BAILE HERCULANE, Romania — An article on health vacations contained a paragraph on the health spas of Romania. It was probably the word "Transylvania" that caught my eye; I am a longtime Dracula fan. Or perhaps it was "Carpathians"; at any rate, I was hooked.
My choice of spas, from among the more than 160 in Romania, was based entirely upon intuition and black magic. So far the psychic guesswork I use in choosing places to stay has worked, and I was not disappointed in Herculane.
In southwest Romania, this beautiful spa lies in the Cerna Valley of the Carpathian Mountains, on the Cerna River. It spreads to the foot of the Domogled massif (3,500 feet), a natural reserve noted for its great natural beauty and luxuriant plant life.
The area is characterized by a temperate climate with high negative air ionization, which is supposed to exert beneficial effects upon the human organism. I know that the air smells wonderful.
The pass that shelters Herculane is narrow, and on either side the huge, forested mountains rise green and lush. Below is the Cerna, a narrow river that runs with considerable force, and whose sound is the best sleeping potion.
No Choice of Hotels
Herculane has many hotels and hotel/clinics, but the traveler is not offered a choice. Accommodations are assigned by the Romanian National Tourist Board, but as they are eager for foreign guests, they give you the best available.
We were assigned to the Hotel Roman, which towers just at the Cerna's edge. I was pleased, because it was the hotel I would have chosen. All of the rooms look out on the river, and all have balconies. Beneath the hotel, in protective rooms, are the well-preserved remains of three Roman baths that date to AD 150.
The hotel/clinic, classified by the Romanians as a deluxe hotel, would be classified by Americans as a "good" hotel. The rooms are pleasant and the odd, low beds comfortable enough, but towels and linen are changed only twice a week, and there is a shortage of paper goods of all kinds. The provident traveler would be well advised to pack extra tissues and a couple of towels, as well as bathing suits, robes and rubber slippers for the baths.
Hot Mineral Water
The treatment at Herculane is centered around the hot mineral water that springs from depths of 5,500 to 6,500 feet, and is used both externally and internally in the treatment of many ailments, particularly rheumatic afflictions and nervous and digestive ailments.
Treatments are many and varied, and include electrotherapy, hydrotherapy, kinetotherapy, sauna, marvelous massages, a geriatric cosmetics room, and, if you wish, treatment with such well-known if controversial agents as Gerovital, Aslavital and Pel Amar.
All treatments except for the Gerovital, Aslavital and Pel Amar, which are optional, are included in the package price, which also includes round-trip air transportation from New York, all transfers between Bucharest Airport and the spa, accommodations in first-class or deluxe hotels, and three meals daily (special diet if needed).
The price was $1,380 per person last spring. The price varies somewhat with fluctuations in the value of currency, and rates are slightly higher during the high season, June 15 through Sept. 14.
A two-week series of treatments with Gerovital, Pel Amar or Aslavital is $285 in the high season, $235 in low season. For three weeks it is $350 and $280.
Tourists Are Well-Fed
Although there are food shortages for the Romanian people, tourists are well-fed. Foreigners also have the privilege of buying chocolate bars, cookies, cigarettes, instant coffee, liquor and soft drinks in the dollar shops.
The choice of food items, however, is limited, and fussy eaters might have a problem with the boarding-school approach to dining. The only things we really missed were fresh fruits and vegetables, as we were there in the early spring and gardens were not producing yet.
Most Romanians have no real concept of American coffee. Tea is the usual drink for breakfast and lunch, and if you ask for coffee you will usually get Turkish coffee, a legacy of past conquerors. Another oddity is the fact that the only whisky Romanians seem to know of is Scotch, which they generally pronounce "Scootch." Ice is also difficult to come by.
One thing that every traveler to Romania should pack, even if he doesn't smoke, is Kent cigarettes. Kents are, for reasons that no one could tell us, the most desired tip and the most used item of barter. As a tourist, you are allowed to bring in enough for your personal use. In the Romanian dollar shops they sell for $15 a carton.
American Gum, Chocolate
Children are partial to American gum and to chocolate, both of which are very difficult for them to get.
Be sure to pack enough film. Romania does not import film, and the Romanian film is not only almost impossible to find but is difficult to get developed when you return home.