Category Archives: Muntenia

Nicolae Balcescu Mansion and history

By | Destinations, Muntenia, Rural break, Trips, Weekly secret | No Comments

The indicator to Bălcescu Mansion first appears somewhere after Dedulești, at the foothill of Meridionali Carpathians, when you are almost in Râmnicu Vâlcea. If you are travelling a lot to Transylvania and Oltenia, you cannot miss it every time you pass by, so you start growing a curiosity regarding the place.

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Here, mansion means a house in the Romanian Brâncoveanu style (refers to houses built during 1688-1714, when Constantin Brâncoveanu was the ruler of Wallachia – Țara Românească – the southern part of now Romania), with gothic influences, built up a hill in the first half of the 19th century. The kula (fortified house built in 18th-19th centuries) near the gate, the counter forts, the big veranda windows, the two staircases which lead to the main entrance are enough for the architecture geeks to congratulate themselves for taking a detour and visiting this place.

Nicolae Balcescu’s home

The mansion belongs to the family of Nicolae Bălcescu – a Romanian Wallachian soldier, historian, journalist, and leader of the 1848 Wallachian Revolution. He was born in 1819 in Bucharest and died in exile, in Palermo, aged 33. His family was of low-ranking nobility back then, but looking at the house we would say they were rich.

He was a passionate scholar, furthering his history studies in France and Italy. His liberal views, together with those of his friends that studied in Western Europe, helped the 1848 revolution in Wallachia (back then Romania did not exist). He was, for just two days, both Minister and Secretary of State of the provisional government put in place by the revolutionaries.

You will not find everywhere a house that can take you back two centuries ago. Once you enter, time travelling starts. You step into the saloon, in the dinning room, in Bălcescu’s family bedroom, you come across the place Nicolae Bălcescu grew up with his mother and his four brothers. How they all used to fit in the last room’s small bed remains a mistery…

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You step on the same floor he did, you watch the same beams he did. You admire the garden and the back green hill and you think how much he had to miss these images when he was denied access into our country and he had to die exiled, in Palermo (after the Ottoman Empire restrained the revolution in September 1848, Bălcescu was first arrested, then exiled by the Habsburg Empire).

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Unfortunately, time travelling doesn’t last for long. You can enjoy the Biedermayer furniture only in four rooms, the traditional carpets, ceramics by Corbi (a famous pottery center, which lost its craft in the last ten years) and by Curtea de Argeș. In the other rooms of the mansion we can see an exhibition dedicated to Nicolae Bălcescu, the kind that bores and amazes in the same time.

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Amazes because it is the same for years, so you can see the great communist way of decorating: glass panels for maps and documents, with black letters carefully glued on them, wooden showcases used to present very important documents. It becomes boring because of the same reasons. The exhibition is not doing much for making the regular visitor, Romanian or foreigner, to get closer to Bălcescu’s figure and to understand a bit more about his role in the 1848 big changes.

He was a liberal militating for the introduction of the universal vote and for the peasant appropriation. The revolution didn’t achieve its targets at the moment, but in early 1859, at the close of a turbulent period, Wallachia and Moldavia entered a personal union, later formalized as the Romanian United Principalities, under Moldavian-born ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza (himself a former revolutionary). Cuza followed the revolutionaries goals and achieved numerous reforms that helped the peasants and the establishment of more modern times.

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Fortunately, at the end of the exhibition tour you end up in the veranda and wonder if you could stay there for hours, with a book and a cup of tea and you would look for inspiration, as the artists who came here probably did. In 1948, Radu Mandrea, one of the Bălcescu family descendants, was forced to donate the domain to the State. A few years later, the communist regime found a big interest in Bălcescu’s figure and the place was transformed into a museum.

On a more happy note, there’s still the garden. With Bălcescu family’s church, moved out of the village, into the mansion domain, with Sevastița Bălcescu’s grave (Bălcescu’s mother), with a big yellow magnolia. The place gives a good vibe, so you might consider taking a blanket and some sandwiches along, for a small picnic.

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Good to know

  • When you enter the gate, there’s a strong ring letting the museum personnel know they have guests, so if you are a big group, you might want to go in all at once.
  • The entrance fee is less then 1 EUR per person; the fee for a guided tour is 1 EUR and the photo fee is also 1 EUR

Our big plan is an Oltenia tour, that will happen this year in June, which will include Nicolae Balcescu Mansion. Our smaller plan are special trips in Oltenia and Muntenia which will include seeing this jewelry on the way. Find more about what are we planning for you on our Join us on trip! page.

Prahova Valley tour and history

By | Muntenia, Trips, Urban break | No Comments

Check out our Prahova Valley tour by car, best during weekdays. Get a taste of Romanian history, from medieval times until now!

Did you ever wonder how to get to Dracula’s Castle from Bucharest? What else to see in the area and where to eat? This is where we can be of help, because we gathered all the info you need in one place.

Day 1 Sinaia

Bucharest – Ploieşti – Sinaia (2 hrs by car)

Sinaia – Buşteni (30 min by car)

  • Buşteni – Babele by cable car (17 EUR, return ticket)
  • Cantacuzino Castle (1 hr, 5 EUR, the entry is every hour)
  • Dinner at La Cerdac restaurant
  • Accommodation at Vila Leonida (40-50 EUR/double room, breakfast included )

Day 2 Bran

Buşteni – Râşnov (40 min by car)

Râşnov – Bran (15 min by car)

  • Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) – (1 hr, 8 EUR)
  • Lunch at Taverna Lupilor – (1 hr and 30 min, 20 – 25 EUR)
  • the picturesque villages of Măgura Branului and Peştera – (2-3 hrs of wandering and exploring)

Coming back on the wonderful Rucăr – Bran Corridor and then on Piteşti – Bucharest highway (3 hrs and 30 min)

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Our historical route begins with Peleș Castle, the summer residence of Carol I, Romania’s first Hohenzollern dynasty king. Back in 1866, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the first prince of the United Territories of Moldova and Țara Românească (we didn’t call ourselves Romania yet) was forced to resign and then the authorities were facing a big problem. Documents stated that the unification of the two lands would be valid only during Cuza’s seat. The only solution they came up with was bringing a foreign royal house. Peleș Castle was built during 1883 and 1885, following German architect Johannes Schultz’s plans, in a Neo-Renaissance style. The royal family would spend six months of the year over at Sinaia and the castle was a residence for them until 1947, when the communist regime nationalized the property. Starting 2007, the castle is property of King Mihai I (our last king and one of the few alive leaders from the second WW), being managed as a museum and national institution by the Romanian State.

Besides the regular visiting tour, you can see the castle during other events as well: The egg hunt – organized each year, on the Saturday before Easter, The sound of music concerts, temporary exhibitions.

We go on with Bușteni – Babele cable car, built during 1974 and 1977, when our communist leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu asked the Tourism Minister back then for some rejuvenating tourism projects. This cable car is the first one in Romania to go up from 850 m (Bușteni city) to 2300 m (Bucegi plateau, near Babele Hut). The view from pillars 4 and 5 offers you the 28 m tall Nation’s Heroes Cross, built during 1926-1928, on the Caraiman Mountain (2291 m), to honor those who fought during first World War. You will see also Jepilor Valley and behind, on the other side of the road, Baiului Mountains.

Cantacuzino Castle takes us back to the reign of Carol I. The castle was built in 1911, at the request of Prince Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino (Nababul), ex Romanian Interior Minister during 1899-1900 and 1904-1907. Direct descender of Constantin Brâncoveanu (ruler of Țara Românească – the south part of later named Romania, back in 1688-1714) he had a colossal fortune, so he was nicknamed Nababul (term originating from medieval times, used to point out rich noblemen). Out of his pocket came funds for great buildings such as Bucharest’s Cantacuzino Palace (now the George Enescu Museum), Bușteni’s Cantacuzino Castle and Florești’s Cantacuzino Palace, also known as The Little Trianon.

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The castle in Bușteni is built in Neo-Romanian style, following architect Grigore Cerchez’s plans, being surrounded by a wonderful park with small caves, waterfalls and fountains.

Also inspired by members of the royal family, general Paul Leonida plans a vacation house in the area. Off Zamora’s Hill, the general wanted to have the overview of Baiului and Bucegi Mountains, as well as the recently built first World War Heroes Cross, from the comfort of his veranda.

Vila Leonida was bought by Drulă Family in 2009 and restored for the interwar atmosphere in which it was built.

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Second day takes us further back, in medieval times. Râșnov Fortress is first mentioned in 1335 documents, during a Turkish invasion. Despite all, there is archaeological proof that indicates the presence of fortification elements on the Fortress’ Hill, dating the Bronze Age. It might have been the Dacian fortress Comidava and a wooden Teutonic fortress (1211-1225).

The fortress survived several Turkish attacks, rulers constant changing and it was a great shelter for Râșnov citizens, during wars. It was restored after the 1940 earthquake and it was then used as a movie set for the historical films Dacii 1966 (The Dacians) and Nemuritorii 1974 (The Immortals), directed by Romanian Sergiu Nicolaescu.

Bran Castle’s history also starts with Teutonic knights. They built a fortress here in 1211, but they were chased out in 1226. In 1377, the Hungarian king who was ruling over Brașov area at that time allowed Saxons to build a castle. They were building until 1388 and during several decades the castle had a double role: of fortress and custom as well, for Transylvania’s East border, destined to try stopping the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire from expanding on our lands.

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The only historical connection that Bran has with Vlad Țepeș (Vlad The Impaler who inspired Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula) is the 1459 incursion of his army in the Brașov area. Țepeș burnt from scratch the city’s suburbs and killed hundreds of Saxons because they were asking for bigger custom fees for Țara Românească (South part of now Romania, which he was then ruling) and they were also supportive with Vlad’s opponent for his throne. The Saxon community painted him as an oppressor in written Chronicles, as a revenge maneuver.

The Castle was bought by Brașov’s community in 1651 and since then it had multiple functions (including a Hut for the Forest District) until 1920 when the local council gave it to Queen Mary of Romania. She made a royal family residence out of it and before she died she bequeathed it to Princess Ileana. In 1948, the communist government forces Princess Ileana to leave the country and not until 1990 (after the 1989 Romanian revolution, when we regained democracy) could she get the right to revisit the castle.

Since 2009, the Castle is owned by inheritors Princess Ileana, Archduke Dominic, Archduchess Maria Magdalena and Archduchess Elisabeth.

Măgura and Peștera villages offer an unforgivable view of Bucegi and Piatra Craiului Mountains. If you want to relax and step into a quiet place, we highly recommend a 3 km trek, up the hills.

The Rucăr-Bran Corridor is a tectonic one, separating Bucegi and Leaota Mountains from Piatra Craiului and Iezer-Păpușa Mountains. Following this natural corridor, authorities built DN73 road which becomes more and more off-road as it goes up, with lots of curves, reaching Fundata town, at over 1000 m heights. If you want to stop on the road, you have attractions for another 2 days route.

Costs

The costs for the route we just described can reach 125 EUR/ person, depending where and what you choose to eat.

By car, the route is 425 km long, so gas could cost around 35 EUR. To rent a car for 2 days you might have to pay 100 EUR or more, plus a warranty tax for the firm.

Guided tours

For exploring less known areas around Brașov, you can choose a guide’s services.. Dan Chitila can show you Măgura and Peștera villages by foot. Also, he can take you up in Baiului Mountains, to enjoy the view from Piscul Câinelui (Dog’s Crag).

Photo credits  Castelul Peleş – foto by Camil Iamandescu