Postcard from Transylvania

My journey to Romania started in a Chiswick bookshop. Our Transylvania destination guide recommends a few books; standing in the travel section William Blacker’s Along the Enchanted Way looked just the ticket for a taste of northern Romania. By the time we reached Copsamare Guesthouses I’d already been charmed by the country folk and entertained by gypsy life…

Landing at Targu-Mures airport (which I knew to be pronounced ‘Teergu-Muresh’ thanks to a tip-off from my Romanian friend, Anelis), we were excited to be taking a hour-and-a-half drive to the centuries-old Saxon village where we were staying the weekend. Then as the charming car rental guy gestured to a medical kit and emergency reflective jackets in the boot of our tiny Fiat, a few nerves were piqued about our winter drive through the Carpathian Mountains…

We needn’t have felt worried. Our only competitors for road space were horse-drawn carts laden with logs – the main local transport. Driving through hamlets of pretty brown, red, blue, green, purple and yellow cottages, the biggest challenge was dodging cows and chickens. Rumbling down a bumpy dirt road, we overtook a man laden with a huge bundle of branches. He was on foot, miles from anywhere, carrying sticks. Where was he going? What was he going to do with them? It was eye-opening to know that some of my fellow Europeans still live such a pre-industrial life. Even the GPS looked bewildered: it reckoned we were in the middle of a field. A reassuring peek at an old-fashioned road map confirmed we were almost at Biertan (pictured top right), a World Heritage site and the nearest town to Copsa Mare. How magical must this part of the world be in the sunny blossom-filled months: trees laden with fruit, herbs and fragrant wildflowers at the edge of lush, terraced vineyards. For us it was autumnal: we visited in December just before a wintery sprinkling of snow.

A road sign nudged us down a bumpy road through more pastel-toned houses – some peeling, others just-painted – and through neatly harvested fields of wheat. A turreted fortified church still looms over Copsa Mare’s cluster of side-to-side Saxon cottages, guiding us down into the village. Though the 16th-century church has long-since fallen into disrepair, and the village’s many German-origin inhabitants all but gone post-1989, the next generation of Transylvanians are visible everywhere. A teenager was at the well filling a bucket, while a toddler scampered with puppies and kittens across the main track.

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