Romania has been an epic surprise to me as far as a travel destination goes. I’ve visited many of its beautiful cities, castles, and citadels mostly due to high recommendations I’ve heard from other travelers I’ve met in the country. But, I’ve never heard anything about Alba Iulia. I only found out about it when I was exploring Corvin Castle and on the way to Cluj-Napoca.
I was traveling with another traveler, Derek, and we decided to check out the city. We tried to book, what seemed like the only hostel the town, but because of a festival (Alba Fest), had no rooms available. We ended up with a room at the Central Hotel and between the two of us made the price reasonable.
It was already dark when we got settled in, and I decided to explore the area. I stumbled into what seemed like a fortress. There were some noise and fireworks with masses of people congregating in the area, so I was curious. It turned out to be a massive festival called Alba Fest, featuring a free concert by Romanian Pop Star Inna and some other musicians with international acclaim.
I don’t know who Inna is, but I recognized one of the songs she has collaborated with Daddy Yankee – More Than Friends. We caught the tail end of the concert, and it ended with a bang of fireworks. The vibe in town seemed very festive with people lots of people going out to join the party.
I’ve regretted the fact that I haven’t done much research about the city. Alba Iulia turned out to be the home of the most massive citadel in Romania (Carolina Citadel) and unique revolutionary design. The town even served as a capital during in the Roman Empire and once again during the medieval times in Transylvania. The fortress had a lot of Baroque trimmings. It reminds me of those symmetrical fortresses and castles in France. There’s a Roman Orthodox Cathedral with yellow colored Pavilions and galleries surrounding it. There’s an old Roman Catholic Cathedral next to it, just outside its galleries.
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Moats and double walls surround the fortress. It looked like it would have been an epic undertaking for whoever decided to attack it. Any would-be attackers would have been exposed to a barrage of musket and cannon fire as they approach the walls. The city itself, if looked above, is shaped like a star. Its shape might have served a strategic purpose during a war.
But the mood on this day was not about war. It was festive and merry. Alba Fest, from what I can gather on the web, is a festival that happens during the last weekend of May.
As typical with these festivals, there’s beers and some barbecue. We scoured the various vendors looking for craft-brewed beers and followed our noses whichever direction smelled good. I spent most of the day going back and forth exploring the citadel, eating sausages and drinking beer. I did wander around a little outside the fortress for a bit, but the views started to become a bit industrial, so I decided to go back to where the party was in the citadel.
Alba Iulia was quite a surprise! Derek and I came accidentally stumbled upon the Alba Fest, and I’m glad we did. We got to the city greeted by a concert with fireworks, tasty food, and beer. It’s just one of the many additions to the many surprising things Romania has in store. If you’re traveling by land in Romania and Alba Iulia happens to be in your way. Hop on out and at least spend a day exploring the biggest fortress in Central Europe or better yet, time your journey to coincide with one of its many festivals like the Alba Fest.
Check out Alba Iulia
- It’s only 70 kilometers from Sibiu making an ideal stopover if you’re going to Cluj or Timisoara. Also worthwhile if you’re coming from the latter on the way to Sibiu.
- The bus is faster than the train, but the train is a bit more comfortable.
- There’re very few hostels operating in the area so it might be better to book a hotel if you’ve got company.
- The Corvin Castle is nearby, and a must visit if you’re in the area.
A DAY IN BREAKDOWN
- Bus from Sibiu to Alba Iulia – $8 (32 RON)
- Hotel in Center – $25 (a person)
- Breakfast at Hostel – Free (included)
- Lunch/Dinner/Drinks/Snacks at Festival – $15
- TOTAL: $48
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