Post 6 of a series detailing our Eastern Europe road trip. View all the posts so far here.
Sibiu is an important city both culturally and economically in Romania, however its centre appeared to me like a kind of historic toy town. Medieval towers sit alongside cute cafes, the houses come in a rainbow of colours, and the windows in their roofs look like sneaky eyes. The city’s small size and pedestrianised cobbled streets makes Sibiu eminently walkable – and what a delight walking around it is.
We arrived in Sibiu late, having spent the day driving the Transfagarasan mountain road. Our airbnb host welcomed us to our accommodation for the next two nights: a small unit comprising a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen. This sat between other single-story units within a leafy gated courtyard. Dinner that night was the remainder of our packed lunch from the drive.
It was only when we left the house the next morning that we spotted the neighbouring house looking at us with its sneaky roof-window eyes…
The historic centre
The following day was warm, bright and perfect for exploring Sibiu’s historic centre. Just a minute’s walk from our door and we were in Piata Mare, the largest of the city’s two central squares. Both squares are surrounded by colourful Germanic buildings: some very tall and grand, others low and house-like with terracotta roof tiles. The architecture struck me as quirkier and more rustic than that of Brasov, while still conveying the same old-fashioned charm.
A bird’s eye view
Our first stop was the tower of the Lutheran Evangelical Cathedral, which promised the best panoramic views of the city for a small entry fee. Ascending the tower was a fun experience in itself! The tower is a bare-bones structure inside: to get to the top, visitors have no choice but to climb multiple free-standing staircases up through the building’s rafters, passing its large bells on the way. A daunting task for people scared of heights!
The top floor gives access to four stone turrets, one at each corner, to peer out from. The views offered of the city below are stunning – and so pretty as well, thanks to the multicoloured array of buildings and their tiled roofs. The cathedral’s own roof is the most colourful thing of all: its tiles look like rainbow-coloured fish-scales up-close, and form bold diamond patterns from afar.
Just as we prepared for our return to solid ground, we spotted a nest in a corner of the rafters holding two pigeon chicks. They were certainly ugly, but also strangely cute! We kept our distance, lest their watching mum attack…
Lunch at Pardon Cafe
Pardon Café drew us in with its pretty, flower-strewn frontage and glass cake cabinet. Situated along the attractive promenade beside the old city walls, its sunny outside tables made for a lovely lunch spot.
Pardon specialises in fresh juices, so I ordered a berry cocktail and Steve a fresh lemonade with honeydew melon. Both were large and delicious. I ordered the ‘Grandma’s Salad’ with boiled eggs, cheese, lettuce and peppers, thinking it would be fresh and healthy – but it was actually like most other meals I’d had in Romania in being absolutely huge, and extremely rich! Unfortunately this meant I had no room left for one of Pardon’s delectable-looking cakes.
After lunch, we began following the self-guided walking tour detailed on the back of the map we picked up at the Tourist Information Centre. Beginning from Pardon Cafe, we strolled through Citadel Park and past the defensive towers standing along the city wall. From here we walked to the Orthodox Cathedral, whose onion dome roof, central chandelier and painted interior are spectacular.
Next came leafy Astra Park, where the sun beat down on bronze statues of eminent Romanians and men sat at tables playing card games.
Lower Town was clearly the scruffier and humbler part of town, but I loved how the aged houses looked with their peeling paint, uneven tiles and wooden window shutters. Best of all, lots of old houses meant lots of sneaky roof eyes!
Passage of Stairs
The next major landmark was the Passage of Stairs (Pasajul Scărilor): a wide passageway between high red-brick walls and terracotta-tiled arches. We followed the cobblestones round until we found a stairway back up to the Upper Town and Piata Mare.
Despite its small size, Liar’s Bridge – crossing the road up from Lower to Upper Town – is probably the most famous spot in all of Sibiu. With its black wrought iron and bright floral display, it’s one of the most beautiful too. Legend says the bridge will fall down if someone on it tells a lie, but we tested it and can confirm that this is not the case! It seems fitting that there are also a lot of spy-houses around here.
It was then I gave in and bought an ice cream from one of the many vendors on Strada Nicolae Bălcescu. But it was too late – the heat and exhaustion of the day got the better of me. We retreated to our accommodation to cool off and ended up falling asleep. By the time we went back out to find dinner it was starting to get dark.
We walked around a few restaurants comparing the menus outside, before choosing one in Lower Town called Grand Plaza. However, it was only when we walked in that we saw and heard the raucous party going on in the back, where people were singing and dancing to very loud Romanian music! Deciding this wouldn’t be the relaxing night we were after, we made a quick getaway.
Dinner at Crama Sibiu Vechi
We retraced our steps to Crama Sibiu Vechi, which we’d initially discounted due to having no menu outside. We decided to give it a chance due to its high TripAdvisor rating. The restaurant, like many we encountered in Romania, is inside a long brick cellar. There were already several people squashed into the lower doorway when we arrived, who we reluctantly joined in waiting for a table. Around 30 minutes passed before we were seated, but in the end it was worth the wait.
I had polenta and meat-stuffed cabbage rolls, washed down with an earthenware mug of white wine, while Steve had beef kebab with peasant potatoes. Simple, meaty comfort food at its best! For dessert I had a deep-fried ice cream dumpling (how do you resist such a thing?) with cherry compote and stewed pear. Everything was filling and delicious, and, although the service was rather slow, the ambience in the dimly-lit cellar was fantastic. We were kept entertained by a live band playing traditional gypsy music until the restaurant finally began to close toward midnight.
Croissants and tea
The following morning we bought four fresh, flaky, melty pain au chocolats from the bakery round the corner, which came to less than £1. We savoured them in the kitchen with some Earl Grey tea before leaving to drive to Serbia, via Corvinilor Castle and Timisoara, which I’ll detail in my next post.
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