Review: Romania: Mountains, Monasteries and Medieval Cities with Cox & Kings
Escorted Tour - Coach
The tour didn't live up to the promise - it could have been so much better
5 people found this review helpful
Mention Romania to most people and they will immediately think of Dracula and Bram Stoker. Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Dracula) was a particularly nasty C15th ruler of Wallachia but has nothing to do with the Dracula myth.
There is a lot more to Romania than Dracula – either real of imaginary but unfortunately many itineraries to Romania concentrate on this which I didn’t want. I wanted to see the painted monasteries and fortified churches. I eventually decided on an itinerary with Cox & Kings which would take me to the places I wanted to go. They also could book me on a feeder flight from Manchester to join the flight from Heathrow. The trip was run in conjunction withy the Royal Academy of Arts, so I was expecting high things of the trip. We had a local guide with us as well as a guest lecturer.
Flight from Manchester to Heathrow and then very busy drive to Bucharest. Overnight at JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel and welcome dinner.
A long drive across the Carpathian mountains to Sibiu with a stop for lunch at Caciulata. A guided tour of Sibiu with visits to the Lutheran and Orthodox Cathedrals and the Brukenthal Art Museum. Overnight at the Ramada Hotel.
Drive to Biertan for a visit to the fortified church and then onto Sighisoara with lunch at Casa Vlad Dracula, his alleged birthplace. (You can pay extra to visit the room where he was born, although the building was built well after that date…) Guided tour of Sighisoara including the History Museum in the Clock Tower, the Church on the Hill and the Dominican Church. Overnight at Hotel Binderbubi.
Meeting with a representative of the Mihai Eminescu Trust to learn about their work in conserving villages and the Saxon heritage of Transylvania. Visit to Viscri which is an example of their work with lunch in one of the village houses. Brief stop at Saschiz village on the way back to Sighisoara. Free time in Sighisoara. Overnight at hotel Binderbubi again.
A full day’s drive to Gura Humorului with a short stop at Targu Mures to visit the Palace of Culture. Lunch in Bistrita. A visit to the Museum of Painted Eggs on the outskirts of Gura Hunorului (brought forward from the following day). Overnight at Best Western Bucovina Club De Munte.
A day spent visiting the painted monasteries of Moldovita, Sucevita and Voronet. Overnight at Best Western Bucovina Club De Munte again.
Morning visit to the fortified church at Biertan followed by a visit to St Nicholas Cathedral and the First Romanian School in the Romanian quarter of Brasov. Walk back to Piata Sfatului and free time in Brasov. Overnight at Hotel Aro Palace, Brasov.
Visit to the Black Church in Brasov before driving back through the Bucegi Mountains. Visit to the George Enescu Memorial House followed by a visit to Peles Castle before driving back to Bucharest. Overnight at JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel again and farewell dinner.
Walking tour round the old centre of Bucharest. A photostop for the Palace of Parliament and a guided tour of the Cotrocenti Palace. Drive back to the airport for the return flight to Heathrow and onto Manchester.
My IMPRESSIONS OF THE TRIP
The trip wasn’t cheap at £1895 plus £250 single supplement and although I enjoyed it, overall I felt that it had not lived up to expectation and could have been a lot better. I am not sure that I would book with Cox and Kings again. I did send detailed feedback after the holiday covering the above plus a few more issues. I received a holding letter thanking me and expecting to reply reply within the next 28 days. It is now over three months and still no reply. This doesn’t say much for a company “who pride ourselves on the level of service we provide”.
Perhaps I should have checked driving times before booking as there was a lot of time spent sitting in the coach. Driving times quoted in the itinerary were very much an underestimate once coffee, toilet and lunch stops were added. The drive to Sibiu took just over six hours. We had just under three hours to explore one of the best Saxon towns in Romania before checking into the hotel. Hardly a good return on time.
Days 5 and 7 were very long days sitting in the coach with little to show for it. I took too many pictures through the coach window. Checking on the internet when I got home, there were several very short but worthwhile stops on the route that could have been added in. I felt Cox and Kings had missed several opportunities. Not only was Day 7 a Sunday it was also an important Saint’s day. There was a service in Agapia monastery church and the museum and workshops were shut. We went for a walk around the village which was interesting but I did feel had been added to fill up the time.
It was very interesting to hear about the work of the Mihai Eminescu Trust and to visit Viscri. I understand there is accommodation in some of the village houses. It would have been fun to have spent a night there. Not only would this have supported the work of the Trust, it would also have given us chance to see the village when the cows went out to pasture and returned at night. During the day there was little activity apart from a couple of ladies sitting knitting and the stalls selling handicrafts.
Saschiz is the centre of the Fundatia Adept Trust which is working with a group of villages in the area to encourage and promote traditional methods of agriculture and to provide markets for the produce. I found out about this by accident when I picked up a booklet about their work in the small information centre. It was a pity we weren’t also told about their work as it complements the work being done by the Mihai Eminescu Trust and gives an understanding of the agricultural year.
I felt many of the days were rushed and we didn’t have time to see as much as we could have. We visited Peles Castle on a Tuesday when the entrance for foreign visitors is not open. The queue for the Romanian visitor entrance was very long and we were standing for nearly 45 minutes before we could go in. It was rather a rushed visit and the scheduled private tour of the second floor quarters of the royal family didn’t take place. We also didn’t have time to enjoy the gardens.
We didn’t have time to visit the church at the Cotrocenti Palace or the gardens. I would also have appreciated a bit longer at the three painted monasteries after the short guided tour of each. Twenty minutes is not long if you want to take pictures (or visit the toilets…)
The tour was accompanied by an expert guest speaker as well as the local guide. They did take very good care of us, arranging coffee breaks and lunch and making sure visits went smoothly. My expectations may have been unrealistic but I had expected more expert input and maybe even lectures. These were restricted to talking to us while on the coach between destinations. We were given handouts on the painted monasteries which were helpful. The historical maps of Romania came with little explanation and the two page history of Romania left me even more confused. They did talk a lot, but when I came to go through the notes I’d taken, there was a lot of repetition and not the depth I’d hoped for.
I was also disappointed there wasn’t time in the itinerary to visit one of the Folk Museums of traditional buildings. There are ones in Bucharest and Sibiu. We admired the old houses from the outside but never had chance to see the inside. In comparison, Peles and Controcenti Palaces along with George Enescu Memorial House and Brukenthal Art Museum did begin to feel a bit like overkill.
All the hotels we stopped in were large international hotels. Although very comfortable, we could have been anywhere in the world. As there were only 19 originally booked on the holiday (which dropped to 17) it would have been nice if we could have been booked into smaller more typically Romanian accommodation at least some nights.
So my overall verdict is that initial contact with Cox and Kings was very good (5*) However the itinerary left a lot to be desired (3*) Having checked out some of their other itineraries since I got home, any of them also seem to suffer from a lot of sitting in a coach and may be rushed visits. In view of this experience, this is a company I will not be I will not be using again.
My detailed report with all the pictures can be found here.
5 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.