Many know Poiana Brasov as Romania’s most popular ski resort, nestled in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains, close to Brasov. There’s no denying that come winter, the entire place looks as depicted from a fairytale, but there’s so much more to it than winter sports.
Being a three-hour drive away from Bucharest, Brasov and Poiana Brasov are often our weekend getaway options. We’ve seen the region in all seasons, and every time of the year has its charm.
If skiing or snowboarding is not your thing, or you want to explore some of the region’s hidden gems before the snow hits, here are some of our favorite lesser-known things to do in Brasov, Poiana Brasov, and the surroundings.
1. Explore Rupea Fortress in the small city of Rupea
The region around Poiana Brasov is sprinkled with fortresses, some more famed than the others. Probably the most well-known is the Rasnov Fortress (Cetatea Rasnov), but the lines there are proportional to its popularity.
Less crowded but equally rich in history, the centuries-old Rupea Fortress (Cetatea Rupea) sits atop a basalt hill, overlooking the small town with the same name, and offering breathtaking panoramic vistas of the hills and mountains up-close and afar.
The Medieval Citadel spreads over 11 hectares of land, boasting tall walls, three defense towers, and two large interior courtyards. It consists of four premises, each corresponding to different historic times, and features windowless rooms, towers with small brick slits destined for firearms, and many other interesting architectural details.
The fortress has been refurbished between 2010 and 2012 and has entered the touristic circuit ever since. There’s a large parking lot outside the fortress where you can leave your car, and the entry ticket is somewhere around $2. Make sure you have your camera with you, the views from atop of the fortress are truly amazing.
2. Meet the bears at the Libearty Sanctuary in Zarnesti
Zarnesti is a small town, 30 minutes from Poiana Brasov. Although clean and taken care of, it’s not the place where you’d imagine finding the largest brown bear sanctuary in the world. Here, over 100 once-captive brown bears have regained their life and now spend their days in a natural habitat spreading over 160 acres (70 hectares) of oak and hazel forest, donated by the Municipality of Zarnesti.
We were so impressed by what we found here. Although a bittersweet visit into the cruel realities of bears’ life in Romania in the past decades, it was a chance for us to learn about some incredibly harmful practices that have tortured bears for years, understand the bears’ behavior better, and discover that each one of the animals seen there has its own story and personality.
Not only is it a better option than a trip to the zoo (but that’s a discussion for another time), but it is a way to see bears from up close in their natural habitat, learn about their history, and educate yourself about the dos and don’ts of bear interaction. Bear encounters are far from rare occurrences in the region, unfortunately, and as people tend to get closer to bears when they see them and feed them, they actually do more harm than good by encouraging more bears to come into the surrounding mountain towns and resorts – a danger not just to people, but to the bears themselves, as they risk getting hit by cars, or even shot.
Many of them have found a happy home at the Libearty Sanctuary. Here, they are fed with two tons of food every day, including meat, but mostly fruit and veggies. They are taken care of by specialized veterinarians and are free to live a life more similar to that in the wild. However, many can’t get rid of the cage behavior for years, and some for their entire life even.
The group tour lasts for about an hour or an hour and a half and ends at the souvenir shop where it started. Here, people get to buy a handmade souvenir, donate to the sanctuary, or “adopt” a bear. By “adopting” one of the bears at Libearty Sanctuary, you won’t leave with the animal home, but your donation will help care for one of the bears, and you get an adoption certificate with the bear’s picture and name, to remember him by. The sanctuary survives solely on donations, so every contribution, however small, matters.
3. Stroll the streets of Brasov’s historical city center
If you’re in the region, Brasov deserves at least a day from your time. Once home to Romanian, Hungarian, Turkish, and Saxon merchants selling their goods, The Council Square (Piata Sfatului) as we know it today boasts baroque and neo-classical architecture, some of the best restaurants in the city, lots of terraces, souvenir shops, and boutiques selling books, clothes, shoes, and traditional artifacts.
As soon as you step foot in the Council Square, you’ll see the emblematic House of Council that dates back to the 15th century. Throughout the years, the building has been home to Brasov’s city hall, and today it hosts the County Museum of History. Other iconic buildings to spot in the Council Square include the Hirscher House and the Museum of Urban Civilization.
Wander the streets surrounding the square, and you’ll find so many amazing restaurants serving anything from traditional Romanian, Italian, and even American cuisine. If food travel is more your thing, we have a separate post focusing just on that, as great food and restaurants are plentiful in the city and its surroundings.
The imposing Black Church will surely catch your eye with its impressive gothic architecture. Built between 1385 and 1477 and rebuilt after the fire in 1689, the church we see today is the most Eastern European gothic cathedral, home to a famous organ with around 4,000 tubes, and the largest mobile bell in Romania.
4. Enjoy panoramic vistas from the Tampa Viewpoint
Surely Brasov is a city that’s worth exploring by foot, but the panoramic vistas from the Tampa Viewpoint are not to be missed. You can take a cable car up, or if you’re feeling sporty or adventurous, you can hike to the top, and climb up the Gabonyi stairs marked with a yellow triangle. Either way, once you get to the Tampa Viewpoint, you get to see the city from a completely different perspective, as you admire it from above.
You can take a stroll on the trails up there, enjoy a nice meal or just a coffee or a beer at the restaurant, and then either take the cable car back down or go by foot on the Serpentine Track marked with a red triangle.
Where to stay in Poiana Brasov:
If you’re going to drive to Poiana Brasov, which makes the most sense if you plan to explore its surroundings, as we did, it would be a pity not to stay as close to nature as possible. That’s the main reason we chose the Silver Mountain Resort. Its location is simply stunning, not just in the wintertime when you’ll be close to the ski slopes, but year-round.
We loved being in a remote location, with nothing but forest and mountains around us, but at the same time enjoying the comfort and amenities the resort has to offer. The rooms are spacious and include a living room, a small but well-appointed kitchenette, and a bedroom with ensuite bathroom. Guests have access to a fitness room, indoor and outdoor pools, a sauna, and an on-site restaurant, where a buffet breakfast is served every morning. The resort is pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry buddy along.
A weekend may not be enough to explore everything Poiana Brasov and its surroundings have to offer, but it’s a start. Brasov alone needs at least two or three days just to take in its history, culture, architecture, the Medieval vibe, and get a taste of its spectacular food scene. When it comes to the latter, we’ve got you covered, as we’ve narrowed down our top places to eat in Brasov.
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