I was still getting to grips with travelling to cities in Europe and wanted to try something a little different than the usual museums, famous landmarks and drinking wine in the tourist trap streets. I came across an opportunity, which was being promoted as a “once in a lifetime” experience in an Ice Hotel in Romania.
I had heard of ice hotels in places like Finland or Sweden, but not about there one being in Romania. The best thing was the cost of the experience, so if you are on a budget like me, this should be added to your bucket list if not already on there. Reading through the itinerary, I signed up for the tour and it was the best decision I had ever made for a fraction of the cost had I have gone to Finland or Sweden.
I arrived in Bucharest at 11 am and the tour rep was waiting at the arrivals to transfer all passengers to the hotel we were staying at in Bucharest. The journey took around 40 minutes, which passed rather quickly while I was taking in the views from the coach windows. The first night was at the Z Hotel, which was on a side street near the university and in walking distance to the main city centre.The hotel was very modern and cosmopolitan with great chic furnishings in purples, blacks and pinks, which can make anyone, feel like a celebrity in a 5star.
After settling in, I was welcomed with a complimentary glass of wine with the rep who talked us through the itinerary, confirmed dietary requirements and collected monies for any activities we wanted to do in the ice hotel. I took a package deal for 155RON, which included snowmobiling, tubing and snow rafting. I didn’t know how extreme these would be, but didn’t want to miss this opportunity; you never know when you might get to try these again.
The afternoon was spent taking a walking tour of Bucharest and seeing the main landmarks it had to offer. The grandest has to be the parliament building, which apparently is the largest in Europe and is at the most central location of the city. If you are in Bucharest then be sure to give this place a visit, you’ll not be disappointed. I continued with the tour, which lasted for three hours before heading back to the hotel for a refresh before heading out for dinner. Ask the tour host about the tour, or if you want to do one of your own the Walkabout free walking tour is a good option which the hotel staff can direct you to. Bucharest as the city is still fresh and really does give you the feel of how a country embraced its freedom post the communist era.
After the tour, we headed back to the hotel to refresh for dinner at the Caru CuBere which is a Bavarian-style pub serving traditional Romanian food. The menu is very extensive including steaks, goulash and local salads if you fancy a lighter option. After dinner, we had our first try of Palinka, which is the Romanian equivalent to brandy but just stronger. If your feeling cold this will heat you up instantly such is the strength of it.
Welcome to Transylvania
The next day started early to start the long road trip towards Transylvania, Dracula’s home region. The drive up to Transylvania is a very interesting gone giving you so much of the country to take in in its rawness. You really get to capture the culture, the tradition and the nature of the country. The journey can take a number of hours so do ensure you have plenty of water and perishables with you to keep you going until you reach your stop.
The first stop at midday was the ever so beautiful Pelé’s Castle. This was the first ever castle in Europe to have electricity and is so elegant yet so modern in its design. Inside you get to see the royally decorated rooms, the grand chandeliers and the huge Venetian mirrors, which one just looks into and admires. I had a very interesting and educating tour of the castle with an English tour guide, however, please be advised that you cannot take any photo unless you have paid for the privilege which is 30RON extra of your entry ticket. If you like castles, this one is a must for you as the exterior is just phenomenal. After the tour and some lunch close by, the journey continued until we reached our stopover for the night, Brasov. This has to be the most gothic city I have come across and really does just as being the main places to visit when in Transylvania. The city features the medieval Church which is the largest of its kind, plenty of clock towers with high spires and proudly sits under a large Hollywood-style sign on the cliffs of which can be seen directly from the town square. Brasov has a number of sights to explore of which the most striking is The Black Church. This is the most known or the most represented building in Brasov and given this name due to a fire it experienced long ago in its history. It can be seen standing tall from all parts of the city with its huge spire. The church features some of the most amazing collections of artifacts in Europe and some great stories to itself. If you take one of Brasov’s walking tours you will be amazed as its long history. Don’t forget to ask about the mystery of the painting.
Another interesting thing in Brasov is the claim to having the narrowest street in the world. This does not usually feature in any guide books or as a point of interest but still worth a visit so do ensure to ask you tour guide or the hotel to direct you to this.
I really enjoyed the time spent in Brasov under the Hollywood-like sign and the very traditional hotel where the night was spent.
The Ice Adventure Begins
The morning started with the journey towards the ice hotel, which is located in the Balea Lake mountain area of Romania. On approaching you come across the amazing road, which was voted at the best in the world by Top Gear. Most of the road is usually closed during the winter and is buried under heavy snowfall leaving cable cars being the only method of transport to go any further.
Once you spot the red cable Car cabins it begins to set in that the adventure of a lifetime is about to begin. The cable car takes around 15 minutes to take you to the peak of the snow-covered mountain to the top where the ice hotel is located.
Make sure you stand near the windows to get a full panoramic view of the snow-covered area, which is a postcard, perfect. On disembarking the cable car the first thing you see coming out of the terminal building is the ice hotel which is one of the most stunning sights ever, I felt I was in a magical wonderland. If you love Frozen this surely will be your fairytale castle for the day. There are in total three buildings, which are sculpted from ice blocks, the grand ice hotel itself, the igloo for those wanting a little more privacy and the chapel. For anyone feeling the chills already, there is a chalet too where you can head for some lunch or a couple of drinks. Each of the room’s inside the main hotel building is themed individually with a sculpture related to the theme inside the room. These varied from Star Wars to Titanic as the main theme was movies at the time of my visit.
As there is limited space it is advised to carry a small backpack with just the bare essentials you might need for the night as storage is very minimal and you will need to drag everything up the mountain so avoid a large suitcase. Once I had some lunch it was out into the snow to try out the activities I had booked myself in for. Now, these may sound rather extreme but once I was there they felt like a piece of cake. The snowmobiling was the best out of the lot of which you are given three laps before handing over the mobile to the next person waiting. The staff provides the goggles so just ensure you are wearing your snow pants, waterproof gloves and a hat to keep you warm and dry. If you are starting to feel the chills after all the activities, there is a stall conveniently selling hot drinks including mulled wine in the outdoors. Once you have had all the fun in the snow it’s time to clean up and head for dinner. The dinner is part of the ice hotel experience and does cost around 200Ron. The food is served inside the ice hotel and is made up of 4 courses, a butternut soup as an appetiser, a tortellini salad for starters, your main course which for me was a potato gratin and then a desert which was chocolate pudding served on a plate made of ice. The food was great but be sure to eat it quick as it does get cold within seconds. The selection may not be very experimental but the feeling of having a meal in a dining room made of ice is just unreal so do not skip this one.
After dinner, the ice hotel just turns into a disco with music being played by the in-house DJ until 11pm. and then it was off to bed, which is definitely another experience waiting to happen. The beds are sculpted from ice blocks covered in fur lined shag piles. You are provided with a sleeping bag to keep dry on the ice beds but by morning these were soaking so wear as many layers as you can, off course you can take them off if it gets too hot. As the whole room is made of ice it’s advisable to wear all your layers, as they would just get wet if you were to put them aside.
The chalet does also rent rooms at €100 per night if you do not feel comfortable with sleeping in the Ice hotel itself.
Driving to Dracula
The tour came to an end the morning after, making our way back towards Bucharest admiring the great snow covered scenery again. On route, the final most stop is made at the world famous Bran Castle, better known as Dracula’s official residence. On arrival, you are required to take a 10-minutes walk up the hilltop before you arrive at the castle itself. The castle on first sight is a delight to see, the grand white building with its large rusty orange roof tiles giving it an amazing contrast. The best photo stop is from the balcony as you walk in so keep your cameras ready as it allows you to capture all the best angles of the castle from within. The castle itself feature many rooms all decorated in dark mahogany artifacts, matching the same coloured wooden flooring throughout. I’m sure they offer tours to give you a more in depth insight into the castle’s history, however, I was left to my own devices to explore this great place which was the best closure I could get to my Romanian adventure.
Initially, I was pretty nervous about the whole trip but looking back this has been one of most exciting experiences I have had whilst exploring Europe and it definitely has brought me out off my comfort zone. I recommend this to anyone wanting to have a taste of snow activities, or just want to mix a city break with a little adventure, as you will not be disappointed. Romania is also one of the easiest countries to get around even if you do not know the local language. Bucharest being the capital has so much to offer if you have time to explore it, from great architecture to amazing coffee houses there is just so much to explore. I know I’ll be back one day to embrace all it has to offer.
The following essentials are highly recommended for the Ice Hotel:
Portable Phone Charger – This is a must as there are no plugs in the Ice Hotel to charge your phone and they can be in high demand at the chalet.
Backpack – You will need this to ensure you are not carrying a lot of weight or bulky luggage when climbing up to the ice hotel complex. Yes, you are getting on a cable car however it does require a steep climb to get to the terminal building.
Towel – This is not provided by the Ice Hotel so ensure you bring one to use in the morning or if you decide to take a shower after the snow activities.
Waterproofs – If you wish to remain dry or warm whilst in the Ice complex, waterproofs are a must especially if you decide to do the snow activities.
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