Get Ready to Ride
Heading to the Romanian Mountains
It’s a year now, since I was cycling upwards, in the hills close to the historic city of Sibiu, deep in Transylvania. I returned again in winter, visiting people I regard as family, and the wonderful Sibiu Christmas market. It’s a city that’s easy to fall in love with, filled with amazing architecture, a warm ambience and some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe. I can see why the city is a designated World Heritage Site, and why it was chosen as the European City of Culture in 2007. The city authorities continue to develop Sibiu too; and, each time I visit, there are positive changes to see.
In early July, along with Nadezhda, I’ll be writing about the 4-day UCI ‘Sibiu Cycling Tour’ and riding both the Transfagarasan & Paltinis Challenge events, on the 7th and 8th of July; hoping to complete each epic ascent before being mown up by the approaching pro riders. Best of all, we’ll be joined by Larisa and Cristian, both of whom are lucky enough to live in this magical place.
I seem to have spent the greater part of my lifetime travelling and exploring new places; and yet, at the top of all the places I’ve been to – whether as a hiker, a biker, a climber, or a history seeking cultural tourist – is always the wonderful city of Sibiu. I’ve even got a favourite hotel: the Art Hotel, in the centre, close to Piata Mare. I could easily lose myself in Sibu and never get bored, with the wealth of places to see, and being wrapped in the warmth of the local people.
Riding the Roads
Last year was the second edition of the Transfagarasan Challenge, and it attracted 500 amateur cyclists from around the world. This year, for the third edition, Martin, Dani and the team have added a new challenge to proceedings, with the Paltinis Challenge – taking place on the following day, the 8th July. Yes, as well as cycling up the best road in the world – the Transfagarasan, on the 7th – you can now follow this up, by cycling to the oldest resort in Romania, Paltinis. Whilst shorter than the Transfagarasan Challenge, at only 19 km, the climb to Paltinis is however steeper, and lined with sublime views of the Cindrel Mountains.
Larisa knows this winding ribbon of mountain tarmac, as a young Deer instinctively knows the forest tracks – having ridden it countless times, and driven it daily as a ski instructor at the winter resort for years now. This year, the road will be closed from all traffic, as we mere mortals challenge ourselves on the ascent, hoping that the toils of the Transfagarasan haven’t taken too much of a toll the day before. One thing is certain, though; the views will be sublime, and the cycling company will be beyond equal. Afterwards, we’ll share wine, conversation, smiles and the warmth of each other’s company, as we dine in the evening light, seated around the edges of Piata Mare, with the slitted medieval rooftop eyes, famed throughout Europe, looking down on us.
Is Sibiu the Best Cycling City in Europe
I truly believe that, when analysing what people such as Martin, Dani and Emanuel (from the city council) have achieved so far, along with looking at the potential that Sibiu has; there is a valid argument for putting Sibiu on the list as the next ‘big thing’ in cycle tourism. It has an international airport only a 15-minute cab ride from the centre, a wealth of accommodation choices, beautiful architecture and a wealth of history, including the truly epic Astra Museum. It has one of the world’s best arts festivals, with street concerts and theatre shows displaying artists from dance, music, literature and the visual arts, coming from all corners of the world. The city has a new network of km after km of safe cycle paths, and city bikes to hire; and, the main squares and streets are traffic free.
Oh, did I mention the best mountain biking you’re ever likely to find too. In fact, the Paltinis Challenge gives you a choice of ascent: road or mtb race. Yes, you’ll need to book your own trip to magical Sibiu soon, as this place is getting hot – and not just in the meteorological sense. My own Bike Box Alan is ready and waiting, and my Bianchi bike is primed to climb. I’ve booked breakfast with friends, at the Café Lumos near Piata Mare, and I’ll be catching up with UCI team friends too, as the pros ride the 4-day tour race. Yes, Sibiu holds a place in my heart, and this year, I’m especially looking forward to cycling to Paltinis and then baking cake for Adi, Irina and Larisa, and sharing wine and laughter with Cristian, Nadezhda, Georgiana, Alan and Wendy. Yes, for me, Sibiu is probably the best place in Europe for a cycle tourism vacation, but I guess I’m biased – I’ve already fallen in love with the city.