"What are you going there for?" Was the question asked by everyone when I told them I was travelling to Romania.
If I'm honest, I didn't know much about Romania's history or what to expect when I arrived. I had visions of horse and carts, Dracula and architecture reminiscent of the soviet era - and although there is an element of truth to those preconceptions, the reality is that it's a country with so much more to offer.
The only way I can describe Romania is that it is a melting pot of Europe. French style buildings line the streets of Bucharest, teamed with an 'Arcul de Triumf' and tree-lined boulevards. Rural Saxon villages punctuate the rolling countryside with fairytale-esque castles and fortified churches. It’s also home to pizzas which are as tasty as those I've tried in Italy!
A country which up until 1989 was ruled under a communist regime, our guide, Tudor described the moment he heard that Ceausescu had fled the capital. He said that even though he was only 13, he knew the news would mean a huge shift in economic and political policies for the Romanians and this offered them hope for the future. I asked him how he would describe the Romanian people and after a short pause, he replied “Flexible. We’ll always go with the flow when things change, because we’re used to things changing.”
Every place we visited was completely different from the last. We spent the night in snow-covered Balea at the only Ice Hotel in Romania (not as cold as you'd imagine!) where we tried out snowshoeing. We explored the colourful town of Brasov, home to the gothic Black Church dating back to the 14th century and watched a local blacksmith at work in the charming village of Viscri.
Romania is a country full of contrasts, but not always top of everyone’s travel lists. I found it really surprising that in some areas it felt like I was visiting somewhere still very untouched by tourism, which is virtually unheard of in European countries. If you’re after something a little bit different with an intriguing history, striking landscapes and folk culture then Romania would be the perfect choice for your next trip.