‘What do you know about Romania?’ Ask someone this question and chances are their eyes will glaze over instantly. Janneke Klop didn’t know the first thing about this mysterious Eastern European country either, until a friend invited her to a summer camp in Transylvania back in 2005. It was love at first sight and now she is a self-confessed ‘roamaniac’.
From the summer of 2016 until the autumn of 2018, Janneke conquered as many Romanian mountain ranges as she could (there are many). This has resulted in a sturdy guidebook, The Mountains of Romania, with 37 routes, varying from day walks in the Piatra Mare Massif near the medieval city of Braşov to a five-day traverse of Romania’s longest ridge, the Făgăraş Mountains. Here is a short introduction to her favourite Romanian ranges, interspersed with anecdotes that reveal the soul of Romania and give you some idea of why it is such an alluring place.
In late June 2016 I arrived in the unbelievably beautiful village of Breb in the northwestern province of Maramureş. This was where I wanted to start my Roamaniac adventure, as I had started calling it: an equally unbelievable mission to roam through all the mountains of Romania in order to put together a new Romania guide for Cicerone. I’d picked Maramureş, and specifically Breb, because I had fond memories of the place. During the two preceding summers, I’d been a volunteer at Babou Maramureş campsite and found it incredibly hard to pull myself away. It still tops my list of favourite places in Romania. Why? No one can put it better than one of Romania’s most treasured poets, Lucian Blaga, in ‘The Village Soul’ (1924):
I believe eternity was born in the village.
Here every thought is much slower,
and the heart beats at another pace,
as if it doesn’t beat in your chest,
but somewhere deep in the ground.
I have never been very good at living the fast-paced Western European life that I was taught to live. Maramureş calmed me down and made me feel more alive than ever.
Remote Maramureş is a very traditional area, where haystacks dot the meadows and villagers still live largely self-sufficiently: one cow, half a dozen chickens, a pig for Christmas and lots of preserves in the cellars of their wooden houses, as well as homemade brandy. One of the first mountain ranges I explored for my guidebook was the Rodna Mountains – a 57km-long mountain range with Pietrosul Peak (2303m) as its highest summit. It allows for wonderful lonesome hiking: few people hike the entire length of the ridge and hence you will encounter only a handful of other human beings. If you do meet someone, chances are it is a shepherd: this is a very pastoral mountain range and many flocks of sheep graze here, as well as herds of cows and semi-wild horses. There are bears as well – but they will probably stay out of sight. Keep an eye out for paw prints, though. Romania is home to Europe’s largest brown bear population – counts range from 2000 to 6000 individuals.
Other wild animals that find shelter in Romania’s mountains and forests are wolves and lynxes – but these are even more elusive than bears. You are much more likely to encounter curious chamois or whistling marmots. The Rodna Mountains can be traversed in four days; every stage ends at a lake. Since there are no huts in the Rodna Mountains (except for one at either end) you will need to bring a tent and experience the wildness of northern Romania. If you prefer a shorter hike into the Rodna, you can hike up to Pietrosul Peak from the town of Borşa and hike back on the same day, or continue along the ridge. The Rodna Mountains and the rest of Maramureş can be most easily accessed from the vibrant city of Cluj-Napoca.
The mountains around Braşov
From Maramureş, I travelled on to Braşov – the place where I first fell in love with Romania. And for good reason: this medieval Saxon town is the perfect base for mountain lovers. Many of Romania’s highest mountain ranges are within an hour’s travel away from it. The Bucegi Mountains are probably Romania’s most popular massif – and not only because it is gorgeous and versatile: it is very accessible. The train from Bucharest to Braşov stops right at the foot of the imposing Caraiman Peak in the town of Buşteni; from there you can hike up to the plateau with its famous natural rock sculptures in four hours. There are cable cars going up from Buşteni and Sinaia, so you can even make a day trip out of it. However, the Bucegi has much to offer and you might well want to spend four or five days there. The Bucegi has an excellent network of mountain huts (cabanas) so you can pack light – although you can also camp next to the huts. Like the entirety of the Romanian Carpathians, the Bucegi is a horseshoe shape. Its western flank is much less visited than the popular plateau above the Prahova Valley and makes for fine lonesome walking. From there, you can continue to the massif’s highest point, Omu Peak (2505m) and then descend through the Gaura Valley to the village of Bran. If that name rings a bell then that is probably because that is where Dracula’s Castle is. Actually, it isn’t Dracula’s Castle – the infamous Vlad the Impaler spent just a couple of months there, imprisoned. At a later stage, it belonged to Queen Marie of Romania (also known as Marie of Edinburgh).
From Bran, you can cross over to the majestic Piatra Craiului: a 27km saw-like limestone ridge that is paradise for everyone who loves scrambling. Book a bed at Cabana Curmatura, the central hut situated at an altitude of 1470m, or again pitch your tent next to it, and pick one of the many exciting excursions over the main ridge that can be made from there: conquer the near-vertical Turnu Peak (1923m) with the help of cables or head straight to the ridge’s highest peak, La Om (2238m). Whatever you choose to do, expect an exhilarating hike, and be prepared to spend much of your time on all fours. If you want to warm up first, try the Piatra Mica, the Piatra Craiului’s smaller but no less gorgeous sister: from Cabana Curmatura you can make a circuit in about two hours. Smaller doesn’t necessarily mean easier: again, expect lots of scrambling, chimneys, cables and walking on a narrow ridge. Of course, all this means you should focus on your feet, but don’t forget to look back towards the Piatra Craiului’s main ridge every now and again.
If you are in the Piatra Craiului and you look west, you will see the eastern end of Romania’s highest and longest ridge: the Făgăraş. It is 90km long and is home to Romania’s highest peaks, Moldoveanu (2544m) and Negoiu (2535m). A full traverse can be made in five days – if you stay on top of the ridge and bring your tent, that is. The ridge is dotted with dome-shaped (emergency) shelters, but the cabanas are all much lower down – to reach these you would have to descend down the northern spurs to around 1500m and hike back up again in the morning, which of course would make your hike considerably longer. However, if you feel you don’t strictly need to do a full traverse but just want to take in the ‘best bits’, you can create a shorter circuit by hiking up one of those northern spurs – the train that runs between the cities of Sibiu and Braşov will drop you off quite close to the mountains (but expect an approach walk of around 20km – in most cases you can hitchhike part of the way). If you want to ‘just’ climb Moldoveanu Peak, for instance, hike up Sâmbata Valley, spend the night at Cabana Valea Sâmbatei and conquer the peak the next day and continue west or east along the ridge for as long or short as you like. The guidebook describes the full traverse from east to west as well as an approach from the Iezer-Papuşa, a crescent-shaped massif to the south of it, and describes entry and exit routes from the north. The Făgăraş is incredibly versatile: its eastern half is characterized by gentle, rust-coloured grassy slopes, but the further west you head the harder (and more exciting) the going gets. The most challenging section is Custura Saratii, a one-kilometre (but seemingly endless) serrated section west of Negoiu Peak that requires a steady nerve and a good grip. You’ll probably be glad when it’s over but elated at the same time – and may want to do it again because it really is thrilling to be able to cover such a challenging section without climbing gear.
The Retezat and the Romans
Let’s head further west, because I haven’t even gotten to my favourite mountains yet: the Retezat. This robust and compact massif lies in between Saxon Sibiu and Austro-Hungarian Timişoara, and is home to no less than 80 lakes, which gleam seemingly guilelessly in the valleys, beckoning you – but you will have to get some work done in order to reach them. At the heart of the Retezat lies Bucura Lake, Romania’s highest and largest glacial lake. Its name means joy and that is probably what you will feel when you finally see it down below after having steeply ascended to Curmătura Bucurei Saddle. It is an absolutely gorgeous spot, from where you can make a good many excursions, varying in difficulty. You can do a short round taking in the massif’s highest peak, Peleaga Peak (2509m), or do something a little more challenging and head to Galeș Lake via Porțile Închise (‘closed doors’) – a serrated ridge that you will enjoy very much if you are the clambering type, like me. From some viewpoints, you may see as many as five lakes at once. There is no hut at Bucura Lake, so you will need to bring your tent – although it is possible to stay at one of the less centrally located cabanas and do hikes from there. The Retezat is also very close to Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana, the former capital of the Roman province of Dacia, and Sarmizegetusa Regia, the former capital of the Dacians themselves. The Romans battered the Dacians’ capital and after the Romans left the Romanians battered the Roman capital, but the ruins of both are nothing less than impressive and invocative of a colourful past.
Not that Romania’s present is any less colourful – Romanians treasure their traditions. Religious holidays are celebrated zealously in the countryside (and most of Romania is countryside); villagers wear elaborate and costly traditional costumes to weddings and on Sundays. Folklore is very much alive: you will find that horses have red tassels dangling next to their ears to protect them against the Evil Eye, and according to legend a giant chopped off the top of Retezat Peak, which gave it its name: Retezat means ‘cut off’. Romanians make up the bulk of the population, but you will also hear Hungarian, German and Romani in the streets. Don’t worry: plenty of people speak English in bigger cities, although you may want to learn a word or two in Romanian if you want to ask for directions in the countryside or the mountains.
Whichever language they speak, Romanians will go out of their way to understand you. They are among the most hospitable people in the world: don’t be surprised if you get offered a stiff drink called ţuică (looks like water but isn’t – you have been warned), a chunk of homemade cheese, a full meal, or even a bed. And a hug. And a tall tale or two. More than once I just asked for a ride and got offered the full Romanian treatment: drinks, a meal with the family, a bed and a ride to the start of my route the next day. In fact, I have yet to find a Romanian household that does not have a sofa bed for visitors.
One occasion I will never forget is the warm welcome I got at Cabana Croitor, nestled at a pass in between the Rodna and Suhard Mountains in northeastern Romania. I had just descended from the highest peak in the Suhard when I chanced upon two men and a woman, busy picking blueberries and gathering herbs. Since the waymarks were sparse and there were various near-parallel paths I decided to check whether I was on the right track. They showed me which of the three paths to take and I went on my way again. After a few kilometres though, they passed me in their four-wheel drive and asked if I wanted a ride: one of the men turned out to be the owner of Cabana Croitor. I happily accepted: it was getting late and I had at least another 8km over a cart track ahead of me. At the cabana, I was treated as a guest, not a customer: I didn’t have to pay. Liviu made a fire so I could have a much-needed hot shower. His friend Teo made scrambled eggs. Soon, the table was filled with Romanian delicacies and herbal tea. Liviu explained the medicinal properties of all the herbs they’d picked; I taught him some English. As the evening progressed and the crescent moon rose over the peaks of the Rodna, we started talking about the Romanian soul, and this led to poetry. All of a sudden I found myself sitting in between two men who, together, recited George Coşbuc’s ‘Noi vrem pământ’ – ‘We want land’:
I'm hungry, naked, homeless, through,
Because of loads I had to carry;
You've spat on me, and hit me - marry,
A dog I've been to you!
Vile lord, whom winds brought to this land,
If hell itself gives you free hand
To tread us down and make us bleed,
We will endure both load and need,
The plough and harness yet take heed,
We ask for land!
This, of course, happened in Romanian, and although my Romanian wasn’t good enough to understand every word, I could hear and see how earnestly they recited those lines: this was at the core of who they were. Yes, many ‘vile lords’ have trodden on Romania’s territories; many a time these men’s ancestors had to submit to a foreign yoke. But now that they have got their land they treasure it – and they treasure anyone who happens to traverse it. They know what hardship is, and therefore they will make sure you get treated well. Romania is as warm-hearted as it is rugged: you may well find yourself wishing to extend your stay after your third ţuică. Because Romania makes you lose track of time and slow your pace. And if you do need to leave, it will embrace you and make you feel you must come back, sometime soon.
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The Carpathian mountain region provides important ecosystem goods and services such as food, fresh water, forest products and tourism and is part of three major river basins: the Danube, the Dniester (to the Black Sea) and the Vistula (to the Baltic Sea).What is the hardest mountain to climb in Romania? ›
Romania: 41 climbs
Urdele Pass from Novaci is the toughest ascent with a difficulty score of 1328. Climbs have an average length of 18.4km and 732 meters of total ascent.
Home to wolves, bears and the elusive lynx, vacations to the Carpathian Mountains offer wildlife watching in abundance, alongside some of the most underrated and beautiful walking country on the continent.Where is the best place for hiking in Romania? ›
|Cabana Curmatura – Prapastiile Zarnestilor loop from Zărnești||Expert|
|Paltinu – Balea Lac loop from Cârțișoara||Intermediate|
|Cabana Postăvaru – Postăvaru Peak loop from Poiana Brașov||Intermediate|
|Great views from Cabana Dochia – Varful Toaca loop from Poiana||Expert|
Carpathian Romani, also known as Central Romani or Romungro Romani, is a group of dialects of the Romani language spoken from southern Poland to Hungary, and from eastern Austria to Ukraine.What does Carpathian mean in English? ›
Car·pa·thi·an. (ˈ)kär¦pāthēən also -t͟h- : situated in or relating to the Carpathian mountains of central Europe. Carpathian.
The Everest Base Camp Trek in the Himalayas in Nepal is one of the most famous and also, the hardest hikes in the world. Everest Base Camp at an altitude of 5,364m is where some of the best mountaineers in the world start their attempt to climb the highest mountain on the planet, Mount Everest.Is Romania safe to hike? ›
Another myth about hiking in Romania is that hiking is dangerous. Hiking can be dangerous but only if you don't plan it right. With the right equipment and a good planning (check the weather and type of trail), everything will be allright.What is Europe's hardest hike? ›
- Day 1: Start on the Corsican coast for an intro to the GR20 trail. ...
- Day 2: Hiking GR20 from Bonifatu to Haut Asco. ...
- Day 3: Hike from Haut Asco across the mountains to the Sheepfolds of Vallone.
Covering an area of 209,256km2 - 5 times the size of Switzerland and larger than the Alps - the Carpathian Mountains are home to 18 million people.
- Banush – a speciality of the Carpathian cuisine. ...
- Kulesha (mamalyha) ...
- Zaterka. ...
- Hutsul borsch with white beetroot. ...
- Rosivnytsia. ...
- Mushroom zupa (soup) ...
- Hutsul cabbage rolls. ...
The Carpathian Mountains — the place where you go skiing in winter and hiking in summer. A place you should jump at the chance to visit when the opportunity presents itself. The Carpathians are the highest mountain range in Ukraine.What is the most beautiful mountain in Romania? ›
Piatra Craiului in English translation means the Kings' Rock. Why is this name? Because this mountain is truly special: it has the most spectacular ridge of the Romanian mountains, it has exposure, has vertical huge walls, is always full of mountain goats and is simply beautiful.What is the most famous hiking trail in Europe? ›
Arguably, the most iconic hiking trail in Europe is the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB). 175km, 3 countries and over 9000m of elevation gain and loss. It circumnavigates Western Europe's highest peak providing almost endless perspectives of the Mont Blanc Massif and the many glaciers inching down its slopes.What language do Gypsies speak? ›
Romani is the only Indio-Aryan language that has been spoken exclusively in Europe since the Middle Ages and whose vocabulary and grammar are related to Sanskrit. The language used by Romani people is a source of great pride, facilitating the connectivity and communication between people across the world.Is Romanian language Slavic? ›
While Romanian does have Slavic roots, those roots only make up about ten percent of the total vocabulary. The language is actually a culmination of Turkish, German, and Bulgarian. This makes it the most unique romance language.Do they speak German in Transylvania? ›
There are two main types or varieties of the dialect, more specifically northern Transylvanian Saxon (German: Nordsiebenbürgisch), spoken in Nösnerland including the dialect of Bistrița (German: Bistritz, obsolete or old German name: Nösen), and south Transylvanian Saxon (German: Südsiebenbürgisch), including, most ...What ethnicity are Carpathians? ›
People from this Carpathian Mountains region were members of the Greek (Byzantine) Catholic Church (also called Uniate) and the Orthodox Church. In ethnic diversity, it is inhabited by Ukrainian, Rusyn, Lemko, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, Bulgarian and Russian populations.Who lived in the Carpathians? ›
It is an ethnically diverse region, inhabited mostly by people who regard themselves as ethnic Ukrainians, Rusyns, Lemkos, Boykos, Hutsuls, Hungarians, Romanians, Slovaks, and Poles.What are Carpathians in Dracula? ›
Forming the eastern boundary of the famous Transylvania region of Romania, or as Count Dracula would call it, home, the Carpathian Mountains are the second longest mountain range in Europe.
Annapurna is considered by many to top the list of the most dangerous mountains to climb in the world. As of now, the mountain has about a 30% fatality rate, which means for every three climbers who reach the top and successfully descend, one person dies trying.What mountain has never been climbed? ›
Most sources indicate that Gangkhar Puensum (7,570 metres, 24,840 ft) on the Bhutan–China border is the tallest mountain in the world that has yet to be fully summited.What should I be careful of in Romania? ›
Don't accept food, drinks, gum or cigarettes from people you've just met. Thieves posing as police officers may ask to see your ID and wallet. Romanian police won't stop you at random to do this. If you suspect someone is posing as a police officer, ask to see their identification.Is Romania friendly to American tourists? ›
Its crime rate is low, and most tourists enjoy a stress-free journey in this gorgeous country. However, before you start dreaming about Romania, make sure you have the Romania Travel Application Form.Is it safe for Americans to go to Romania? ›
Even though it is situated on the Balkan's north, where many countries notorious for their crime rates and unfavorable political situation are located, Romania is more than safe to travel to. There are greater risks in visiting bigger and more prominent capitals in Europe than there are in visiting Romania.What is the most beautiful thru hike in the world? ›
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is arguably the world's most scenic thru-hike spanning 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. Along its journey, it passes through California, Oregon and Washington, providing hikers with breathtaking views of the desert, mountains and forests.What is the tallest mountain to hike in Europe? ›
Forget the French Alps though – it's the Russian Caucasus that is home to Europe's highest mountain, Elbrus. At 5642m, Elbrus and its double-coned volcano is 832m higher than Western Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc.Are there bears in the Carpathian Mountains? ›
The Carpathians are home to about 8,000 brown bears in Slovakia, Poland, the Ukraine and Romania, the second largest population in Europe. Bears are considered of high priority in conservation.How many wolves are in the Carpathian Mountains? ›
The wolf occurs in around 40% of Slovakia, with highest concentrations in the mountainous northern, central and eastern regions. There are currently thought to be around 500 wolves in the country.How cold does it get in the Carpathian Mountains? ›
In the mountains during the day the temperature varies from +5 to 15 degrees, and at night from -2 to 0 degrees Celsius. Although the possibility of snowfall is not ruled out, nature pleases with flowering gardens and vegetable gardens, snow crowns can be seen on the peaks.
1670s, in reference to the mountain range of Eastern Europe, from Thracian Greek Karpates oros, probably literally literally "Rocky Mountain;" related to Albanian karpe "rock." From 1630s in reference to the island of Carpathos in the Aegean.What food is Transylvania famous for? ›
- Ciorbă De Perisoare (Pork-and-Rice Meatball Soup) ...
- Romanian Walnut Panettone (Chec Cu Nucă) ...
- Csirkepaprikas (Chicken with Paprika) ...
- Mititei (Grilled Sausages) ...
- Apricot Cake.
The highest peaks, Gerlachovský Štít (Gerlach) in the Carpathians (8,711 feet [2,655 metres]) and Mont Blanc in the Alps (15,771 feet), differ greatly in altitude, and in average elevation the Carpathian mountain chains are also very much lower than those of the Alps.What religion is Carpathian Mountains? ›
A large part of the Polish, Slovak, Czech and Hungarian population is Roman Catholic. There are also Hungarian Calvinists and German Lutherans. The Szeklers belong to the Transylvanian Unitarian Church, which is a religion established in and spread from the Carpathian area.What type of rock is found in the Carpathian Mountains? ›
The largest portion of the Western Carpathians consists of the zone built of granitic and metamorphic rock (that metamorphic grade is generally higher in the North and lower in the South), and sedimentary cover overridden by thrust nappes of Mesozoic carbonate rocks.Are the Carpathian Mountains volcanic? ›
Mountain groups of volcanic origin are important in this part of the Carpathians; the largest among them is Pol'ana (4,784 feet).What is the hiking capital of the world? ›
It sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains and is close to Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National park, and tons of other amazing hiking areas.
Trodding on the Competition: For the second year in a row, Portland, Oregon is our top hiking destination. No other city is more synonymous with the great outdoors.What state is ranked #1 for hiking? ›
"Connecticut's emergence as the best state for hiking may appear rather surprising, however, its large proportion of trails and park coverage means that hikers of all skill levels are likely to find a trail that caters to their preferences across the beautiful New England state."Why is Romania so famous? ›
Romania is famous for its many natural wonders and landscapes, such as the Carpathian Mountains and Danube Delta. The country is also a great place to explore culture, with its ancient churches, castles, monasteries, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Crawford Path crosses all the districts on the White Mountain National Forest.What is Europe's longest hike? ›
Hike the famed El Camino de Santiago—Europe's longest and most storied pilgrimage route—and stay in historic monasteries and centuries-old paradors along the way.What is the longest hiking only trail in the world? ›
The Great Trail, formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail, runs for a rather daunting 14,912 miles (or 24,000km) and is currently the longest hiking trail in the world. There are also some stunning options elsewhere, travelling through Italy, Japan and even along the coast of England.What is the geographic fact about the Carpathian Mountains? ›
The Carpathian Mountains or Carpathians (/kɑːrˈpeɪθiənz/) are a range of mountains forming an arc across Central Europe. Roughly 1,500 km (930 mi) long, it is the third-longest European mountain range after the Urals at 2,500 km (1,600 mi) and the Scandinavian Mountains at 1,700 km (1,100 mi).Where did the Carpathian people come from? ›
The Carpathian Rusyns, Ukrainians (once called Malo Russians or Little Russians), Belarusians (once called White Russians) and Russians (Great Russians) are descendants of the Russichi, the people of Rus', that is East Slavs who mixed with other peoples over centuries, including in the south with Iranian and later with ...What is the history of the Carpathian Mountains? ›
The relief forms of the Carpathians have, in the main, developed during the Cenozoic Era. In the Inner Carpathians, where the folding movements ended in the Late Cretaceous Epoch (about 100 to 65 million years ago), local traces of older Cenozoic landforms have survived.Who lives in the Carpathian Mountains? ›
The name for the Carpathians is derived from the ancient Greek 'Karpat-Heros' tribes who inhabited the South Carpathians some 2,000 years ago. Since then, waves of people – Romans, Goths, Avars, Slavs, and Magyars, to name a few – have claimed the land as their own.Was Dracula from the Carpathian Mountains? ›
How The Carpathians Are Central to Europe's History. It is in the Carpathian Mountains that folklore stories like Count Dracula and the vampire stories take place. They are some of Europe's favorite ranges for hiking and exploring.What religion is Carpathian? ›
The Carpatho-Rusyn people originally practiced the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith. However, under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, many Carpatho-Rusyn people were forced to pledge their allegiance to the Catholic Church in Rome.Are Carpathians Slavic? ›
The Carpatho-Rusyns are a distinct Eastern Slavic people who lived for more than a thousand years in remote villages scattered along the foothills and valleys of the Carpathian Mountains of East Central Europe.
Between 150 and 100 BC, a new Celtic tribe, the Boii moved to the Carpathian Basin and they occupied the northern and northeastern parts of the territory (mainly the territory of present Slovakia).What food and drink is Budapest known for? ›
- Gulyás. Every visitor to Budapest is familiar with Goulash, or as locals call it, Gulyás, one of the must-taste dishes in Hungary. ...
- Chicken Paprikash. ...
- Halászlé ...
- Lecsó ...
- Sólet. ...
- Lángos. ...
- Kürtös Kalács. ...
- Somlói Galuska.
The typical diet of mountain men consisted of primarily of meat that was available to them; this included fish, buffalo, or furbearers like beavers . Trappers would preserve their meats with salting or drying to produce bacon, smoked ham, corned beef, dried fish or salt pork .