Azimo’s adventurers wade through crap, cruel vampires and Carpathian bears to bring you the real Romania.

There’s no question that Romania has had a bad press in recent years, with the world’s papers full of stories about everything from corruption to illegal immigrants. Fortunately, though, we’ve gone beyond the sensational headlines to find six reasons to visit this Balkan beauty.

1. Transylvania isn’t full of bloodsuckers

This region of Romania has had an image problem ever since Bram Stoker published his 1897 novel Dracula. The inspiration for the Irish author’s anti-hero came from Vlad III Dracula, also known as the Impaler, who’s best known for – you guessed it – allegedly impaling thousands of his enemies during the 1400s. Despite this cruel streak, though, the bloodthirsty head of Wallachia is seen as a folk hero for defending Romania’s honour. Today, Transylvania is a peaceful region of hills, castles and forests, with a few ‘Dracula’ menus for the vampire tourists to sink their teeth into.

2. Bears really do live in the woods

If you thought the only bears in Europe lived in a zoo, think again. The stunning Carpathian Mountains, which rise up to a towering 2,500 metres, are home to a wild world of wolves, lynx and Europe’s largest population of brown bears. Some 5,000 bears are estimated to wander among the dense oak and beech forests, with a smile on their face since the demise of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu – he hunted and killed several hundred of them during his inglorious reign. The best way to see the bears in their natural habitat is with a tour company such as Transylvanian Wolf.

3. The Danube Delta is full of crap

The 2,860km Danube is the second longest river in Europe and starts its journey in Germany’s Black Forest. But it finishes off by flowing into the Black Sea off Romania. The Danube Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage site and forms the largest and best preserved of Europe’s deltas. The area is home to more than 300 species of bird and 45 species of freshwater fish across its lakes and marshes. It’s also home to a tidal wave of mosquitoes in the summer, so come in spring or autumn if you can. If you’d prefer to eat the local fish rather than look at them, delta specialities include sour fish soup (ciorba de peste), carp (crap), catfish (somn) and perch (biban).

4. Romania is home to Top Gear’s top road

Disgraced former Top Gear star Jeremy Clarkson may have made a few errors of judgment recently, but one thing he did get right was revving up Romania’s Transfagarasan Highway as the world’s finest. Built as a military route during the 1970s on Ceausescu’s orders, it zig-zags up and over the Fagaras mountains. The road winds up a steep valley to Lake Balea before heading down through the forests of Wallachia. Heavy snow means the road is only passable a few months a year, usually from late June until early October, when it’s bumper to bumper with boy racers.

5. Parliament is bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza

Built by Ceausescu, Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament is the second largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon) with hundreds of rooms and eight underground levels, the last one being a nuclear bunker. It’s also the world’s heaviest, which comes as no surprise when you scan through the inventory – a million cubic metres of Transylvanian marble, 3,500 tonnes of crystal for the 480 chandeliers, 700,000 tonnes of steel and bronze, 900,000 cubic metres of wood and 200,000 square metres of woven carpets. It has a seriously murky political past, of course, but makes for a morbidly fascinating modern-day tourist attraction.

6. The Dacia King isn’t a new 4×4

Car manufacturer Dacia is one of Romania’s largest exporters and a modern-day Balkan success story. But the name behind the badge has a far longer history. Dacia was the land occupied by the Dacians during the first century BC and the second century AD. The last king of Dacia was Decebalus, and his face lives on in Europe’s tallest rock sculpture. The 40-metre high Statue of Decebalus, located near the town of Orsova, is carved into the mountain and can only be reached by a boat ride. Although it might look centuries old, it’s probably younger than some of the Dacias cruising the streets of Bucharest – it was sculpted between 1994 and 2004.

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