06/01/2013 08:44 GMT | Updated 06/03/2013 05:12 GMT

Ringing in the New Year in Romania

I've found that I enjoy New Year's Eve a lot more if I'm away somewhere - somewhere new, somewhere different.

To celebrate the start of 2013 I'd arranged to meet my Romanian friend Liviu in Bucharest.

This was my first visit to Romania and, I'll be honest, my knowledge of this country was fairly limited. It's Europe's twelfth largest country (by area) and has the seventh largest population on the continent (c.19m people). As a political entity, the Romanian state is a relatively recent creation - emerging from the unification of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1859; independence from the Ottoman Empire was granted in 1877; its borders were expanded to include Transylvania after World War I.

I was on a late flight from London, so I met Liviu at the airport and we headed straight to our hotel - the Radisson Blu which is always a safe bet.

The next day we explored the old town of Bucharest which was predictably quiet in that dead period between Christmas and the New Year. One of the stand-out features is the Romanian parliament - built by the then President Ceaucescu, it was designed to be one of Europe's largest buildings - it seems strangely out of place in a country that appears to be slowly finding its feet after a fairly traumatic recent history.

Romania fared badly during the Second World War, the military dictatorship in control at the time initially sided the country with Germany, but (after some internal upheavals) Romania switched sides as the war drew to a close. Following the war, Romania remained within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, only beginning a transition towards democracy and an open economy following a revolution in 1989. Romania joined the European Union in 2007 but still faces a challenging economic outlook.

The railway network across Romania is comprehensive and efficient - that evening we caught the train into the mountains to the resort town of Busteni where we would be celebrating the New Year.

We were staying in the Hotel Iri - basic but nice enough. It's best feature was the spectacular view of the iconic Caraiman mountain with its illuminated cross at the top.

This seems to be a country where everyone loves to smoke - I guess I've got used to the clean air delivered by Europe's tightening smoking regulations. There was talk that Romania would be introducing a requirement for non-smoking areas in all restaurants from 1 January 2013 but no one seemed to have much enthusiasm for this (much to Liviu's relief).

Romanian food is interesting - we started each day with a traditional breakfast of bread, cheese, peppers, raw onion, pig fat, and two types of pork offal sausages. I won't lie to you, not my choice for a delicious way to start the day, but Liviu was very happy with it all. Other meals are mainly pork or chicken - usually grilled or stewed, served with potato or polenta.

Romania produces a surprising amount of wine and the reds that we tried were pretty good. I also liked their beers (and happily drank Ursus; Silva; and Ciuc), although Liviu was dismissive of them and opted for German or Italian imports.

There's a lot to see and do in this region - we took the tele-cabin up the Bucegi mountain to explore the peak and take in the spectacular views; we caught the train to nearby Sinaia to visit the beautiful Peleș castle; we also caught the train to Brasov, an old town that is the gateway to the Transylvanian castles that inspired the myth of Dracula.

Our New Year's Eve was spent over dinner and drinks in Busteni.

Romania was definitely somewhere new and somewhere different. A great place to ring in the New Year.

How to get there:

I flew British Airways from London Heathrow to Bucharest

Where to stay:

In Bucharest we stayed at the Radisson Blu

In Busteni we stayed at the Hotel Iri