There is something about Transylvanian cities – Cluj, Sibiu, Brasov, to name but a few – that makes them the most enjoyable and livable cities in Romania. People look happier, buildings are more colourful, everything moves slower and with more consideration for the act of living. The map might say you’re in Romania, but it surely doesn’t feel so.
Seeing this and moving to this pleasant rhythm throughout the five days we spent in Cluj at the beginning of May, I understood why locals love it so much and are so proud of it, some to the extent of never considering moving to bigger Bucharest. The quality of life in this vibrant, university city is simply too good to steer them away, toward the capital city. In fact, it is people living in Bucharest or elsewhere who consider relocating to Cluj. It even crossed our minds – that’s how charmed we were!
For a big city girl like me, Cluj does feel small. But this makes it compact, walkable, and easy to get around. It also feels very green and natural, with parks and rivers a bit on the wild side, which gives it a pleasant, romantic feel. We took trams as comfortable as the ones in Amsterdam and glanced at our travel companions, whose serenity was contagious.
What we loved the most about the city were its countless bistros and restaurants, bars, cafes, and tee houses. So many places to hang out, each time with excellent service, good food, interesting decor and beautiful people to look at. I made a (long) list with the ones we tried.
- Our first hangout in the city was VIA Restaurant the night we arrived. “You started from the top,” was the reaction of a local friend when we told him about our visit there. We were able to move to their nice garden only toward the end of our meal, when people started to leave. Looking at the moon through the leaves of a tree on that warm night, sipping green tea and eating cake – that’s priceless to me. No photos, only memories.
- The friends we met in Cluj took us for dinner at Cabinet de Vin & Cocotte and it proved to be one of my favourite places in the city. The dishes we tried were absolutely delicious and beautifully presented. I have fond memories of the rich, red wine we had, and the overall industrial-chic look of the place.
- If you ask me what’s my current favourite dish, I’ll answer in one breath: the truffle pasta from Camino. This restaurant was a suggestion of an Instagram friend and we were not for a second disappointed. We saved it for our last dinner in the city. It proved to be the most romantic place to dine in Cluj – an old villa, non-invasively restored, with high ceilings and beautiful, vintage lamps, and furniture. But the food… mouth-watering, rich, and carefully seasoned – it is raining in my mouth as I am writing this!
- ZAMA was another friend’s recommendation when we were looking for some traditional, local cuisine. It was love at first bite. We came back for breakfast the following day and we would have returned on more occasions had we stayed in Cluj longer. It’s here where I took my dosage of salata de vinete (aubergine salad), zacusca (aubergine and red paprika salad), and where my boyfriend fell in love with cabbage a la Cluj, a local and apparently very tasty dish. Not only is the food good at ZAMA, the place is also nicely decorated, with the same idea in mind as in the kitchen: traditional with a modern twist.
- The same person who recommended ZAMA took us to Bujole. We only had coffee and a sweet treat, but could already tell everything on the menu was as tasty as it looked good. Their breakfast/brunch options caught our eye, but were too full to try any. We’ve been, however, given a free and passionate lecture on specialty coffee while our brew was in the making.
- Although it’s nice to get advice from friends about places to try, we did some research as well. This is how we came over Samsara Foodhouse, a raw, vegan, and vegetarian paradise. Everything we had was colourful, with a fresh, healthy taste. It’s the kind of vegetarian restaurant I wish I had next door – I would definitely become a regular!
- The same Instagram friend said for coffee we should try Narcoffee Roasters. As I love her artsy-romantic photo gallery, I decided to trust her taste in coffee, as well. The time we spent at the little table outside, sipping on our filter coffee while letting the world go by, was the most contemplative of the entire trip. I tried to have a closer look at the lives of locals, imagine what they’re thinking and dream of, and think of what my own life would be like if I lived there. I even saw my favourite building in Cluj while sitting at Narcoffee!
- On specialty coffee in Cluj we also received some guidelines from our coffee-passionate friend Dani of The Chill Bean. YUME Coffee Roasters was on his list, so we decided to pay them a visit. If all the places mentioned so far are gathered in and around the old centre, to go to YUME we had to step into the lesser explored part of the city, across the river. We walked along peaceful, residential streets flanked by colourful houses with lilac in full bloom in their gardens. I was picturing YUME as a hipster coffee shop, with everything that comes with it: plants hanging from the ceiling, walls covered in subway tiles, minimal furniture made of wood, and of course, bearded and tattooed baristas. My expectations couldn’t have been further from the truth. YUME is all about coffee. Nothing more, nothing less. This is where they roast their beans, sell them, make you a flavourful brew, and share their incredible passion for coffee. We stayed long after our cups became empty and concluded we never saw anyone happier to be dealing with coffee than the guys at YUME. We bought two bags of beans before leaving: one for us, and one for Dani.
- The coffee from YUME was followed by lunch at BRICKS (M)eating Point, still on the other side of the river. In spite of the rain and the strange hour – too late for lunch, too early for dinner – we had a nice time on their suspended terrace overlooking the river, indulging into hearty, warm dishes, such as polenta with spinach and truffle risotto. Absolutely simple, absolutely delicious. It was our Slovak friend living in Amsterdam and often traveling to Cluj for work who recommended this place to us.
- Back to the old town, Olivo Caffe welcomed us for a drink – a green tea for me and a glass of Negroni for my boyfriend. This place, which feels more like a living room than a cafe, is for long an institution in Cluj, with people coming and going from early morning until late at night. We planned to return for coffee, but with so many places to go to in the city, we didn’t. Not on this occasion!
- I don’t know about you, but I do like my tea. It gets a bit tricky when I travel, but fortunately it turned out I had no problem in attending to my little ritual while in Cluj. I loved the tea – and the staff’s passion for it – at Demmers Teehaus. Facing Unirii square – the city’s meeting point – it’s a nice place to do some people watching while enjoying your drink.
- When I’m not drinking tea or coffee, I am a big fan of crafts beer. Cluj didn’t disappoint at this chapter either. On the contrary! I was very happy with a bottle or two of Opium – the local version of my favourite India Pale Ale from – from Hophead Brewing.
- Of course I could not leave Cluj without a visit to Farmec, the place to supply on high quality cosmetics made in Romania – better yet, made in Cluj. A pack of my absolute favourite face serum and a tube of my favourite face wash, and the world was suddenly a better place!
Thank you, Cluj, you truly were amazing!