Romania has some of the finest motorcycling you will find anywhere, with passes to match the best the Alps has to offer – but without the summer tourist volumes. There are vast tracts of forested mountains to enjoy and the roads snaking over the highlands feature many incredible series of hairpin bends.
On the whole, driving habits are similar to most European countries, although some drivers can be more aggressive on the major highways – especially HGVs, which travel at speeds that suggest their engines are ungoverned, with driver-attitudes to match. Romania has, for Europe, a very low percentage of both paved roads and dual-carriageway and a relatively high accident rate, to which beast-powered transport and pedestrians add a fair number.
Of Romania’s roughly 200,000km of roads, only some 30 per cent are tarred and there’s just 500km of motorway – mainly in the south of the country. Check your specific tour to determine how much dirt/tar riding it involves.
On our tours, we will be avoiding highways where possible, and using less busy routes. Some of the back-roads will be rough and we will ride at a speed appropriate to conditions. There is no true ‘off-roading’ on these adventures and no requirement for any advanced dirt-bike skills. If you want an all-tar tour, there is one available to book.
Traffic drives on the right and helmets are compulsory, both by law and during all riding on our tours. There is a zero-tolerance policy to drink-driving and road rules are enforced.
The ‘Lei’ is the local currency, but Euros are also widely used for pricing services. ATMs are widespread and will accept the usual cards, as will most retailers. As if there weren’t already very many reasons to visit the country, it has the lowest beer prices in Europe (at around £1 per pint). Home-grown and excellent wines are also very good value and meals are around half the price of equivalents in the UK.
Fuel is (Jan 2021) around £0.90 per litre.
There are currently 5.57 Lei to the UK Pound.
With a total area of 238,397 square kilometres (92,046 square miles), Romania is pretty much the same size as the UK. Having approximately 19.3 million inhabitants (as of 2020) its population density is substantially lower. The majority of this population lives in the flatter south of the country.
Its capital and largest city is Bucharest, but we’re not spending time there. We are sticking mainly to the mountains….
The Carpathians, at 1000 miles-long, is the third-longest mountain range in Europe – after the Urals and the Scandinavian Mountains. Half of this range (the Southern Carpathians) lies within Romania’s borders, where the massifs are locally sub-divided into the Bucegi, Făgăraș, Transalpina, Parâng and Leaotă Mountains.
Several Romanian peaks rise to over 2500m (8200ft) and we will see many of them…
Romania has a temperate-continental climate, characteristic of Central Europe, with hot summers, long, cold winters and very distinct seasons. Abundant snowfall may occur throughout the country from December to mid-March, especially in mountainous areas. The higher passes are not reliably clear of snow until the end of June.
The annual average temperature depends on latitude and ranges from 8°C in the North and 11°C in the South, with temperatures of 2.6°C in the mountains and 12°C in the plains. In general, the warmest areas are in the southern districts of Romania. Daytime temperatures vary from 0-5°C in the winter to 25-30°C in summer months. In the southern areas it can be warmer, in the northern and eastern mountainous districts of Transylvania it can be cooler with moderate daytime temperatures and cool nights in the summer and temperatures far below zero in the winter.
Annual average rainfall is abaout 700mm, more in the mountains (up to 1000mm) and less on the coast (around 400mm). It can rain throughout the year, spring being the driest season. In summer, showers and thunderstorms are common, especially in the mountains.
The economy of Romania is one of the fastest-growing in Europe, attracting a great deal of foreign investment and ranks 35th on a global scale. There is a strong industrial base, generating over 30 per cent of GDP, with vehicles, machinery, chemical goods, electronic products, electrical equipment, pharmaceuticals, transport equipment and basic metals being its top exports.
The country is the third-largest agricultural producer in the EU and around a quarter of the population works in the sector. However, agricultural production is falling due to lack of investment and urbanisation. Between 2004 and 2019, the value of Romanian agriculture output fell from 12.6 per cent to 4.3 per cent as the economy grew in other areas.
Politics & History
Being at such a geographical crossroads, Romania’s history is exceedingly complicated. In the past 2000 years, what is now Romania has often been colonised. From the Romans invading Dacian territory to establish Roman Dacia in 106 AD, through incursions from every surrounding country and Ottoman invasions, the national borders in the area have been fluid for millennia.
While principalities like Wallachia and Transylvania enjoyed elements of local control from around 1600, it was not until 1848 that the notion of a united Romania emerged. Recognising the shared cultures and languages of Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia, the three principalities combined to enact a revolution against their then overlords, the Ottoman Turks. While the revolution was not successful, it did introduce the idea of a shared Romanian identity.
In 1859, Moldavia and Wallachia unified under the same prince, Alexander Cuza. This union did not include Transylvania, whose controlling aristocracy were majority Hungarian, even where the population was majority ‘Romanian.’
Following the removal of Cuza during a coup d’état in 1866, Romania declared its independence from the Ottomans in 1878, the Turk’s ability to hold the territory having been weakened by the exertions of the Russo-Turkish War. Romania was recognised as an independent state by world powers the same year, in the Treaty of Berlin, and in 1881 its status was raised to that of a Kingdom, under King Carol 1st. From this point until World War One, Romania enjoyed a period of relative peace and social progress.
The War proved to be pivotal for Transylvania. Although declaring itself neutral, pressure from France and other Allies led to Romania declaring war on Austro-Hungry, which controlled Transylvania, two years later. It was a disaster and within four months, Romania has lost two-thirds of its territory, retaining only Moldavia and with its army largely killed or captured. In May 1918 a treaty of virtual surrender was signed with Germany, but by November it was again fighting for the Allies as the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires disintegrated.
The fallout from the war went to Romania’s advantage and a Proclamation of Union, incorporating Transylvania, was announced on December 1st 1920. This was the effective birth of modern Romania and is celebrated as Great Union Day to the present.
Following a period of democracy, in 1938, King Carol abolished parliament and became the first in a line of modern dictators. But again a World War intervened, causing political chaos and control of a territorially smaller Romania swung between Russia and Germany, the country being a major source of oil for Nazi Germany. Its military government, under General Ion Antonescu, played a major part in the Holocaust, rounding up Jews and Roma for death in Nazi concentration camps.
As the Russians swept through Eastern Europe in 1944, the Red Army entered Romania and the Antonescu regime crumbled. Romanian King Michael 1st took control and joined the Allied fight just before the Russians entered Bucharest. At the War’s end, the Red Army remained and effectively manipulated an annexation of Romania. Having lost 300,000 troops in the conflict, Romania did not have the resources to mount any resistance to Soviet occupation, which lasted until the late 1950s.
Estimates of how many Romanians lost their lives under communist racial, social and political pogroms range from the tens of thousands to two million.
In 1958, First Secretary of the Romanian Workers’ Party, Gheorghiu-Dej, negotiated a greater level of autonomy with then Soviet honcho Nikita Kruschev and Soviet troops were withdrawn. This gave opportunity to incoming dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, to carve an ever more divergent path from other Warsaw Pact countries. Ceauşescu refused to support the Soviet Union’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, kept diplomatic ties with Israel after the Six-Day War and played a constructive part in Middle-Eastern politics. It was the only member of the bloc to follow such policies.
However, as western countries avoided criticism of this Soviet outlier, with its outward signs of economic growth, Romania’s economy was becoming laden with debt. As the economy spiralled downward, severe political repression was rapidly on the rise. Throughout the 1980s, Ceauşescu implemented policies that drained the economy and the population’s personal wealth. They were enforced by a notorious secret police force, used to brutally bludgeon any human rights remaining in the country.
Ceauşescu himself nurtured a cult of personality, promoting himself as a near-deity, but the population was not buying it and in 1989 general unrest led to revolution. Some 1000 Romanians died in the uprising – in many places the police and troops refused to intervene, in others the secret police fought on in fear of retribution. The Ceauşescus fled, but were captured by the army, put on rapid trial for genocide, among other crimes, and riddled with lead.
Although now free of dictatorship, politics in Romania remained rocky for several years, as elements of past power were shed during periods of unrest. Severe economic problems lingered and corruption was an ever-present concern.
In 1993 Romania applied to become part of the European Union (EU) and gained ‘Associated State’ status in 1995. NATO was joined in 2004 and the nation became a full member of the EU on the first day of 2007.
It had been a very busy 87 years since the inception of the country, but things have remained largely stable as an EU member state.
Crime & Annoyances
Romania, in general, has no more crime than a typical European country and is considered a low-threat country in terms of threats to the person. While corruption is high compared to other EU states and cyber-crime and smuggling are present, tourists can expect no more problems than in similar locations elsewhere. There are reports of identity theft being a problem when using banking cards, but this is avoided by using only the ATMs of recognised banks to draw cash.