Can we ever have too many chateaux? In France they have a term for those houses that are not too extravagant but aspire to be chateaux or manor houses: Maison de maitre. The Master’s House. Let’s leave aside any classist (and gendered) connotations for a moment and dream of letting everyone have access to them!
When I was young, I always wanted to go to the seaside on holiday in Romania and couldn’t understand why we had to follow the national tradition of a week at the seaside followed by a week in the mountains. Nowadays, however, I much prefer the mountains (at least in my home country – for beaches are pretty similar everywhere in Europe).
The first part of our road trip was heading north out of Bucharest up the picturesque Prahova Valley (particularly colourful at this time of year) to Braşov. We only stopped for lunch because both the cable car at Buşteni and the Peleş Palace in Sinaia were closed on a Tuesday, but if you ever go that way, you should stop and check out both. (By the way, the s with cedilla is pronounced ‘sh’).
We stayed a few days in Braşov, also known as Kronstadt in German, because its symbol is of a crown on an oak tree. Not to be confused with the Russian Kronstadt near St Petersburg, it was a bustling medieval and Renaissance town of craftsmen and merchants, where German, Hungarian and Romanian ethnicities lived together in something resembling harmony.
While it does not have the grand architecture of Sibiu (which is where the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy lived), it is still full of beautiful old buildings, some of them more renovated than others.
It is also home to one of the narrowest streets in Europe, appropriately known as ‘Rope Street’. Each window looking out onto the street has been decorated by a different artist.
I have a soft spot for Braşov, though, and not just because it has been the scene of many an escapade during my high school and university years (it is only 2 hours from Bucharest, so we went skiing or hiking nearly every other weekend). It is also surrounded by mountains, so in just a few minutes you can be in the forest and feel that you have left all the urban hustle and bustle behind you.
The weather was not as kind to us here as it was throughout the rest of our trip. It only rained a little bit, but there was cloud cover, which meant we didn’t get the best views of or from the mountains. And it was very cold for two days, with some snowfall, especially up in the ski resort Poiana Braşov, where I learnt to ski again as a grown-up after a ski accident in my childhood put an end to winter sports for me, as far as my parents were concerned.
But it was the interplay of nature and architecture, as well as the friendly cats, which made us love Braşov.
This is getting too long, so I will have to tell you about the next stage of our journey in a separate blog post. I had some hard choices to make about which route to take to Sibiu, where my younger son’s godparents live. I was initially planning to go via Sighişoara, which is the most beautiful medieval towns in Romania, but a bit farther away. In the end, time and other circumstances made us opt for another route. But, as you will see, we discovered a lesser-known treasure there as well.
If you go there, try their Bulz (a sort of polenta and cheese mix rolled up into a ball) and their Papanaşi – enormous doughnuts traditionally served as a pair with blueberry jam and cream. Extremely filling – I can’t believe I used to be able to tackle those as a dessert. I now could barely finish one as a main course!
I don’t approve of hunting, but I could easily find another purpose in life for these charming pavillons de chasses (hunting pavilions). The Book Club Pavilion maybe?
No, not Aston Villa (the only thing I know about that football club is that the first boy I ever went out on a date with was an Aston Villa supporter, and I imagined they played somewhere in front of a white plantation house with a portico – perhaps I was confusing it with cricket!). It’s villas that could be dreams for some and nightmares for others, the future for some and the death of architecture for others. Controversial ones, in other words!
Glass seems to be the building element of choice for futuristic homes. Let’s just hope there’s no one waiting to cast any stones!
You can’t get enough daylight in winter, especially if you are stuck in a basement office, so here are some houses that use windows in a creative way, to give you the illusion of more space.
Just in time for Christmas, it’s only right to show my true colours and admit that, although I like bold architecture in public buildings, I actually dream of living in a Georgian or Queen Anne house. I love the symmetry and uncluttered look of that period. See if you agree with me…
And finally, this is what a (wealthy) Georgian Christmas would have looked like: