Scenic Setting And A Singing Chef Embody Romania’s Ioana Hotel 

by Sean Hillen

When I first met Radu Octavian in Romania, he was a dynamic national retail entrepreneur. He still is, but he now focuses some of his talents on the hospitality sector.

Ioana Hotel, high above the charming town of Sinaia, nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the Carpathians,’ and located in the Prahova River Valley, is one of Radu’s pet projects.

Photos by Columbia Hillen

Rustic in design with modern conveniences, this boutique hotel on the slopes of the Bucegi mountains is popular with visitors seeking a breath of fresh air and a break from the frenzy of city-life and others interested in outdoor activities such as hiking and skiing. 

With its pointed triangular arches rising high to the sky and its 24 rooms boasting wraparound wooden balconies, Ioana Hotel reminds one of classic mountain chalets in France and Switzerland. A cable car 300 metres away ferrying people to the top of the mountain for panoramic views enhances this picture-postcard image. 

Our ground-floor room was akin to a duplex, with our very own jacuzzi, sauna and showers on the bottom floor. Bathrobes and slippers made our comfort complete. There is free Wi-Fi in all the rooms, a 24-hour front desk, 24-hour room service, gym facilities and a children’s playroom.

Aside from the sheer pleasure of relaxing in rural tranquility, a highlight of our stay was spending time alfresco seated under a gazebo for meals in the hotel’s Forest Restaurant, surrounded by a vista of towering fir trees, with friendly and efficient service from Valentin Dobre. 

Here we also enjoyed the convivial company of a rather unique individual, Italian-born Antonio Passarelli who has lived in Romania for many years and prides himself on being both an accomplished singer and chef, which we attest to having savoured his food and his singing abilities.

Reflecting Antonio’s culinary skills, conducted outside under an open, wood-enclosed kitchen, the diversity of dishes we feasted on during our stay included Gallego octopus (rare, as you can well imagine, in a mountain setting), lamb, ribeye steaks from the US and Uruguay and Angus beef. If meat dishes are your preference, you won’t be disappointed. The menu also features a special ‘Forest and Hunter Platter’ comprising deer, pork and wild boar, a dish traditional to Transylvania, as are the salads of eggplant, pickled mushrooms and red peppers.

This 5-star hotel’s drinks menu, either enjoyed alfresco or inside at the Focus Bar and Lounge, is substantial. Aside from classic cocktails such as Negroni and Manhattan, there is also the house special, ‘forest chamomile,’ featuring gin, sweet and sour, chamomile syrup, cucumber water and juniper. Romania also produces some excellent wines and Radu, who also owns VinExpert, a wine importer, wholesaler and retailer, stocks his cellars with an array of local and imported varieties, including the award-winning Apogeum, a red wine created from the fetească neagră grape, produced by Valahorum, an association of wineries in the Dealu Mare region of Romania.

Ioana Hotel is also within an easy 15-minute drive of key tourism sights including Peleş Castle, a neo-Renaissance masterpiece and former royal summer residence. Guided tours comprise several rooms including the Arms Room, Oriental Room, Portrait Room and Library and a Moorish Dining Room. Beside it is the smaller Pelişor, more a chalet than a castle, also built under the patronage of King Carol I. 

Nearby is Sinaia Monastery, on the site of 17th century church and monks’ cells, but expanded in the mid-19th century. Its carved floral decoration and oil paintings are impressive.

Visitors can also meander through the holiday villa of George Enescu, one of Romania’s most celebrated composers.

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