It took me a while to get this text done mainly because Sibiu is Romania’s sweetheart, a town unanimously liked by both locals and foreigners and one of the top city-break destinations in the country (if not number one). Therefore, a lot has been said and written on Sibiu which made my wish of writing something new more difficult than I imagined.
Just as I was writing this, Huffingtonpost Travel included Sibiu in a list of the most charming towns in Europe, alongside the cute Bilbury in England or the fairytale-like Colmar in France. And wrong they are not, for Sibiu with its cobblestone alleys, coloured houses, friendly people and delicious food is sure to charm its way up to any traveler’s heart.
In the end I decided to leave everything aside and write about my Sibiu, clichés included.
- Sibiu International Theatre Festival
The first theatre in Romania opened in Sibiu in the 19th century so it was only normal for Sibiu to host a theatre festival. Sibiu International Theatre Festival (aka FITS) is the biggest in Romania and the third biggest in Europe after the ones in Edinburgh and Avignon.
We went there for the first days of the festival with tickets to see the star play of the opening week end: Faust directed by Silviu Purcarete. A representation I had been told that I needed to see as it was supposed to be magnificent.
After it ended, I realized that magnificent might not be a strong enough word to describe this production. There were two hours of spiraling through a vast range of emotions: horror, disgust, amazement and, towards the finish, even some sort of unsettling sympathy for the devil itself.
The 10 day festival usually takes place in June and gathers artists and tourists from all over the world. It was a merry atmosphere all over the town and it’s a good time to visit Sibiu, theatre aficionado or not. In addition to various plays that one could attend, the Piata Mare (Big Square) became a theatre stage in itself with concerts, dances, plays and circus shows taking place every day of the festival.
The 2015 Sibiu International Theatre Festival takes place between the 12th and 21st of June 2015.
- Brukenthal Museum
Brukenthal Palace was built by Baron Samuel von Brukenthal, Governor of Transylvania between 1777 and 1787. The palace, built in late baroque style, opened as the first public museum in the country in 1817. It was established around the private collection of the baron, the nucleus of the present day European collection and extended during the years with an impressive Romanian collection and other exhibitions that together form the Brukenthal Museum.
The European Gallery is located in the actual palace so besides paintings, we get to see some of the original furniture and decorations. The Romanian collection is very good, unfortunately I visited it after the European one and I was already tired and couldn’t concentrate anymore. I would recommend splitting them on two different days, if time allows it so you won’t rush through any of it, like I did.
The basement produced a surprise for me as it hosted a Gothic exhibition that I did not know about. I found myself all alone in a crypt surrounded by very plastic representations of a mini cemetery, an alchemy lab and other sorts of dark creatures like vampires, witches and evil monsters.
The explanations were short and to the point, the lights created a gloomy atmosphere and the background music gave me goose bumps. Besides the overall feeling of terror that I experienced, I genuinely enjoyed it. It’s just not a good idea to visit it alone or after seeing Faust a night before.
- Roaming The Streets
My day of roaming the cobbled streets and alleys started with a visit to the tower that divides Piata Mica (Small Square) from the Piata Mare (Big Square). It can be visited all day but going there as early as 10 a.m. means avoiding the crowds. The town looks pretty from the top in the crisp morning light and its relaxing to watch all the shops, cafes and restaurants down under getting ready for a new day.
While walking through the old town, make sure to notice the eyeing rooftops. These dormer-windows once used for ventilation and spying purposes have become Sibiu’s trademark. Everywhere you will go, the town will watch over you. It might seem a bit creepy at the beginning but it can easily develop into a game of finding the house with the funniest “face”.
A stroll in the Piata Mica will take you to the Bridge of Lies, a bridge that is said to fall down if crossed by a liar. For the record, it was built in 1859 and it never fell, although we are quite sure that at least a couple of not-so-innocent men have crossed it. We are starting to suspect that the bridge is, in fact, the liar.
- The Astra Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization (Open Air Museum)
One of Sibiu’s most popular attractions is the open air Astra Museum, a huge park set in the outskirts of the town, where a huge number of traditional wooden houses are on display. They have all the regions of the country covered and a warm season visit gives you the opportunity to see some interiors as well.
It is the perfect spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the town and spend a day outdoors. The park being so big we found ourselves totally alone on the alleys, fact that lead to some deeply out of key singing (on my part, at least) of long forgotten songs from our childhoods.
After a while we stumbled onto what seemed to be a small Sunday fair with traditional home-made food and drinks. We took a break with honey-lemonade and mushroom zacusca, the no.1 Romanian treat for vegetarians, although it doesn’t look very appealing at first sight.
For the ones who would like to spend the night or stay for dinner, the park has a rustic hotel with rooms that can accommodate up to 6 people and two restaurants with traditional food. Carriage rides are possible with pre-booking and, during winter snow days, one can sleigh ride through the village.
The park is reachable by car or bus but I think the best way to get there is by bike. If you are a morning person, between 8 and 10 a.m. you are allowed to ride inside the park.
- Coffee, Food, Drinks
I am a bad example in this category because when it comes to coffee and food I have been faithful to two places as long as I can remember.
For coffee, breakfast or even brunch is Cafe Wien-one place no tourist should miss. You can find it tucked behind the Lutheran Church in Huet Square, away from the noise of the Big Square. Best thing to do here? Get a wrong coffee (it’s a German thing), the chocolate cake and either relax with the view of the rooftops, burn your camera trying to find the perfect angle to photo those rooftops or watch a spontaneous wedding photo shooting that might take place on the alley in front of the cafe.
When it comes to food I always go to a restaurant called La Turn (English translation “at the tower”), situated underneath the actual tower. The food is good, I wouldn’t go so far as to say outstanding. I had meals that were delicious and other that were average so it largely depends on what you order. I liked their traditional food, pastas and pizzas but the salads not so much. Thumbs up for the prices and the summer terraces: one overlooking the Piata Mare and one overlooking the Piata Mica.
For drinks we went to a bar/pub called Imperium Sibiu. This one is new on my list; it was tried out only once. We discovered it by chance on a rainy Saturday night when we were looking for a nice place to have some drinks. We liked the decorum, the laid back atmosphere and the live band music which made our night a success.