Traditional Lodging Types
One of the most numerous types of accommodation, in big towns and small villages, is the "pensiune". It is usually run by a family, and is sometimes a converted large house, offering reasonable rooms, some of which may be en suited (with bathrooms).
A small restaurant may be attached to the property, and the size of the pensiune can vary widely, from 4 rooms to 20.
Pensiunes range from rather cheap and tawdry to quite reasonable to simply superb.
The Villa is usually the next step up from the pensiune, with upgraded facilities, often a full pool and spa, a prime location, secure parking and close to major attractions.
Most villas offer an experience slightly more akin to a UK/American bed and breakfast, although with a few of the amenities of a proper hotel as well.
The mix can be elusive to nail down, but the distinction between a villa and an pensiune is basically one of additional services.
Farmstays, also known as "agro-tourism" and homestays with families in villages usually offer a rather attractive option for those wanting some real home-cooked food and a healthy dose of real Romanian culture.
The cheap price per person, usually between 10E and 25E per night, makes this a fabulous option in many ways for the serious culture-hungry traveller.
Youth Hostels are just beginning to catch on in earnest across Romania, with about 80% of the main tourist areas catered to by a network of 42 registered hostels.
A great way for backpackers and anyone who doesn't mind a bit of dormitory slumber, the Youth Hostel Association of Romania has 42 registered locations.
Whilst nowhere near as standarised an experience as some other European countries (or as in Australia the world leader in ameniable hostelry), the Romanian youth hostels offer good basic accommodation well within accepted norms.
The American at the Pensiune
One American traveller was confused about the seemingly mixed standards at her pensiune (like a small hotel, usually with a restaurant and run by a family).
The veal şniţel (schnitzel) was completely tender and perfectly done; the service the right level of being there when needed, and not being intrusive; and the wine had an excitingly fresh and almost Australian like sun-filled flavour.
But as she looked across the linen tablecloth, she notice a few little cigarette burns, and noted with disapproval, that there was indeed a small chip on the base of her rather ornate wine glass.
With an arched eyebrow, she tsk-tsk'd the hole in the tablecloth to her new Romanian boyfriend sitting next to her.
Perplexed, he followed her gaze to the hole, and back up to meet her eyes as she resignedly sighed and said, "In my country," as Americans often started sentences, "it is just not acceptable to have a tablecloth in this condition!".
To which her boyfriend's eyes went wide and he said "But they do not have the money to be able to replace this. And it is not a problem for health, just a small flaw. The veal is not to your liking?".
The American woman swung the gavel on the matter as with a resoundingly loud voice she declared that "Well, they're just too poor to have a restaurant then!".
The boyfriend made the classic Romanian shrug with upside-down smile and little grunt. Not really understanding her objection, he decided just to pour her some more wine. From the kitchen, an old woman watched the couple, and then turned to shake her head at her grandson the waiter giving him a raised eyebrow and a knowing stare, signalling that the rude woman's table would get no complimentary palincă tonight.
Maybe things are not as good as the Hilton in LA or the Grand Plaza in Vegas, but you sure as hell wont be welcomed and looked after as well as you will be by our people.
You are Getting the Best
The point missed by the woman, and something which English speakers must get used to in Romania, is that the accommodation and dining facilities are maintained by well-meaning and generally clean staff doing the best they can on very limited cash flow.
This has the effect in your small family-run restaurants of meaning that almost all your food is really quite fresh, and always very local. It also means that at these small pensiunes and villa eateries, not everything will be available on the menu. You can be told "no chicken today" or "no fish today", simply because nobody has caught any of either in the village over the last 24 hours. That may just be because of laziness, or because they are lying to you, reserving a chicken out back for themselves.
After a while in Romania, the traveller from the west slowly realises that they've actually been getting the best of what is on offer, be it a whole trout from a mountain lake seared to perfection, or a bed made with a down cover filled with sunshine, but a few small tears on the lining perhaps.
You are Getting the Cheapest
If at any time you are not satisfied with some small component of your farm-stay, B&B or pensiune room, decorations, food or facilities, you may well wish to remember that you've paid about one third to one half as much as you would have at home.
Seriously, just try getting a reasonably sized room in such a good location in Lake Tahoe, Port Douglas, Banff or Queenstown! Not going to happen!
Of course, "cheaper" is more accurate here, and you don't really want to find the cheapest of Romanian offerings. Really, there are some VERY bad accommodation options, and you need to stick to some basic rules for finding the place you need
1. You may or may not get what you pay for. Never make the mistake that a slightly higher price is going to really make a big difference in quality.
It really is hard to tell from the countless people alongside the main road leading into a resort village as to which place will be the best. Unless your Romanian is quite good, or your prospective host speaks English well, this interchange may or may not be useful for you.
2. Seeing is Believing. When you have the time -- and you should ALWAYS budget an hour at least to find accommodation, you really must go around and actually look at the places you are considering.
Your best bet if making reservations, is to look at a website with good photos of the rooms.
3. Stars Stars Everywhere. The actual quality of the mid-range 3-star hotel, motel or guest house can vary widely under the Romanian rating system.
Whilst the 5-star properties are generally cast-iron and quite good, in the middle zones you can find some unexpected discrepancies.
But, as with most things Romanian, the small things which an American traveller might find weird are really matter-of-course, and not out of the ordinary -- at least in Romania. Hot water, for example, may or may not be available 24 hours a day. This is normal in some mid-range and lower accommodation options, and something Romanians themselves don't really notice. So, if you need to be sure about something, ask!
If you do visit our country, then go there with an open mind and try and interact with the people. They may not have your wealth or standard of home luxuries you enjoy at home, but they will treat you like one of their own family and will do everything in their power to make you feel a part of their community and to make your visit memorable.....and often, money can't buy that!