One of my favourite things in life is to travel to a place yet to be discovered. I selfishly enjoy being alone in a lost monastery, far away beach or a hidden canyon. Romania is not a completely undiscovered destination, nowadays there are even plenty of organized tours around the country. However, besides its beautiful Transylvanian cities and castles, its crazy capital and mountain resorts, the rest of the country remains relatively unexplored. Around 150 Fortified Churches all over Transylvania defended Europe from the continuous attacks of the Ottomans and Tatars during centuries. The best way to visit them is to set camp in beautiful medieval Sighişoara.
A friend and I decided to visit Romania in 2012. We tried to travel the country by bus, but somehow most of the buses listed on the internet didn’t exist. So after failing to get on a bus from Timişoara to Sibiu, and another failed attempt to get on a bus to Braşov we decided that hitchhiking could save our plans. Though a friend recommended it, I was a bit reluctant due to inexperience. It turned out to be a complete success! We travelled by car, pickup truck, heavy truck, and even almost ended up in a tractor. Plus we met so many interesting fun people and communicated in all kind of languages including the body one.
There was just one situation in which we didn’t feel that comfortable. On our way to a monastery church a very fancy car with extremely loud music stopped to pick us. We were on a minor road with few cars passing by, so we decided to hop on. Our scary looking driver spoke loudly and asked us what we were doing in Romania. We mentioned the famous Saxon Monasteries and that was it, he started screaming at us that they were all crap, we should better visit Romanian orthodox churches! He kept driving like crazy and singing to the loud music but left us safe and sound where we wanted.
Later on, while riding on a very large lorry on the main Road no. 14, my friend Luciana saw some local people selling beautiful pottery on the road. She started taking pictures from the cabin. Immediately our driver stopped the huge vehicle in the middle of the road telling us we could take all the pictures we wanted, ignoring the huge queue of cars honking behind us!
Sighişoara, the only inhabited medieval fortress in Eastern Europe, is a small city built by German Saxons in the 12th Century. Numerous historical buildings such as a large Clock Tower, a Covered Staircase and a Church on the Hill are set within the fortress on top of the hill. It was an important town in the Middle Ages inhabited by many artisans and craftsmen. Today it is just a small city popular among tourists.
Of the 150 surviving fortified churches, 7 are registered Unesco’s list of World Heritage Sites. Four of them are located less than 50 km from the city, mostly in villages far from main roads. It took us 2 days hitchhiking to reach 3 of them. While Biertan lies halfway between Sighişoara and Mediaş. Saschiz and Viscri are located on the road to Braşov or not far from. Without planning to, we visited Mediaş. It didn’t disappoint us.
The Viscri fortified church south of Buneşti on Road No. 13 is probably the oldest church in Transylvania. The current Saxon monastery was built in the 13th century on the grounds of a small chapel built by the Hungarian Szekely population. An oval fortification with four towers overlooking the complex surrounds it. The Saschiz fortified church is the most accessible, close to Road No. 13. Built in the 15th century it was later fortified, but only the characteristic 17th century tower has survived until today. The Biertan fortified church south of Şaroş pe Târnave on Road No. 14 is a large three nave church, built in the late 15th century. It has three different fortifications with nine towers.
Happy Frog is promoting undiscovered locations and alternative ways to travel. Transylvanian fortified churches are completely tourist free and are great places to get to know rural Romania. If you don’t care to drive yourself, the only way to visit them is to take up the challenge of hitchhiking. Romania is currently building several important motorways, so go now, before they are finished, while the existing national roads are still used.
Happy Frog recommends staying at Burg Hostel