Transylvania is an area of drastic changes throughout the year. From hot summer days complemented with vibrant thunderstorms, to cool spring mornings and pleasantly warm Autumnal evenings spent barbequing amongst the bare trees. Then we have winter, temperatures are known to plummet fairly rapidly and all of a sudden we are swept into a chilly winter wonderland, complete with frosty mornings and snowy winter days, spent quaffing mulled wine by the fire!
Winter in Transylvania is a magical time of year, and the locals know how to make the most of it. It officially begins on the first of December, which coincidentally is Romania’s national day. This is a day of remembrance and celebration and Cluj Napoca (among many other cities and towns) plays host to a day of festivities, with the official opening of the Christmas market in the town square, military parades, live open air concerts, all topped off with a fantastic firework display and torchlit procession. It seems like the entire city comes out to enjoy this day, and the atmosphere is buzzing, and certainly a great experience for anyone traveling to the city at this time.
Winter and Christmas go hand in hand, and Transylvania is a great place to spend it. The whole city of Cluj Napoca is decorated to celebrate Craciun (Christmas), and seems to sparkle, especially when viewed from atop of Citadel hill. This paired with the frosting of ice and snow makes the city look even more beautiful than usual, which is saying something!
The main Christmas market in Cluj Napoca, located directly in the town square consists of a great many wooden huts, built especially for the occasion, filled with a variety of handmade souvenirs, dolls, traditional decorations, local snacks, homemade chocolate and candy, hot drinks and hearty meals. The scene is frequently accompanied by live music, including Christmas carol choirs. Aside from the main market, the streets of Cluj house many other smaller market stalls, often filled with products hand made in the nearby villages. Just wander the city for a while and you’re sure to find something to take your fancy!
You can also find in the main square of Cluj an ice skating rink, which is erected every winter, like the market, this also opens on the first of December, and remains open until the ice melts! This rink is very popular, and for around 5 euros you can hire a pair of skates and be skating to a mix of modern and classic dance music! There are alternatives for skating within the city; another popular location is the lake in the central park, which freezes over to provide a natural skating rink. Afterward, there are several cafes and teashops nearby to warm up in. The lake outside Iulius Mall offers yet another choice.
Transylvania is a rather mountainous region, which in the warmer months means a wealth of hiking routes, fantastic rock climbing and caves to explore. In winter, whilst hiking might not be such an attractive option to most, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the great outdoors. Mountains plus winter = snow and that breeds skiing. Transylvania is home to several ski resorts, that can be enjoyed for a fraction of the price of most resorts in Western Europe.
Baisoara ski resort is a mere 50km from Cluj Napoca, and can be reached by daily shuttles. The resorts boasts 5 slopes of varying difficulty, and several hotels, of course complete with bars to grab a hot chocolate or mulled wine in after a hard days skiing. Equipment hires and lift passes are fairly inexpensive.
Even closer to Cluj, a mere 9km, lies Feleacu ski slope, an ideal place for someone who is new to the sport. This small resort includes a ski and snowboard school, equipment hire and a relatively easy going slope, looking out over the city of Cluj Napoca. There is also a bar and grill within the resort!
The mountains hold more than just ski resorts though. If you’re willing to search, you can seek out Scarisoara ice cave, which can be found in the Apuseni Mountains, close to Cluj Napoca. The ice cave, considered one of the natural wonders of Romania, is open to visitors and guided tours can be arranged. Warm clothes are advised as it can reach –7 degrees within the cave in winter, and decent shoes are necessary to avoid slipping and falling to your potential doom.
So, what are you waiting for? Come join us in Cluj Napoca and enjoy winter among people who can make the most of the cold, and use the snow and ice to their advantage to have a great time! We’ll have the hot chocolate and mulled wine boiling at Transylvania Hostel.