Peles & Bran Castles

Romania especially Transylvania is loaded with castles, one more scenic and beautiful than other but the most famous of course is Bran or Dracula castle and in my earlier ignorance I thought that was the only hotspot in the country, how wrong I was!

We travelled by car and saw both Peles and Bran castles in a day on the way to Brasov. It is very easily doable and we had a great day with amazing rural scenery as well as the castles.

Peles castle is located in Sinaia city on top of the hill and it takes roughly 2 hours from Bucharest city centre to get there. The castle was a summer palace for the German king Carol I and most of the people like us see it because it is on-the-way but the opinion changed the moment I stepped inside the castle.

If I had the chance again I’d see Bran castle first and Peles later because Bran castle is very rudimentary and basic compared to Peles. It has its own charm though and the intrigue comes from the beautiful Transylvanian forests around the castle standing atop a sordid mountain.

Going with Tour

A tour of Peles, Bran and possibly Rasnov castles in a day is very popular and you can book it online and also through tourism info offices. They pick you at 8am and drop you back at 8pm.

Bucharest to Sinaia (Peles Castle)

We left bucharest around 10am after picking up our car from SixT which turned our bill from €52 to €106 with magic, never again SixT!

Tip: The best time to leave is around 9:30 -10am because most of the tourist tour operators leave around 8 am causing a bit of a rush at that time.

We started from the city centre towards Brasov and after the airport started the scenery that just blew our minds away. The roads were clear despite snow and we didn’t have any disruption at any point even on the single road later.

The road from Bucharest to Peles is double and very good but there is a severe lack of service areas. We hadn’t had any breakfast. After looking around for half an hour we finally found a road side restaurant which was good but I’d recommend eating before leaving.

The scenery on both sides of the road is stunning, snow covered trees that on a grey cloudy day would scare any one and make you think of vampires, the barren branches and thick forest till your eyes can see. After a while you will see the River flowing next to the road which goes all the way to Sinaia, frozen at some spots and flowing in others. The day was nice and sunny and 2 hours passed without realising much.

The old houses build with wood are fascinating and with so many designs and types it was a sight especially near Comarnic where the houses were really beautiful.

We didn’t go into Sinaia but it looked like a typical countryside town with wooden houses, snow and some shops. The drive up to the castle is short and in a couple of minutes you will arrive at the parking area beyond which you can only go on foot.

We walked up and got to this beautiful castle which looks like a jewel from a distance sitting on top of the hill with its beautiful gardens and the grassy grounds around it covered with snow.

Peles Castle

You don’t have to be a genius to realise why this place was chosen by the German king for his summer residence. Even from far you can imagine yourself on top of the tower enjoying the views of the forest behind and across and the beautiful snow covered Carpathian mountains, I could imagine the range of colours that must run through this place in summer.

The walk to the entrance was quite long because you have to go around the grounds in front of castle but we finally go to the castle. The beautiful building is disintegrating but you can still see the care with which it was built especially the wooden balconies and the beautiful tower.

We bought the tickets and waited for the tour to start which happens every 20 minutes. You will need to pay extra 45 Lei if you want to take pictures but I am not entirely sure if it is official because it was a bit hush hush and no one gave any receipt for it.

Finally the tour started and we entered the main hall of castle after covering our shoes and at that one single point I realised what a wonder this place was..

The main hall and every single room is decorated with extreme care and with so much dedication, it is almost impossible to find a comparable example. It was the first castle in Europe to get electricity and since there are no windows the roof opens and closes with electricity, a triumph of engineering at the time.

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The Ceiling

You will walk through the armoury which has some stunning weapons (old style and a big metallic statue and knight)

to the Kings room where he took audiences

ending in the library which housed books in Romanian, English, German and French. Apparently there is a secret tunnel that goes through the book cases, they didn’t let us open it though, who knows what we’d find in there.

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The Library

The rest of the rooms are designed in different styles taking their inspiration from a range of places. This includes a Turkish smoking room, a Moorish style Alhambra inspired room, Italian, French and even an English one.

My favourite rooms…

There is even a cinema in there but we were not so keen on spending a full hour with the tour so we wrapped in up and stayed in the main hall for a few more minutes enjoying this beautiful castle, their impeccable taste and the detailed work that was brought over from workshops of Vienna and Germany. The palace is a representation of the subjects the German kings had from Turks to Romanians to Germans and Hungarians…

Tip: If you have more time there is another smaller castle called Pelisor right next to Peles castle. I have heard it is also good and it is just a few minutes away.

I felt good listening to the advice and coming to this stunning castle. I don’t think I have seen anywhere so beautiful and so well placed, we walked back in a bit of awe of this place but it was time to get to Bran Castle.

Sinaia to Bran

The drive from Sinaia to Bran is an hour long and the road is single for most of the journey. We grabbed some boiled corn to enjoy on the way from the huts outside Peles castle..

We passed through the forest and jungles and some really sudden turns but the drive was very pleasant.

We arrived in Bran and parked our car and there we realised what Tourism does to a place. While Peles was still very rural with a few locals selling stuff, the entrance and surroundings of Bran castle have been turned into a tourist attraction with some restaurants and even a scary house with some devilish laughter blaring out on loud speaker, tacky is the word to describe it.

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The House of Horrors (apparently…)

Bran Castle

We purchased the tickets and entered the place 10 minutes it closed. It closes at 4 in Winters so take that into account. The walk up is short but steep and when we finally arrived at the door, it was covered is scaffolding; it was such a massive disappointment n top of the sun that decided to come out that day of all days to ruin my view.

I am just being a baby, it really was very beautiful with the thick forest around. The castle inside is very basic and rudimentary with whitewashed walls and ceilings and basic furniture. The rooms and corridors are quite small and at a lot of places I had to duck to move. It is a maze and a lot of times you don’t know where in the castle you are.

There is a small hidden passage that is open for everyone and if you are claustrophobic, don’t go in, it is really narrow and I felt a little dizzy..

Fun Fact: Despite the famous novel of Bram Stoker and its international fame and movies, Vlad Tepes had nothing to do with the castle. He was reportedly captured and kept here as a prisoner for a couple of months.

You will see the details of Vlad and Dracula and Bran as well as local superstitious figures called Strigoi which were the disturbed spirits of dead and the whole thing around them; some one must have come up with that to exploit the poor villagers, I wish I could invent something like that and run it as a business on the side 😉

After an hour in and around the maze, we finally grew tired and I had a spa appointment in Brasov as well, we decided to leave. It was the perfect time to see this beauty in shadows. We drove past the castle in opposite direction and there we saw the majesty of this beautiful stunner in darkening light. I couldn’t stop admiring the way it strokes your imagination. I am sure Bram Stoker had felt the same way.

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The beauty..

The forest around the castle..

Bran to Brasov

The drive from Bran to Brasov is quite short and we got there in 40-50 minutes. Despite the road getting darker it was still very comfortable. I must give it to the Romanian government for keeping the roads open with all that snow around, we did get a lot of pot holes though which reminded me of rural roads in Pakistan, ah the joys of travelling…

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Encamp & Grandvalira

The longest cable car in Europe starts at Encamp and ends at Solanelles in the Grandvalira ski resort. The cable car is 6 km long and takes you from point A to B in just 18 minutes with a stop in between for some more panoramic views.

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Encamp

Encamp is located just 5kms from Andorra-la-Vella and Escaldes-Engordany, the main urban shopping area and I took L2 from the city centre to Encamp that took only 10-15 minutes and drops you right in front of the cable car. Encamp itself is quite small and is a little sleepy but it is at such an angle you get to see the sunlight in the morning. If you are a skiing enthusiast this will open the world with the largest ski slopes in the whole if South Europe and Pyranees mountains.

The bus dropped me in front of Funicamp cable car station and I bought the tickets which were roughly €12 return without skiing. The station is well equipped with lockers, WiFi and 8 levels of parking and the day I went was quiet so no long queues.

Funicamp

The cable car is just as exciting as the views on the top. I waited for 5 minutes and managed to get on a cable car alone and then the journey began. It takes you through thick forests up to where the snow sporadically appears to thickly covered snowy mountains. The climb up is quite vertical and at times you feel like you could touch the tree tops but obviously its quite far below. You can see the beautiful valleys of Andorra below at at 25 km/h it is quite calm and serene.

You will reach the first stop which has a restaurant and a viewing area but I didn’t bother stepping out because I was hungry and more interested in eating on the top.

On the way back I took a hyper lapse video of the journey, it is below, enjoy the views..

     

Solanelles (GrandValira)

Finally I reached the top after 15-20 minutes from the start of my journey and 30-40 minutes from my residence which is pretty impressive considering how far off it is.

The views on the top are just breathtaking, I popped into the skiing school and the cafeteria next to it and ordered my awesome four cheese sandwich and cappuccino. The food was good but the view was just breathtaking. You can see vast valleys, snow clad mountains and luckily it was quite sunny on the day so the views were even better.

The skiing resort is absolutely stunning, if you love skiing you can get more detailed information here.  I saw a lot of people skiing in different directions and there were two or three different chair and standing lifts to bring them back up to the top.

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I walked slightly up to the top of the mountain in the middle and saw the beauty of this tiny country in a single glance. You cannot stop yourself from falling in love with the stunning views. I made my way down after a couple of hours of roaming around, soaking up some sun. (Don’t forget to put some sunscreen on, sun that high up is very harmful for your skin).

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I managed to get back on the cable car alone and finally reached encamp and headed back to Andorra le Vella to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening in Caldea..

Budva & Sveti Stefan

Budva is an amazing town with everything you need from Casinos to hotels to good night life and not to forget beaches and sun. The moment you see the town from the top of mountains you get an amazing feeling. We drove from Podgorica Airport to Budva which took roughly 1 hour but the drive was scenic and the plenty of stop to make to feel the raw energy of this beautiful country.

We got an apartment through Airbnb which was near Jadranski Put which is the main street that goes through Budva. It was close to the beach and Stari Grad, the old town.

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View from balcony

Ricardo Glava and Stari Grad

The old town of Budva or Stari Grad is a labyrinth of small stone streets, small and well put together houses, restaurants, cafes and loads of tour operators, churches and tourists. The only locals you will find here are the ones who work in the shops or restaurants…

The churches are small and beautiful and the simplistic look makes them very elegant, something that the massive cathedrals lack mostly…

We headed to Ricardo Glava with our beach towels excited to splash some water and get some sun (honestly London can make you crazy like that even at the end of November where you feel like you haven’t had sun in 7 years). The beach was small and the water was not very clear but the sun and drinks totally made up for other things.

We headed on foot to Porto restaurant which was highly recommended by our host through the cobbled streets of Stari Grad and after a massive seafood platter and seafood risotto dinner we decided to head home for some rest.

The walk home was lazy and nice and we spotted a shisha place to sit with blankets and chill with some green tea, shisha, detox juice and a few games of cards. What an amazing end to the day…

Mogren Beach

Mogren beach lies right next to Ricardo Glava beach and a small path leads you to this beautiful sandy beach which itself is divided into Mogren 1 and Mogren 2. Now unlike almost all beaches in Montenegro this is relatively sandy beach and you will find a lot of people here; clear water, sand and proximity to city centre being the reasons so plan carefully…

Oh.. oh.. oh before I forget don’t forget to say hello to the ballet dancer statue on the way to Mogren. There’s a few stories about her; one around her death by drowning, another about how she appeared to sailors and saved their lives and one more about her being really beautiful and artist being in love with her. Whatever the real reason she is famous and deserves a good selfie or a photo 😉

It’s a beautiful beach though and we spent almost a full day there after a heavy full breakfast and a massage at the Mogren Hotel by amazing Diana. (My legs still thank you Diana)…

On the top

The way to Kotor bay is loaded with amazing views especially this restaurant we stopped at for breakfast. The views are really amazing with amazing blue water, perfect green mountains and beaches all over the place. It’s also the better side because just after a few minutes you’re on top whereas if you’re coming from East side it’s either flat or too high for you to actually have a clear idea about the place.

On the way back in the evening, we loved the view from same spot which was for the whole city and especially Sveti Stefan which glows like a gem in a very distinguished manner, breathtaking!!!

Przno & Sveti Stefan 

On the day we went to Sveti Stefan our host recommended parking the car in Przno and walking from przno beach to Sveti Stefan and oh lord, was she right!

We parked the car at Przno and went downstairs to the beach to begin a 2km walking trails through forest and beach and sun, natural beauty just thrown at you at every turn and the best part was when we first had a glimpse of Sveti Stefan.. it just appeared after a turn between the trees like a calendar picture, absolutely amazing.

The slightly sad part is that most beaches here are exclusive including the first beach after you reach there which costs €80 for an umbrella and 2 sun beds or you could get the same thing a few meters away on the south side of beach for €20, you choose.. (that’s how they keep the beach exclusive to hotel guests).

Unfortunately you can only go inside Sveti Stefan if you have a room reservation which was around €900 a night in November when I randomly checked… it is a stunning sight though and the south side beach is quite stunning with clear water and who doesn’t like good pictures with exclusive resorts in the background 😉

Lucice Beach

The last beach we covered after Sveti Stefan was Lucice to watch the sunset on the recommendation of Tourism office. (This was the only useful piece of info we got throughout our stay from tourism offices, they were generally unaware of most things even in the immediate vicinity)…

I took a timelapse of the sunset which I am very proud of because the sunset was absolutely beautiful and we just sat in trance watching the sun going down with such utter serenity, I felt like I didn’t want anything else in my life at that point, I’ll never forget it…

Nightlife and food

Nightlife in Budva is centred around the Slovenian beach where you will find plenty of beach clubs and bars. Since we went at the end of season the places weren’t exceptionally busy and we were generously given free drinks to balanace foreigners with locals. We spent a night in Ambiatique club on the beach and absolutely loved the vibe and music which was very upbeat, unfortunately the music turned more and more Serbian as the night went along and we left around 1.. it was a fun night though..

I couldn’t find any dedicated gay bars or clubs in Budva and there weren’t many guys around on Grindr either but I was fine with that because most of the guys there were blissfully ignorant of the modern day physique complexes and 6pack abs pressure and fairly average looking…

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Astoria and our last night..

For our final night we decided to bid farewell to Montenegro in style and go for dinner at the beach to Astoria at the corner of Stari Grad. The food was great and especially the fresh grilled fish and seafood risotto still make me lick my lips, the fat child inside me slept very happy that night… the food was roughly €20 each (insane right?)

To finish it off we decided to go for a couple of card games and shisha at Babaluu. The manager was nice enough to send us some complimentary detox juices when we weren’t allowed to play cards (and he was good looking for a change..).

We loved every minute of Budva and highly recommend it for a great end of season visit so pack your bags and book your flights today…