We were intrigued by Romania and eager to explore its most infamous region, Transylvania. Much to our surprise, we found that rather than the dark, gloomy haunt of Dracula lore, Transylvania was a lush, green, fairytale setting, more like something out of Shrek or Mother Goose. A quick 3-hour train ride north of big, brash Bucharest, Brasov sits nestled between the Carpathian foothills and the Olt River. The town was settled in the 13th century by wealthy Saxons who descended from modern day Germany. These immigrant overlords who wielded their economic power over the locals built banks, houses, and businesses the archetypal storybook town square, one of Eastern Europe’s most charming.
Our home while in Brasov was the charming Casa Wagner, a restored 15th century home offering a dozen guest rooms in a warm, historic setting. Three words highlight Casa Wagner’s most important feature: location, location, location. It is situated directly on the town’s main square, a stone’s throw from sumptuous cafes and bakeries and Brasov’s main attractions. The location is so prime in fact that my taxi driver refused to believe this tiny gem was where I claimed. “Piata Sfatului,” I insisted and pointed wildly as he whizzed past the square. “No, Piata ________,” he argued. A few minutes and a few bucks on the meter later he pulled up to one of Brasov’s two hostels at the far end of town. (I guess he had taken one look at our backpacks and figured this was where we belonged.)
Exasperated I leapt out of the cab and told Tom to have his driver take the lead. When we got back to Piata Sfatului, both drivers were at a loss. They asked a traffic cop manning the square but he just looked confused. Finally, my driver called the Wagner and learned that we were only 50 feet from the front door. Apparently the combination of the hotel’s recent opening and its understated signage has allowed it to slip under the radar of the town’s cabbies.
We clambered into the small lobby of the Wagner and were greeted by a male receptionist who looked baffled. He had been expecting the American family but somehow had not registered that there were 6 of us. We assured him we could fit into the cozy attic suite he had prepared for us, but after a few phone calls, he showed us to room #1, the best in the hotel. A vast king-sized bed and generous fold out couch provided more than enough sleeping room for us. We were tickled by the rich, royal decor, which included satin drapes and bedspreads, and excited to hop in the Jacuzzi-sized tub (one at a time of course). The most remarkable features of the room were its gorgeous, painted wooden beam ceiling, which had been painstakingly restored from the 15th century original, the period lighting and wardrobe, and the eight foot windows facing directly onto the famous square. A glance out the window afforded us a view of the landmark clocktower, which was handy since we travel without any sort of timepiece.
I gazed out the window from time to time that night watching friends meet, couples stroll, and the lone policeman swing his baton as he ambled up and down the peaceful plaza. Early the next morning I awoke to watch the town come to life. Parents walked children to school, senior citizens lounged on benches and tossed feed to the pigeons, businesspeople strode purposefully to their offices, and the occasional tourist wandered and savored the ambience of this most enchanting of venues.
Our stay at Casa Wagner was brief as it was fully booked for the following night. We moved to their partner hotel across town, the Kolping, a new construction, which offered a different sort of comfort. Though I bemoaned the loss of the picture perfect Wagner, the Kolping had a stronger draw on the kids, since the room was warm, the wifi lightning fast, and the small kitchen we shared with another room sufficient for throwing together a quick snack, i.e., cold cereal with milk.
In the rapidly expanding Andrus family book, Brasov is a must visit destination and room #1 of the Casa Wagner a must stay location. I’m sure the staff of the Wagner will make you feel at home in any of their rooms, but be sure to snag one with a view of the square if possible. It will prove an attraction in and of itself.