If you drive just over 100 km north of Bucharest through the Prahova valley into the mountains, you will arrive in the Pearl of the Carpathanians, Sinaia. This journey used to be more of an adventure but with road improvements in recent years getting out of Bucharest is much easier and the Ploiesti bypass is a pleasure to drive (although lane discipline on the new roundabouts can still be an exciting experience). This means that you are quickly approaching the mountains that stand against the skyline, and before you know it you are driving through the villages that mark the final approach to Sinaia.
When you consider the proximity to Bucharest, Sinaia is the ideal destination ski resort when there is snow on the slopes. The downside of this closeness is that a good snow forecast does tend to trigger a Friday afternoon migration from Bucharest to Sinaia with the resultant busy slopes. If you have the opportunity, midweek skiing offers a lot more freedom and less time in lift queues. If you want some extra variety, you can use Sinaia as the base for skiing in different resorts in the Prahova valley, with skiing in Busteni and Azuga being very close by.
For the fans of outdoor activities, Sinaia laso has a lot to offer when the snow has gone. It is possible to rent mountain bikes or quad bikes (ATV’s) to explore the Bucegi Mountains and Baiului Mountains that surround the town.
Whatever the time of year, Sinaia is a lovely town with a rich history in Romanian terms. It makes no tenuous claims to any association with Vlad Tepes (the original character that the Dracula myth is based upon) but it does have Peles Castle as the ace up the sleeve and a variety of attractions capable of meeting multiple requirements.
Built in the latter part of the nineteenth century by King Carol I, the palace is a Bavarian jewel guarded by the surrounding mountains. Rich in interior and exterior decoration, the palace was wrapped in a complex blend of wood carvings and painted scenes from operas by Wagner. Today, Peles is one of the best preserved royal palaces in Europe and arguably the most fabulous palace in Southeast Europe. Peles is an excellent place to visit if you have not been there before, and makes a great destination to take visitors to as well.
If you do visit Peles then it is worth spending some extra time and visiting the neighbouring castle, Pelisor. Pelisor Castle was built in Peles Castle’s park from the desire of King Charles I to offer a residence for the inheritor princes and princess Ferdinand and Marie. Rumour has it that the main reason for the additional castle was that the rigid Carol 1 did not get on very well with the headstrong and very modern Queen Marie so sharing the same space would have been difficult for all.
Pelisor castle still reflects today the strong personality and artistic talents of the Queen Maria, and the Golden room is something to behold. Queen Marie used design cues from Art Nouveau as a weapon against the Bavarian style of Peles and this led her to develop her own style by combining the new style with Celtic elements.
Another notable building in the centre of Sinaia is the casino. This was based upon the casino from Monte Carlo, and at the dawn of the 20th Century it was frequented by royalty and the equivalent of the jet-set (although there is no record of a visit from Henri Coanda). The casino still sits in the centre of the town in the Dimitrie Ghica park and there are often events there from art exhibitions to concerts.
There are also many other architectural gems to be found around Sinaia. As it was the summer residence of the Royal family and the place where the government regularly held its meetings, almost all major families of the country and important politicians built houses in the town. These were beautiful buildings, built with design work from some of the best Romanian architects of the time. Some of these buildings are in need of some tender loving care but others have either survived the neglect of the communist years and subsequent lack of interest or been lovingly restored.
Music lovers can take the time to visit the George Enescu’s Memorial House is situated in the Cumpatu district. The first residence of the Romanian composer, conceived as a place of refuge, it served for many years as a cultural settlement for Romanian and foreign artists. The George Enescu Memorial House currently offers documentary about the life and work of the musician. Once called Villa Luminis, it now offers a special environment where you can still listen to music in the piano lounge.
Even the train spotters out there can find an outlet for their passion. Sinaia is the only city in Romania which can boast two royal train stations. The oldest station was built in 1886 for King Carol I. The famous Orient Express train stopped in this station. The other railway station was built between 1938 and 1940 by King Carol II. This stone building marked by the royal letters of Carol II, still visible today on the door knobs, was solely for the use of the royal family and its guests.
There is also a Miniature Train Museum as the railway station in Sinaia hosts a permanent exhibition of mini trains. The collection was donated by the Drera family for all train lovers and was completed with old engine installations, clocks and telephones donated by the Romanian Railway Company. Among the curiosities you can find here is Ana Pauker’s limousine that runs on rails. Ana Pauker bought a Mercedes, had it adjusted with special train wheels, had the doors bullet-proofed with lead and used it to travel on the railroad. The museum intends to expand its collection every year.
As well as some historical gem, Sinaia is also starting to address the issues of the 21st Century. The Cumpatu district also boasts the first hotel in the Prahova Valley to be awarded the ecolabel for it’s sustainable approach to the environment. Hotel Piatra Soimului became members of the Romanian Green Building Council and embraced the concept during recent redevelopment work to the point of qualifying for the award.
A small group of enthusiasts have formed an organisation called Redescopera (Rediscover) Sinaia to encourage and promote this jewel of a town. This is a combination of Sinaia residents and expatriates united by their vision of a vibrant future for the town. The organization is independent of local government and has clearly taken an ethical approach to the potential development of Sinaia. The group organises regular walking tours of the town to visit some of the architectural highlights, themed weekends featuring events such as gastronomy and photography and other activities for kids. The Redescopera Sinaia website has more details:
If you are looking for a day trip destination with a rich assortment of options or a longer sporting or touring holiday, there is nowhere to rival the attractions of Sinaia within such easy distance to Bucharest.