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I t's fair to say that urban Romania has had its struggles as a tourist sell. Travellers to the country are usually drawn by either the expanse of the countryside — still seen as existing in a rolling horse-and-cart realm that western Europe left behind long ago — or the vampire legends the Drac-allure? Its cities, on the other hand, are generally treated as bywords for gloom, grey skies and brutal tower-blocks.
Alongside Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu and the much-maligned capital Bucharest, the western city is among those Romanian centres to lay genuine claim to a bright and eclectic cultural offering. Its theatres, festivals and live music calendar give impressive platform to the national character, and in several parts of town don't be alarmed, now there's pretty scenery, too.
Last month, the city found headlines for other reasons. The days running up to Christmas shaped an era, bloodily so, and you won't have to look far for someone keen to give you their own account of the period. Two decades on, however, this university town is as notable for its burgeoning arts scene and bold, age-worn architecture as for its political past. There's a youthful spring in its stride, too, evident in everything from a high-energy festival roster to a lively CouchSurfing community.
Today's marketing tag is "Little Vienna", and there's a wealth of genuinely grand Habsburg buildings, but the city's too much of a rough diamond for the comparison to be apt. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The handsome, cracked grandeur of the centre makes for a stirring backdrop, tourist traps are almost non-existent and costs are low.
From a cultural viewpoint, meanwhile, omnipresent theatre bills and a trio of weekly listings magazines tell their own story. The festival, set in greenery on the city outskirts plai means "field" , also stages a colourful programme of arts workshops and theatre performances. At other times of year, strong options include May's Timishort Film festival www.