Leaving E60 behind us, we drove about 8 km down a bumpy, unpaved road. Accompanied only by the picturesque sights that surrounded us, we finally arrived at Viscri, Romania’s premier village.
You’ve probably heard of Viscri already; even the UK’s Prince Charles is known to have bought an 18th-century house in this village.
Curious to find out why this Saxon village in Transylvania is so close to the Prince of Wales’s heart, we decided to start exploring, beginning with its main attraction, the fortified church.
Viscri Fortified Church, one of the oldest Saxon churches in Transylvania
Its story dates back to 1100 AD, when the Székely inhabitants of Viscri built a chapel which they called weisskirch — which means white church. Shortly thereafter, between 1141 and 1162, the Saxons (ethnic Germans) arrived in Viscri and took over; in 1185, they claimed the chapel for themselves. This resulted in the Székelys being forced to move to southeast Transylvania.
In the 13th century, the Saxons built a Romanesque church hall that integrated with the old chapel. The first fortifications with towers were added around 1500. Although the church was Roman Catholic at first, it became Lutheran following the Reformation.
Nowadays, the Viscri Fortified Church, together with the surrounding village, is part of the “Villages with fortified churches in Transylvania” UNESCO World Heritage Site. Additionally, it hosts a two-level museum that recreates the Saxon way of life.
While the fortress is certainly the major attraction of Viscri, there are still many other things to see and do in this village.
‘’This is what Viscri is all about: a simple way of life, just like in the old times’’
The great majority of Saxons left Romania after the 1989 Revolution, being replaced by a dominant Roma population. The village became famous after years of hard work and support from the “Mihai Eminescu” Trust (MET). This organisation not only managed to preserve the medieval houses, but also enlisted the participation of the Roma community in the cottage industry.
Despite the fact that only about 20 ethnic Germans remain, all the houses of Viscri are a solid testament to how things were in days gone by. “This is what Viscri is all about: a simple way of life, just like in the old times,” a woman living in the church’s neighborhood told us.
We had stopped by her house to admire the knitted socks and slippers which she sold in her garden shop. She asked if we were thirsty and offered us some homemade elderberry drink (called socata or suc de soc in Romanian).
She also told us that knitting is a common source of income; every woman in Viscri knows this craft. The price for a pair of knitted slippers starts at 15 euros (for children) and stops at 50–60 euros (for adults). Also, every tourist who wants to learn the art of knitting is welcome.
Here’s a cool fact: when you arrive at Viscri, you can leave your car outside the village and get a horse-drawn cart to take you in. Plus, tourists can join horse-drawn cart trips to see shepherds at work. There they can taste the local cheeses, watch the sheep being milked, or visit the workplace of coal makers, an endangered and difficult craft.
The local blacksmiths can also be seen at their work. If you’re lucky, you may even go home with an iron nail souvenir.
The food in Viscri is prepared according to old recipes, using only seasonal fruits and vegetables picked right from the locals’ own gardens. By the way, if you ever go to Viscri, you must try the zacusca — a delicious vegetable spread very popular in Romania.
The accommodation options are very special in Viscri: all guesthouses are decorated with traditional furniture, including Saxon beds, hand woven carpets, and natural materials. Available accommodation options are at Viscri 44, Viscri 63, Viscri 129 and Viscri 125, but keep in mind that the season does not begin until June.
Recently, even the house of Prince Charles was transformed into a guesthouse (see a video presentation here). He hopes that this will encourage more people to visit Transylvania and that it will promote sustainable development.
“Viscri is the perfect cohabitation of man with nature.”
After trekking through the streets of this almost annoyingly beautiful village, full of its horse-drawn carts and wandering cows, there was no longer any question as to why the Prince of Wales chose to come to this isolated Transylvanian village. We left the incredible Saxon village agreeing that, as it says in the “Wild Carpathia” documentary, “Viscri is the perfect cohabitation of man with nature.”
Written by Alexandra Palconi .
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We have also written about Stari Bar, Bánffy Castle, Hunyadi Castle, Gyula, Kaunas, Gauja National Park, Kuressaare, Ruhnu, Zadar, Mostar, Tartu, Wigry National Park, Krk Island, Budva, Mileştii Mici Winery, Ljubljana, and Rupea Fortress.