Short of shacking up with a villager, stays don’t get more truly Transylvanian than Copsamare Guesthouses, where honey comes from the priest’s bees, furniture comes from the neighbours, and decorations come from nature: dried nut leaves, maize and tree trunks. Aside from the Italian owners, everything about this modest hotel is true to its Romanian roots.
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A piece of traditional pottery from Horezu; plus, for stays of 3 nights or more, a horse and cart ride
Eight, including two suites, spread across a few separate houses.
Noon, but flexible (half of the daily rate). Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £98.52 (€110).
Rates usually include Continental breakfast.
Plums from Copsamare’s gardens star in the hotel’s potent home-made grapa.
At the hotel
Gardens, cart, library. The Yellow House has free WiFi throughout.
Our favourite rooms
Pick by house – rooms are split across different buildings in the village. The White House is number 154, next to the Orthodox church, and it has a little garden. Of its three rooms, we like the upstairs double set in the roof: it has plenty of exposed wooden beams, with a glass wall overlooking the garden and a snug bed piled high with blankets. If you’re seeking privacy, bed down in the old summer kitchen. The Yellow House's two suites both have private verandas and access to the garden. The Red House’s master bedroom has an antique cabinet painted with flowers, and a ensuite bathroom with historic gravitas: the year 1783 is carved into the beams. This house is suited to two couples or a family sharing.
Bathrooms are stocked with L’Occitane soap and nothing else, so definitely come armed with an arsenal of toiletries. The nights are cold, so remember warm layers.
Pets can come too, for €10 a day.
The hotel can’t provide cots or extra beds, but babysitting can be arranged with 24 hours’ notice (€20 an hour).
The food here has a clear conscience (organic, grown onsite or locally sourced), soaps are chemical-free, planet-friendly paints adorn bathrooms, and everything that can be is recycled. The inhabitants of Copsa Mare village have been heavily involved in the renovation and running of Copsamare Guesthouses.
Breakfast is served inside the Green House, around a communal table. Dinner is similarly sociable, but guests sit outside beneath the vines. Of course, there’s also your own private courtyard for dinners à deux…
You're among villagers, so as relaxed as you like.
Befriend Simona, who doubles up as the receptionist and cook, and let her know each morning whether you fancy meat for dinner. (Otherwise, it’s fresh pasta and salads.) Days here begin with a spread of locally produced goodies: jam and honey, Simona's freshly baked bread and cakes, yoghurt, and apple juice from Malancrav, where Prince Charles has an estate. Copsamare is rightly proud of its home-grown potatoes, vegetables, rhubarbs and plums. During Easter and Christmas, food is cooked on the outside oven, so expect plenty of grilled meat and vegetables (and lichiu, a traditional festive dessert).
No bar but, but there's a stash of delicious local wines. Just ask if you want something uncorked.
There are no rigid timings: lunch and dinner are both on request. Breakfast is available between 8am and 10.30am.
None, but each house has a kitchen and dining area so you can rustle up impromptu snacks, although there is no fridge, so beware of stocking up on perishables.
Copşa Mare village is 2km away from Biertan (a famous Unesco World Heritage site) and in the centre of the Transylvania Triangle, formed by the historic cities of Brasov, Sighişoara and Sibiu.
Wizz Air runs flights from Luton to Targu Mares airport (60km from the hotel) and Cluj, around two and a half hours away by car. Sibiu’s airport is a 90-minute drive away, served by Wizz Air, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Tarom and Blue Air.
The nearest station is Sighisoara, 25km from Copsamare Guesthouses, with services run by Mersul Trenurilor (www.mersultrenurilor.ro).
Medias, Sibiu’s second largest city, is 20km away. The hotel has plenty of free parking.
Worth getting out of bed for
Take part in one of the hotel’s truffle-hunting weekends, which begin with a welcome meal (cooked by an expert local chef) on Friday night, followed by a truffle-seeking session with a guide on Saturday. Once you’ve gathered enough fungi, you’ll have a cookery class (with truffle wine as refreshment) and a truffle-centric dinner. In winter, go for a ride on the owners’ cart, a gift made for them by the villagers; in summer, use the cart for picnics in the hills. Biertan, the nearest village, is Unesco-protected – make the short drive there to find out why. Walk out of the village towards the lone tree on top of the hill: this is the hotel’s logo, and has sweeping views. (Botanists might be interested to hear that four species of flowers once thought to be extinct were discovered here.)
Unglerus Medieval Restaurant (+40 269 806 698) is the closest to the hotel, and the only restaurant in Biertan. As its name suggests, the theme is mediaeval: expect hearty fare, with an emphasis on pork, cabbage and polenta. Adventurous types should sample creier de porc pane (fried pork brain). It is also a great spot to stop for a hot chocolate. Make the 40-minute drive to Sibiu for the rustic but modern Max Restaurant (+40 269 233 003; www.max-restaurant.ro), which serves tempting Italian dishes. Choose between the beautiful courtyard and snug inside seating.
Head to House on the Rock in Sighişoara, right next to the castle, and enjoy some drinks and nibbles. In Sibiu, La Gelateria on Piaţa Mica serves traditional cakes and ice-creams, and has a little outside seating area where you can enjoy them.
Have a gander at the bar in Copsa Mare (pronounced 'Copsha Marr-ey') village, more out of curiosity than with a mind to drink here (women aren’t actually allowed inside, and have to pull up a chair outside if they want a drink). A little more enlightened, cosy Casa Cositorarului is a hotel with a bar and restaurant on the corner of Strada Cositorarilor in Sighişoara, a 25-minute drive away.
Our weekend in Romania isn’t just a whirl in a new destination: it is a magical journey to a different time. A horse-drawn cart laden with logs is the only other traffic on the main road as we turn out of Targu-Mures airport. (Which I know to be pronounced ‘Teergu-Muresh’ thanks to a tip-off from a Romanian friend, along with: ‘You must try the sweet local chardonnay’ and ‘But you could skip the lettuce soup.’) During the hour and a half drive to the centuries-old Saxon village where we’ll be for two nights, such transport becomes a familiar sight. In fact, as passengers in a Fiat, we soon feel the odd ones out.
Wending our way through the Carpathian Mountains we pass communities of pretty brown, red, blue, green, purple and yellow cottages, many with its own clutch of livestock. Admiration for pristine domed churches and enchanting derelict biseric? is interspersed with waves to black-hatted locals perched on the back of carts (eliciting huge toothy smiles and looks of horror in equal measure). Rumbling down a bumpy dirt road, we overtake a man laden with a huge bundle of branches. He’s on foot, miles from anywhere, carrying sticks. Where’s he going? What’s he going to do with them? Even the GPS looks bewildered: it currently reckons we’re in the middle of a field. A reassuring peek at our old-fashioned road map confirms we’re almost at Biertan, a World Heritage site and the nearest town to Copsa Mare.
A road sign nudges us down a track through more pastel-toned houses – some peeling, others just-painted – and through neatly harvested fields of wheat. I wonder what Patrick Leigh Fermor would make of us heading to Transylvania to review an Italian-owned guesthouse? I am sure the cultured king of intrepid travel writers, who died recently aged 96, would scoff at us doing anything but immersing ourselves in authentic local culture. To Fermor, this central region of Romania was ‘the very essence and symbol of remote, leafy half-mythical strangeness; and, on the spot, it seemed remoter still, and more fraught with charms.’
One imagines Paddy, who was as happy kipping in a barn as a B?leni mansion, furrowing his brow at the thought of mod-cons or talk of threadcount. So it is that Copsamare Guesthouse would have been his kind of place. It will soon become clear chichi boutique bolthole, and a world away from luxury chain hotels, this unique stay, we have been told, is at the heart of traditional village life – right from the start of the property's renovation a few years ago.
Today, a turreted fortified church still looms over Copsa Mare’s cluster of side-to-side Saxon cottages. Though the 16th-century church has long-since fallen into disrepair, and the village’s many German-origin inhabitants all but gone, the next generation is visible everywhere. A teenager is at the well filling a bucket, while a toddler scampers across the bumpy main track with puppies and kittens. Animal-loving Ms Smith is by now cooing at chickens and pigs trotting about in fenced-off gardens, winding down the window to ask a bemused farmer on a tractor if she can take his picture.
We are here well out-of-season, and we are the only car in the village; an elderly man makes the sign of the cross as we pass him for the second time. As captivating as this tableau of country life is, something occurs to us as we tackle the small residential circuit again. We have no clue which building will be our abode. Let alone which could be a Mr & Mrs Smith hideaway. We think we saw one tiny shop, but that’s it. Our notes tell us our room is in the house by the Orthodox church. Eventually we find a little white steepled church and park up; a phonecall later a smiling woman is walking over to greet us. This is Cornelia, our guardian angel for the rest of our stay.
Cornelia hands us a heavy set of keys and gestures us to our home for the weekend. Barely distinguishable from the postcard-fit peasants’ homes either side, we step through the White House’s gate into a garden backdropped by the most incredible escarpment. Vertiginous though the slope is, right at the top a flock of sheep is skipping across the grass. Gentle investigation reveals our neighbours consist of two rotund headscarfed black-clad octogenarians feeding chickens to one side; and to the other, a farmer tending to a very plump, very vocal pig. This Ms Carnivore-Smith politely (guiltily) ignores Ms Vegetarian-Smith looks of concern, and eagerly heads into the cosy cottage where a fire is roaring in a wood-burning stove.
Copsamare’s three house are a lesson in Transylvanian traditions: dried maize and nut leaves hang in clusters, end-of-season apples in a wooden bowl on the communal table, and boldly painted ceramics from Horezu adorn the walls and shelves of the sort-of shared kitchen. Ms Smith logs that the hollow tree-trunk once used for maize-crushing would be ideal in a game of hide-and-seek. (I resist making jokes that perhaps next door's piggy would like to try it for size in the pending run-up to Christmas.)
Travelling this trip without our Mr Smiths, we plump for the down-to-earth twin room. Instead of the usual inspections of hi-tech gadgets and fancy bathroom products, we delight in the authenticity of furniture made by the villagers and genuine sense of place. Without the distraction of television or internet, we settle down with destination guides, to plan what to see, eat and do for our 48 hours in Transylvania.
Now, aren’t you impressed? I got this far without a whisper of you-know-who. But a word on Dracula. Yes, of course we intend to head to mediaeval micro-city Sighisoara, where we’ll doff our caps to the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler up in the cobbled old town. Legend suggests that the ultimate vampire hails from this neck of the woods, though in fact Bram Stoker blurred Vlad Dracul’s tale and that of the notorious caped Count. Vlad’s ruling methods were certainly on the gory side, but true Transylvanian lore doesn’t indicate any actual blood-sucking. Nonetheless, during a twilight stroll through our rural neighbourhood, these faint-hearted Ms Smiths agree that any offers of extra garlic at supper won’t be refused.
A cold weekend in December is far from a conventional time to visit Transylvania – as fairytale-evoking as it must be in the snow. In high season, Cornelia's convivial dinners in owner Giovanna’s home can be for up to a dozen Copsamare guests. But tonight our motherly host and chef transforms home-grown ingredients into a simple feast just for us. We toast our wholesome, traditional supper in the Wine Country with another glass of Romanian merlot, and we thrill at how charming this tourist-free village must be in the sunny blossom-filled months. Trees laden with fruit, herbs and fragrant wildflowers at the edge of lush, terraced vineyards. Sprinkling another sliver of speck with chilli flakes and onion, I suggest to Ms Smith we return in spring with our beaus. ‘If only to check on our cute curly-tailed neighbour,’ says my companion, eyeing my cured pig fat suspiciously as she helps herself to a slice of just-baked pear and chocolate cake.