Romania might be one of the newer EU member states, but feels a world away from Brussels. No bad thing in the current climate, you might be thinking, and it's certainly true that anyone looking for a dose of a slower pace of life and maybe a more old-fashioned appreciation of the natural world could do a lot worse than head east.
The capital, Bucharest, is often over-looked completely but has a lovely and lively old town area - the Lipscani District - complete with buzzing bars and restaurants and a couple of decent new boutique hotels; well worth checking out while on holiday in Romania. Elsewhere, the Arch of Triumph is a carbon copy of the one in Paris, there are some nice parks and lakes, and the Museum of the Romanian Peasant is worth a look. Then there's the People's Palace, the second biggest and least aptly named building in the world, and a huge and constant reminder of the folly of the Ceaucescu years. All things considered, though, unless you have plenty of time on your hands we recommend heading due north or due east from the capital to enjoy Romania's two greatest natural assets - Transylvania and the Danube Delta.
Transylvania remains one of the most misunderstood and mis-represented regions on Earth, but the incredible diversity of attractions, many independently worth visiting for, make for one of the most rewarding holiday destinations we've ever had the pleasure of visiting.
First and foremost there is the fascinating (and mighty complicated) cultural melting pot of Romanians, Saxons, Hungarians and Romany gypsies who have populated the area for millennia. The result is a landscape dotted with communities with very distinct lifestyles, some of which disappeared from these industrialised and crowded islands centuries ago.
Speaking of the landscape, the dramatic Carpathian Mountains that form a boomerang along Transylvania's eastern and southern borders have sometimes kept invaders at bay, while the lush and beautiful meadows and pastures in the lee of the mountains has proved too enticing for others. The mountains and the National Parks that cover much of them are also home to an incredible third of the remaining bears, wolves and lynx in Europe, and are home to a spectacular profusion of birdlife. If these weren't reasons enough to pack your bags and head off on a Romanian holiday, the Transylvanian way of life, with horse and carts still a main form of transport, is the ultimate evocation of an ancient and bucolic way of life that many - including the urban-dwellers here at Original Travel - hanker for.
While Transylvania can make you feel like you've travelled to a different century, the Danube delta might make you think you'd been transported to the depths of Africa, such is the proliferation of birdlife more commonly found there. Covering more than 2,000 square miles in eastern Romania, the delta, where Europe's longest river meets the Black Sea, is one of the continent's last great wildernesses.
The vast expanses of waterways, lakes, reed-beds, marshes and islands constitute some of the most important wetlands in the world and are home to the huge concentration of over 300 bird species (including Europe's largest colony of pelicans) many of which also breed here. This makes the delta undoubtedly the finest short-haul nature holiday destination from the UK and it would not be an exaggeration to say there are a lot of similarities with Botswana's extraordinary Okavango Delta. The birds certainly seem to think so, as many migrate between the two every year.
Having survived various barmy communist schemes that threatened to drain the wetlands for agricultural purposes, the delta now enjoys protected status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is a paradise for nature lovers. You needn't be a mad keen ornithologist to appreciate the delta - simply enjoy being surrounded by natural beauty and big, open country where you can really spread your wings - which is presumably why the birds like it so much.