I’ll be honest, if you want your tongue hanging out of your mouth from awe-inspiring cities and attractions, Wallachia is not going to do the trick. There are several respectable, even lovely areas, but nothing that will really knock your socks off. The upshot is that this is no secret and so most people stay away, meaning this area is by far the least touristy in Romania. So, if you’re looking for an escape from the hoards, while admiring some perfectly nice scenery, tip-toe down here for a week.
The monasteries of Horezu, Cozia and Turnul are among Romania’s most beautiful and peaceful monasteries. Obscure, but arresting, attractions such as Câmpina’s spooky Hasdeu Castle or Târgu Jiu’s open-air museum of sculptor Brâncusi’s work, are refreshingly free of tour buses. Furthermore, the heart of the Roma (gypsy) community can be found here; far removed from the bad penny Roma stalking and begging in the big cities, these are the true Roma, tearing through villages on horse-drawn carts and tending unusual houses. In summer months, the heart-stopping Transfagarasan road – said to be one of the highest roads in Europe – opens up, giving fearless drivers new bragging rights and offering such diversions as the real ‘Dracula’s castle’.
Your tales of Wallachia’s modest offers and the giddying elbow room that you’ll enjoy them may not thrill other travelers, but you can quietly bask in the knowledge that they don’t know what they missed.
Before Romania united in the 19th century, the Romanians were known as ‘Vlachs’, hence Wallachia. Romanians call Wallachia ‘Tara Româneasca’ (Land of the Romanians).
The principality of Wallachia was founded by Radu Negru in 1290 and suffered under Hungarian rule until 1330 when Basarab I (ruled 1310-52) defeated King Charles I and declared Wallachia independent, the first of the Romanian lands to achieve independence. The Wallachian princes (voievozi) established capital cities in Câmpulung Muscel, Curtea de Arges and finally Târgoviste. All locations were prudently situated close to the mountains for defensive purposes. Bucharest took the capital crown in the 15th century.
The Turks bulldozed through Bulgaria and then into Romania. In 1415 Mircea cel Batrân (Mircea the Old; ruled 1386-1418) was forced to acknowledge Turkish suzerainty. Subsequent Wallachian princes, most notably Vlad Tepes Dracula (ruled 1448, 1456-62 and 1476) and Mihai Viteazul (r 1593-1601), heroically resisted the Turks, refusing to pay the necessary tribute. Vlad Tepes’ notoriety for cruelty flourished while he targeted the Turks – and the old and the crippled and anyone else he didn’t much care for – with a zeal that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, four centuries later; though Stoker took artistic license and plopped the ‘Prince of Darkness’ in the more spooky sounding Transylvania.
In 1859 Wallachia united with Moldavia, a move that paved the way for the modern Romania state.
My Top Five for Wallachia are:
• Gasping up 1480 steps to Vlad Tepes’ Poienari Citadel, the ‘real’ Dracula’s castle
• Visiting the region’s exquisite monasteries – Horezu, Curtea de Arges, Cozia and Turnul
• Experiencing total immersion and inebriation eating, drinking tuica (fruit brandy), singing and dancing around a campfire in the rural village of Arefu
• Cruising the Transfagarasan road, stopping at Lake Vidraru
• Gawking at Brâncusi’s sculpture contributions in Târgu Jiu, including his ‘Endless Column’