Sinaia is a mountain resort in the Prahova district of Romania, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, an hour’s drive from the capital Bucharest. I visited in the depths of winter when all the country was covered with a white blanket of snow.
The place was established by King Carol I around 1880 because the region reminded him of his native Germany. He purchased land and brought a German architect across in 1873. This influence can be seen in the steep pointed roofs with tiny round tiles, a chalet style that was popular in the German Renaissance.
The village of Sinaia is a collection of beautifully ornate villas with decorative stonework and wooden gingerbread everywhere. The winter snows won’t leave until April at the earliest and Christmas is just around the corner.
Castle Peles is just outside the town and was established in 1883 as the summer residence of the royal family. Carol filled it with Chinoiserie jewel cases, Murano glass chandeliers and Carrara marble fireplaces.
Each room is in a different architectural style: Gothic, Venetian, German, Baroque, the list goes on. There is a Spanish Moorish hall that is a copy of one in the Alhambra in Granada, and a French-style hall.
At the time it was Europe’s most modern castle, with electricity from a tiny hydro plant, running water, a telegraph station and a form of air conditioning or central heating. The ornate fireplaces were just for show!
There was even a central vacuum cleaning system and the 16-metre-high stained glass roof over the central Hanner Hall could be withdrawn. Inside there is a lot of delicate wood carving, strong coloured carpets and hangings, and nostalgic pieces such as Carol’s jousting suit and George Ionescu’s violin.
Also nearby is the Sinaia Monastery, founded in 1695 and named after the monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt. The three-petalled orthodox trinity structure of Romanian monasteries here gave way to a building with square sides.
In the Great Church believers were standing, kneeling, prostrating themselves on the carpet for the mass. The rich Byzantine gold decorations met the harmony of the singing in a beautiful colloquy.
Here in the Prahova Valley there are many mountain resorts, set up for skiing in winter and hiking in summer. Orthodox churches are topped with cupolas and bulbous crosses. The alpine wooden chalets have steep roofs and shingles.
And all now under a silent blanket of snow.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you visited Sinaia and Castle Peles in Romania?