big cities such as Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Iasi, Brasov, Sibiu or Targu Mures, it soon becomes apparent that another side to the country exists in the villages, many of which lie in pretty valleys surrounded by forested hills. Although Maramures and Bucovina are said to possess the country’s most interesting and beautiful villages, villages almost as good seem to exist in many other parts of the country, not least Transylvania.
Because the beautiful Transylvanian cities of Sibiu and Sighisoara have very good train and bus services to the surrounding settlements, it is easy to do side trips to all the places featured in the photos. From Sibiu, villages within easy reach include Cisnadie, Cisnadioara and Rasinari, and from Sighisoara public transport and/or short hikes will get you to Dumbraveni, Saros, Biertan, Richis, Copsa Mare and Albesti.
Visit some or all of the villages just listed and what will you find? Fortified Saxon churches; richly decorated Orthodox churches; remarkably diverse vernacular architecture utilizing stone, wood, brick, plaster and red pantiles; the occasional shop, bar or restaurant from which to purchase food or drink; pretty undulating countryside criss-crossed by roads and paths that link one settlement to the next; and ethnically mixed populations (Romanians are in the majority, but you also encounter many Roma/Gypsies, some Hungarians and, if very lucky, a few Germans of Saxon origin). Note that the Roma/Gypsies tend to live apart from other ethnic groups, usually in an area of more rundown housing on the edge of each village.
For visitors who fall in love with Romanian villages (this is easily done, despite the way the Roma/Gypsies are marginalized as second-class citizens), consider staying in the small hotels or pensions that exist in some of the more famous and/or beautiful villages. Costs for such accommodation remain low, but the hospitality is excellent.
It is sobering to recall that the unlamented communist regime planned at one time to destroy thousands of villages after herding the displaced people into cramped apartment blocks in nearby towns and cities (in fact, many villages WERE destroyed during the communist era). Officially planned to boost industrial and agricultural production by transforming “peasants” into “proletarians”, the destruction of villages was also a way of eradicating commitment to beliefs and practices at odds with the brave new world that communism was meant to inaugurate. Anyone keen to find out what a bestial and dysfunctional society Romania had become by the late 1980s should see “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”, a film by Mungiu. The film is a modern masterpiece which deserves to be much better known.