AS CENTRAL Europe opens up, Romania should be the jewel in the crown. So why has Peltours temporarily suspended its programme there?
“The problem, as in other developing destinations, is the lack of government commitment to marketing the destination,” Peltours marketing director Darren Panto said.
“The Romanians made their London representative redundant and now, effectively, have no representation. They seem to expect operators to do everything for them but we need proper back-up. Fam tours for agents and media are a must and we cannot shoulder the cost of these on our own.”
With a strong product, low prices and increasingly good infrastructure – most hotels on the tourist trail are up to western standards – Romania should be an easy sell.
“The potential is enormous for everything from family seaside vacations to activity holidays and city breaks. There are winter sports too,” said Panto.
Romania was Europe’s fifth richest nation between the two world wars and is now on the verge of EU accession, with a joining date of January 1 2007.
“That fact alone is generating lots of interest but there is still not enough knowledge in this market of just how beautiful Romania is – and that comes down to lack of promotion,” added Panto.
“We are keen to reintroduce our programme next year and plan to offer not just Black Sea coast packages but the real Romania, which is a stunningly beautiful place.”
Most of the old town was swept away to make way for Nicolae Ceausescu’s vast Palatul Parlamentului parliamentary palace – the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon – but much remains of the late 19th century elegance that earned the city the epithet ‘Little Paris’.
Attractions include the Unirii Boulevard, the colonnaded Romanian Athenium, a wealth of art nouveau buildings and lots of beautifully kept parks.
With 14 peaks above the 2,000 metre mark, the Carpathian Mountains overlook the Transylvanian Plateau and dominate central Romania, culminating in the 8,346ft Moldoveanu Peak. There are fully developed ski resorts at Azuga, Busteni, Paltinis, Poiana Brasov, Predeal and Sinaia.
Home to the fearsome Prince Vlad Tepes, said to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, this is a pleasant and verdant region, with cobbled streets in quaint villages and towns.
Its main cities, including Timisoara and Arad have a faded elegance, with outstanding churches and cathedrals. Sighisoara has imposing city walls while Brasov typifies medieval Romania.
For having held off the invading Turks, Vlad is regarded locally as a hero. His castle of Bran is a tourism icon along with King Carol I’s 1883 Peles Palace at Sinaia.
Romania has more than 70 spa towns. The best known is Baile Herculane, while Sovata features a unique heliothermal lake. Maramures, in the north, boasts ornate wooden churches.
Black Sea Coast
Much of this outstanding coast has been given over to nature reserves but the southern 45-mile stretch features a string of beach resorts with a strong emphasis on family holidays.
Mamaia, for instance, has a five-mile beach of fine sand, and a lake that’s safe for swimming. Cosmopolitan Constanta, the main city, has 2,500 years of history.
The Danube Delta
One of Europe’s outstanding wilderness areas, the Romanian portion of the vast Danube Delta is marsh and wetland that provides a haven for millions of birds, including endangered pelicans and other species. Special boat tours are available.
Moldavia and Bucovina
Not to be confused with neighbouring Moldovia – Moldavia is Romania’s rural heartland, with Lasi as its main city. Rolling hills are dotted with dense forests, populated by the European buffalo. Moldavian wines have been renowned since the Middle Ages.
Surrounded by protective 16th century fortified walls, Sucevita Monastery is one of hundreds of imposing religious sites. Bucovina’s churches are renowned for their colourful frescoes, seen at their best at Moldovita and Voronet.