It is always been my childhood dream to visit a chocolate factory. The appeal is obvious: eat as much chocolate as I can. Little did I know that the dream will finally come true during our summer trip in Italy. Small town of Norcia in […]
If you are visiting Puglia, you will, for sure, come across Primitivo wine served in local restaurants and bars. We were staying for several days in Manduria and I was delighted to discover that the area is famous for its own wine Primitivo di Manduria. […]
When the new James Bond movie will be released in 2020, Matera will be on everyone’s mind. Located in the Basilicata region, Matera was almost unheard of even 20 years ago, despite the fact that it has been continually inhabited for more than 7000 years!
We were travelling to the seaside in Puglia and stopped in Matera for the night to appreciate its ancient history and mesmerizing views. Matera is similar to Venice – no matter where you look, the views are breathtaking and you constantly want to get your camera and snap, snap, snap.
Matera is one of the oldest inhabited places on Earth, so trying to crack its stories on your own is no mean feat. Enlist the help of the professionals from Sassi Tour and you will see the best viewpoints and have a good understanding of the city’s past and the future.
We arrived on Saturday evening and had a chance to have a quick walk before dinner. On Sunday morning we met with Nico , our guide and founder of Sassi Tour, and we told him what we have already seen. Nico was very happy to take us on an alternative route, so we see more of this magical place. Nico is a qualified archeologist and a local, which means he knows Matera inside out and can adjust the tour content to your liking.
I loved that Nico can talk about the history of Matera at any given time point, but he is just as happy to share his views on Matera’s not so distant past, when majority of cave houses were abandoned, and its residents were relocated to modern housing estates. Last but not least, you get plenty of gossip about the making of the new James Bond movie too!
We started the tour at 9am and finished just short of noon, which gave us plenty of time to get everywhere without the help of the buggy. There was also plenty of opportunities for pictures and little breaks, as my son can’t walk too fast yet.
If you are exploring Matera with a toddler, like we did, leave your pushchair in the hotel. There are a lot of stairs , so you will be carrying the buggy more than you will be pushing it. Get plenty of water and snacks to bribe your little walkers to get to the next viewpoint, church or a hidden courtyard.
Matera was awarded the title of the European Capital of Culture in 2019 and it was also named first Unesco site in the south of Italy in 1993.
Whether you like to explore new places via museums or by walking around, Matera has plenty to offer for both options. In fact, if you want to give it justice, two days is extremely little time to try and get to know Matera better. If your itinerary allows, definitely dedicate some quality time for your encounter – I promise, you will not regret.
As part of the tour you will be able to visit some of the cave churches and a cave house (“Casa Grotto”), where people used to live up until 1960s. The house is done as if someone just left the door open and you are able to see complete reconstruction of the family life.
I was shocked to discover that animals used to live in the same space as humans. Imagine taking your horse for a walk, but she needs to pass your living room before reaching the door! As you can imagine, space in a sassi was at premium and every centimetre was cleverly used.
We also visited cave church Santa Lucia Alle Malve and Nico was helpful in explaining different symbols and history of the frescoes. Before wide availability of books, all religious stories were represented on church walls. It is difficult trying to decipher a variety of symbols and relevant Saints without an input from someone knowledgeable, like Nico.
Nowdays old city of Matera is a desirable place to live for artists, musicians and designers , which means there is always something going on – exhibitions, concerts, or installations. Nico was great at recommending places to see , when we have free time, so we ventured to one of the viewpoints after our tour to make lots of pictures.
If you are thinking of booking the same tour, explore Sassi Tour website and you will be able to choose from several options or customise your own experience the way you like. When we visited some of the tour options were not available due to Covid restrictions, but I am hoping that soon there wont be many restrictions.
Naturally, I was very interested in a food tour in Matera, but Covid had other plans. Maybe, you will be more lucky and will share what delicacies you have managed to try.
At the end of the tour, you will get your own little vintage souvenir from your guide. I will not reveal what it is to keep the element of surprise, but it is super personal and unexpected.
Disclaimer: We were hosted by Sassi Tour, but all opinions are my own.
Lockdown conditions are affecting so many aspects of our daily lives and, frankly, staying at home and homeschooling two kids has been challenging in the last two months. My older daughter Letitia does her homework and gets out for a daily walk or a bike […]
Peles Castle is, without a doubt, a jewel among Romanian attractions. It is consistently ranked as one of the top places in Romania.
Peles Castle is a mesmerizing, beautiful place, where each room has been worked on by the best craftsmen at the time. You will be able to see different styles like Gothic, Italian, Moorish, Turkish all within the space of a couple of rooms.
Peles Castle is located in Sinaia, which is a small town approximately 1.5 hours train ride from Bucharest. If you are thinking about your itinerary in Romania, Peles Castle is definitely worth a look – whether you choose to visit it on a day trip from Bucharest or make an overnight stop in Sinaia.
I want to share my top tips with you on visiting Peles Castle, so you are able to get most of your visit.
1.Try visiting the castle on a weekday and if you can time your visit either early in the morning or in the second half of the day.
We arrived around 10am and we did not really stand in the queue for tickets, but we had to wait for about 20 minutes for our guided tour to start. For guided tours, the preference is given to orgnaised groups, rather than individual tourists, so it is very likely that you will have to wait a little bit for your tour to start.
When we finished our castle tour, it was around 11.30am and there was already quite a queue for the ticket office. As many tour groups arrive in the morning, it might also be better to time your visit in the second half of the day or during lunchtime when everyone is eating.
2.Extend your visit with second floor private apartments
The castle can only be seen as part of guided tour, so you will not be able to walk around on your own inside. There are two types of tickets : either formal apartments on the first floor or you can decide to visit first and second floor, where private quarters are located. At the end of first floor tour, the guide will ask if anyone has tickets for the second floor, and will take you upstairs if you have purchased the extended ticket.
Judging from our group, noone went to the second floor, so if you want some peace and quiet – I suggest paying a bit more for the privilege.
3. Taking pictures
You can not take pictures inside unless you pay a fee at the ticket office.
Outside there is plenty of space to take lots of fantastic pictures. It does get crowded, but try and be inventive with your positioning.
4.Keep your eyes peeled to spot the treasures.
The castle is stuffed to the gills with excellent examples of craftsmanship, whether it is wood carvings, Murano glass or paintings. You have to keep your eyes peeled, as there are so many objects in each room . It is literally like a jewel box full of treasures.
Watch out for Klimt decorations in the theater hall, which later was turned into a cinema.
5. Maximise your sightseeing
I suggest to combine your visit to Peles Castle with Pelisor Castle, where Ferdinand and Marie, Romanian monarchs lived for a number of years at the beginning of the 20th century.
Pelisor Castle is smaller, and it is not as popular as Peles Castle, so you are likely to be one of the few visitors. I sometimes find that going to smaller attractions is more rewarding, as there are no crowds, there is no need to rush and there is an opportunity to feel the atmosphere.
If one castle is enough for the day, you can have a break for lunch or picnic and then visit Sinaia Monastery, it is only 15 minutes walk from Peles Castle. It is an equally historical place, where you can discover more about iconography and Orthodox religion.
In terms of lunchtime options, there are a couple of cafes just next to Peles Castle, or alternatively bring the picnic, as there are plenty of spaces to have one.
If you are visiting Bucharest and want to learn about traditional culture in Romania, I recommend going to “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum. The museum has a great collection of buildings, lovingly restored and rebuilt on site from all over Romania, with a time span […]
Time is passing and with time we are losing certain practices, experiences and things we used to enjoy. Would not it be great to go into a time machine to see how people used to live in the past and experience their way of life? This is exactly what happened to us when we visited Ferestroika, an interactive museum dedicated to life in Romania during communist years.
I grew up during Communism myself and I was curious to see if a museum visit would match up with the past reality. I am happy to say that the founders of the Ferestroika did an amazing job in creating something , which is an absolute delight to discover! It took me straight back to my childhood.
The idea of Ferestroika came from one of the museum founders. The flat of her grandfather was standing empty. Instead of taking everything to the landfill and refurbishing the place in a more modern fashion, she had an idea to preserve the flat as a time capsule. Visitors to Ferestroika are now able to see what it is like to live in Romania in the 80s. The museum tells the story of ordinary people: their joys, struggles, fears and achievements.
You have a feeling that the owners just stepped out for a second, and will be coming back in a minute. It was so real, even the smells were reminiscent of the past.
The museum is small and your visit can be booked online. Due to the size of the flat, the experience will be intimate , as only a few people are allowed on the tour. Small group tours only add to the enjoyment and offer an opportunity to explore all the aspects at your own pace.
In fact, when we started the tour our helpful tour guide Alexandru asked us whether we wanted to explore the flat ourselves and then ask questions. Another options is that the guide tells you about each room. We chose second option, as Alexandru currently doing his PhD at the University of Bucharest, Faculty of History. He has a great knowledge about the period as well as such subjects as propaganda and history of communism.
We explored 4 rooms in total: kitchen, children room, parents bedroom and a living room. You can also see storage area, little hallway and bathroom.
My absolute favorite places were kitchen, kids room and a living room. Throughout the tour you will also have an opportunity to taste certain things, but I will leave it to you to experience!
In the kitchen we heard the story of how ordinary Romanians would lead their daily lives, their struggles with rationed food and monthly cards. I have to say, I did not realise that their lives were that hard due to rationing, constant surveillance and propaganda. External debt and leadership ambitions for the country meant that ordinary people had to work hard and sacrifice everything. Despite this, there was not enough of day to day necessities, like food, electricity or gas. Quite a stark contrast compared to our age of overindulgence.
The museum is a great hands-on history lesson for kids, as it offers a time machine journey into the 80s. When we did not have as many toys as we wanted. When TV was only showing a limited programme of cartoons in black and white and you did not have a choice of which cartoons to watch.
Kids room also offers a great insight into daily chidren’s life, their activities at school and in their free time. My daughter loved looking at homework books, discovering why bananas were kept on top of the cupboard in old papers and what it was like to be a pioneer.
The real attraction of Ferestroika is that it is based on a story of a real family. who used to live in the flat for many years. There are many personal objects on display and Alexandru was happy to share object’s stories and where they came from. Letitia also loved the fact that it was a no rule museum. You can touch everything, there were no “No Access” areas. She tried the military hat on, made a video on the old camera and tried weighing the bag with an old fashioned scales. For kids one of the best way to learn is by handling objects and hearing their stories.
Ferestroika also offers an opportunity for the overnight stay. If you fancy spending the night at the museum, you can book it here. Alternatively, they are working with local chefs and food enthusiasts to host communist style dinners. If you book this experience, you will have a museum tour and get to experience the time through its dishes. I will definitely be going for that next time!
Personally, Ferestroika is a must do activity in Bucharest. You will hardly experience something similar in a conventional museum. Actual stories of the real family make the whole visit more relatable and close to your heart. If you only have time for one museum in Bucharest, make it Ferestroika!
Disclaimer: Our visit was hosted by Ferestroika, but all opinions are my own.
Second part of our trip to Romania was based around the town of Sinaia. This winter I wanted to introduce my daughter to skiing. The location of Sinaia is great, as it is only 1.5 hours on the train from Bucharest and the town itself […]