A 14 day motorcycle tour of Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey with all the streets and meals, people and historical sites summed up in about 1,000 words is like trying to put 10 pounds of rice in a 5 pound sack. Adriatic Moto Tours Romania-Istanbul Adventure Tour lived up to its name and provided a dozen of us – four Australians and eight Americans – with a rich experience in a very interesting and beautiful part of the world.
Our tour started in Bucharest, Romania and followed a counterclockwise loop with overnight stops in charming towns and rest days in Sibiu, Romania and Istanbul, Turkey.
Before our trip, Adriatic Moto Tours (AMT) sent us a detailed guidebook and map, and they made our Bucharest hotel arrangements and picked us up at the airport. All my wife Becky and I had to do was pack our gear and make sure we made our flight. Orientation, bike assignments and everything was stress-free and after our first dinner together, our group was known, connected and ready to ride.
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Rok was our motorcycle driver and Primož was our escort car driver and evening host. From Burkarest we made our way to Târgovişte, where we enjoyed coffee and fresh pastries in a café next to an imposing fortress from the 15th century. Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler and the inspiration for the vampire Dracula, fought bloody battles here. Primož told us that Vlad once invited hundreds of guests to a banquet and then killed and impaled them all.
With this happy note we drove north towards Campulung in beautiful mountains with rocky peaks in the background and a beautiful green pasture landscape below. This route was twisty and twisty, but smooth and enjoyable. There are many beautiful places in the world, all different, but there aren’t many more beautiful than this part of the Romanian Carpathian Mountains. We visited Bran Castle which was built in the 13th century and which inspired Bram Stoker’s description of the vampire castle in “Dracula”. On the way to dinner, Primož took us on a tour of the old town of Braşov that evening. Every evening we went to a wonderful restaurant and the guides shared their knowledge of the culture and history of the area. Dinner was family style, with Rok and Primož ordering a variety of platters so we could try a little bit of everything.
Our route continued through Transylvania on smooth roads through rolling hills, with the terrain and the landscape constantly changing. We had lunch in Sighişoara, a 12th century walled city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On our “rest day” in Sibiu we did what riders do – we got up early and set off, in this case on the famous Transfăgărăşan road over the Făgărăş mountains. At the base of the mountain, Rok gave the signal and the group broke up, each driving the steep, winding switchbacks to the pass at 6,699 feet at their own pace. When we found out the next day that a landslide had closed the eagerly awaited Transalpina Road, we calmed our disappointment with another trip on the Transfăgărăşan.
We crossed the Friendship Bridge to Bulgaria and made our way to Veliko Tarnovo, where we spent the night in the Tsarevets fortress. We visited the Shipka Memorial on a 3,900 foot mountain pass that was the site of battles during the Russo-Turkish War in the late 19th century. And we descended into Rose Valley, where much of the world’s rose oil for perfumes comes from, and passed sunflower fields that stretched as far as the eye could see.
After a night in Plovdiv, which has Roman ruins in the center, we drove through the Rhodope Mountains to Greece. Most of the road had excellent asphalt, gentle curves and beautiful mountain terrain that gave way to a Mediterranean coastal landscape in Alexandroupoli. The next day we crossed Turkey and a perfect arc around the Gulf of Saros took us to the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, where we visited monuments from the First World War.
Istanbul is indescribable. As a crossroads of east and west, it has a rich, varied history and a unique mix of cultures. Three nights and two days of rest in Istanbul left plenty of time to explore and see famous landmarks like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Constantinople Hippodrome. The people on the streets and in the shops were warm and friendly, and the choice of food was endless and always delicious. Our hotel offers easy access to historic districts and its rooftop restaurant and bar overlooks the Bosphorus, the border between Europe and Asia. Simply indescribable – you really should experience it for yourself.
After the overstimulation of Istanbul, we followed Rok northwest to our lunch stop in Saray. The streets zigzagged and jagged, and the surface was a bit rough due to years of mending. We crossed the border back into Bulgaria, and at the checkpoint there were several luxury vehicles full of hundreds of holes. If this was meant as a warning, it worked. Nessebar, situated on a rocky peninsula jutting out into the Black Sea, was our overnight stop. It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe and when we went to have dinner we saw monuments and ruins from the 5th century. The atmosphere at dusk was breathtaking, another step back in time.
The terrain and landscape changed once again as we drove north along the Bulgarian coast, which is a popular vacation destination with dramatic cliffs, pristine beaches and resort hotels. After a night in Kavarna, where we stayed in a modern condominium with a view of the Black Sea, we drove through fertile grain growing areas. With a ferry we crossed the mighty Danube back to Romania and made our way back to Bucharest, where Primož greeted us with champagne in the hotel. After the celebration we emptied the bikes and cleaned up for the farewell dinner. I don’t remember much from that last night. Our heads turned with memories, laughter, and a few adult drinks.
This tour was everything we could imagine multiplied by a factor of 10. Both guides worked tirelessly to accommodate us every day for 14 days. The driving was great, the scenery was constantly changing, the history and culture were beyond what we could possibly contain in our lives and Adriatic Moto Tours earned us our highest regards for everything from booking to your last hurray. Maybe one day we can go again?
The AMT adventure tour from Istanbul to Romania runs several times a year from August to October. Dates, prices and details can be found at www.adriaticmototours.com.