Your holiday summary

Holiday type Walking holidays
Country Romania
Travel type Make your own way
Price range From £1575
Travel partner Wild Frontiers
Duration 9 nights
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0330 333 6781

Romania: Along the Enchanted Way

When William Blacker first crossed into the snowy landscapes of northern Romania, just after Christmas 1989, he entered a world that many people would hardly have recognised. In just a few short miles he had been transported back centuries, to a Medieval Europe of flickering candlelight and Romany Gypsies, where the remote Transylvanian landscapes still haunted childhood dreams. In his book, ‘Along the Enchanted Way’, he describes a world that was vanishing around us, with gypsy lovers and howling wolves, where the cycles of the seasons slowed to the pace of a lumbering horse and cart.

This fascinating journey follows in his footsteps, passing through the landscapes of rural Romania and capturing a last glimpse of a romantic world that will soon be lost forever. Beginning in the foothills of the Gutai Mountains we journey to Blacker’s spiritual home, the village of Breb, near where our adventure begins. During the next few days we will walk among the rolling hills of the Maramures and the beautiful Iza Valley and trek through the spectacular highlands of the Rodna Mountains National Park. These are landscapes filled with unique wooden churches and painted monasteries, dark forests filled with bears and wolves and remote Saxon villages that still retain a wonderful sense of feudal Europe.

For Blacker this was a world that offered an escape from the chaos of his modern existence. For us it is one that offers a chance to experience one of Europe’s last remote corners of medieval tradition.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Experiencing an ancient way of life with the Maramures
  • Walking in the beautiful Gutai Mountains
  • Visiting the painted churches and Saxon villages of the region
  • Rodna National Park • Visiting the fascinating village of Breb

Included

  • Full services of a Wild Frontiers Tour Leader with local guides and drivers.
  • Meal plan as detailed in the itinerary (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner) with mineral water as required.
  • At all the homestays local wine and schnapps is also included
  • All transport as outlined in the itinerary.
  • All accommodation
  • All entrance fees, as per itinerary
  • A carbon-offsetting contribution to Carbon Clear (if booking international flights through WF office)
Not included

  • Visas (if applicable)
  • Local airport taxes
  • Tips (always optional, but some guidance will be given in the predeparture information pack you’ll receive after booking)
  • Beverages & any costs of a personal nature.
  • International Flights
  • Airport transfers (unless booking suggested flights through WF office)
Day 1: Tour starts at Cluj-Napoca;
drive to Hoteni Village: Our starting point for this journey is the city of Cluj-Napoca, the traditional capital of the Transylvania region, which today is considered one of Romania’s most important cultural, academic and commercial centres. But our final destination today sits far away from the city streets; we head deep into the rural landscapes of northern Transylvania, towards the foothills of the Gutai Mountains and the picturesque village of Hoteni. When William Blacker first drove into this landscape in 1989 it was covered in a blanket of snow and he described entering ‘a country frozen in time’. One of the most authentic villages in the Maramures, Hoteni is still steeped in the customs and lore of this region, a place that harks back to a time of childhood fairy stories and travelling bands of gypsies. Guesthouse (D)

Day 2: Visit Sapanta and Sighetu Marmatiei:
We start this morning with a leisurely walk of about an hour through bucolic scenes of orchards and hay meadows to the village of Breb, a great introduction to village life in Maramures. We will then have a good look around the village before walking out into the countryside, hopefully watch locals at their work. We’ll have a picnic lunch before joining the road from where we’ll take a drive to the village of Sapanta, home to one of Romania’s most remarkable sights, the unique ‘Merry Cemetery’ of Ion Stan Patras. Patras was a local artist and poet who, during the 1930s, began carving a series of decorative crosses and tombstones that depicted in words and pictures the lives of the deceased. These colourful grave markers were covered in pictures and amusing anecdotes, instilling in the place a sense of celebration rather than sadness, a tradition that has been carried on to this day by Patras’s students. From here we’ll visit one of the most remarkable churches of the region before heading back towards Hoteni, for a second night. Approximate walking time 3.5hrs Guesthouse (B,L,D)

Day 3: Walking through the Iza Valley:
Today’s adventures take us on a journey that spans centuries of cultural development in this region, as we make our way through the beautiful landscapes of the Iza Valley. Our first stop will be at a remarkable hydro-mechanical workshop in Sarbi village and a home-made distillery before reaching the village of Barsana. Here we can see the locals going to church in their Sunday best before heading on to the wooden church at Poienile Izei, whose stunningly preserved frescoes has enabled it to achieve UNESCO World heritage status. Dating back to the latter years of the 18th century, the paintings follow post- Byzantine traditions and depict a variety of themes, from the Last Judgement and the Old Testament, to the life of Christ. We’ll have a picnic lunch and then continue on foot, walking across grasslands and through orchards en route to the village of Botiza. We then head for the village of Ieud, one of the oldest in the Maramures and home to the country’s second oldest church. The village has long been considered the cultural heartland of Transylvania and its people still retain a fierce sense of their own identity and time-honoured traditions. This evening we will be accommodated in the house of an old friend, Liviu Ilea. Approximate walking time 6hrs Guesthouse (B,L,D)

Day 4: Walking in the Rodna Mountains:
The village has two churches, one that dates back to the 18th century and the lovely ‘Church on the Hill’, which can trace its origins back to the 14th century. We’ll take a look at this historic old building this morning, hopefully getting a chance to view some of its beautiful interior frescoes, considered among the finest in the region. We then travel on to the ski resort at Borsa, situated at the foot of the Rodna Mountains (2303m). These represent the highest ranges in the north of the country and we’ll take a chair lift up to 1400m, from where we begin the day’s walking. The Rodna Mountains encompass a biosphere reserve that stretches across the Eastern Carpathians and provides a refuge for brown bears, wolves, eagles and lynx. As we follow the ridge, the views out across the landscape include the dramatic cascades of the Cascada Cailor (The Horses Waterfall), a vertical drop of close to 100 metres. We continue onto the Stiol Plateau and along the narrow path of the Golden Bistrita, from where there are some stunning perspectives towards the high mountains to the west. We will have another picnic by the lake, or at a shepherd’s sheepfold. There is also an option of making the walk a little longer to reach Bistrita Glacier Lake or even up to the main Rodna ridge at almost 2000m high before returning to the Golden Bistrita path. After some relatively easy walking we come down to the Prislop Pass (1417m), where we rendezvous with our vehicle for the onward journey into the Bucovina district. An oasis of Romanian spirituality, the area is famed for its painted monasteries, masterpieces of Byzantine art whose exteriors are adorned with elaborate 15th and 16th century frescoes. Seven of these remarkable buildings were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1993. The road then takes us down the Golden Bistrita Valley and through some wonderful examples of typical Northern Moldovian villages, whose houses are beautifully decorated with traditional floral and zoomorphic symbols. As our long day draws to an end we round the north-eastern part of the Carpates Orientals and head for our night stop in the small village of Sucevita. Approximate walking time 5-6hrs Agro-tourist Pension (B,L,D)

Day 5: Exploring the villages of the Moldovita Valley:
This morning drive the short distance to Moldovita to visit the village’s Eastern Orthodox monastery, a wonderful 16th century building that blends Byzantine and Gothic influences and which holds the distinction of being one of the last churches to be decorated with the famous Moldovian style of exterior painting. Afterwards, we’ll walk up through grassland and forest, heading towards the village of Runc, a small hamlet that lies encircled by dense forests of conifers and Europe’s largest population of large carnivores. This place perfectly encapsulates William Blacker’s first impressions of a land frozen in time. Sheltering some of the last traditional peasant communities left in Europe, this is a land where mythical beasts and fairies share the landscape with bear and wolf populations that number in the thousands. These northern Romanian villages provide a glimpse back to a Europe of legend and romance and as we continue down through the intoxicating vistas of the Moldovita Valley we pass through a world far beyond our own. Our next visit is to the workshops of Glicheria Hretiuc, one of the most skilful exponents left in Romania of the traditional art of egg painting. Following a tradition that is meant to date back to the crucifixion, painted eggs are believed to bring luck and keep away unholy spirits, with each intricate colour and pattern dispelling a different form of evil. After a demonstration of her skill and a chance to see some samples of Glicheria’s work, we return to Sucevita for our second night. Approximate walking time 3.5hrs. Agro-tourist Pension (B,L,D)

Day 6: Exploring the Moldavian Countryside and Bicaz Gorges:
After breakfast we’ll visit Sucevita Monastery – probably the grandest and finest of all the regions painted monasteries – before heading south into the landscapes of Moldova, a route which takes us through a string of wonderfully traditional villages, filled with original architecture. Around lunchtime we arrive in the village of Tarpesti, one of the journey’s cultural highlights as it affords us an opportunity to pay a visit to the house of the late Mr Popa, whose collection of archaeological artefacts spans years of work and encompasses more than 20 different sites, is still under the care of his family in their beautiful home. After lunch our journey continues west, driving through the villages of Varatec, Valea Arini and Valea Seaca – where we will be able to take a short stroll to truly appreciate these wonderful homes – before reaching our hotel at the head of the dramatic limestone vistas of the Bicaz Gorges. If there is time we can go for a walk around the stunning Red Lake, a natural dam lake that formed at the beginning of the 19th century. Pension/Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 7: Explore Hasmas National Park;
drive to Transylvania: Pull your boots on tight for the biggest, and most rewarding, walk of the day! Starting our trek in the mountains of Hasmas National Park, whose slopes are still full of pastoral life and ancient rituals, we’ll make our way to the White Meadow, and then, through vast open spaces, to the top of the Hasmasul Pass where we reach an altitude of 1797m. Here we’ll have a truly awesome view over Eastern Transylvania and the Moldavian Carpathians: white limestone crags, green flat meadows, dotted by little lakes and bordered by dark conifer forests. Numerous sheepfolds shelter at night the semi-wild horses and flocks of sheep which roam this land by day. In the afternoon continue down the ridge, through the lower meadows to where our vehicle will be waiting to transfer us to Transylvania and the Saxon village of Viscri (Deutschweisskirche). One of a number of German settlements that lie littered among the dense oak forests that blanket these hills settled by German colonists in the twelfth century at the invitation of the Hungarian king. They settled the fertile valleys and brought with them a feudal society that thrived among the villages until the arrival of the Red Army in 1944. The German settlers are mostly gone now (although we do stay with one), but they have left behind a cultural legacy that is still very much in evidence in the region’s wonderful architecture, especially the medieval fortified churches that pepper the countryside. Approximate walking time 6hrs – As will all the walks on this trip, if today sounds a bit strenuous you can travel round in the minibus and enjoy lunch at a local café. Refurbished Peasant House (B,L,D)

Day 8: In & around Viscri:
This morning we will take a tour of the surrounding districts by horse drawn carriage, meeting with a family of local wood burners and visiting a traditional gypsy brick maker. We will return to the village for lunch, have a free afternoon before visiting Viscri’s beautiful 12th century fortified church, a building whose development mirrored that of its Saxon inhabitants. As the need arose, the church was expanded and fortified over the intervening centuries, to include towers and defensive walls that were still being added to until the end of the 18th century. Blacker was keen to try to preserve something of this way of life during his time here and set aside time and money to try to renovate some of the old houses. It’s interesting to note that Prince Charles has followed a similar path, purchasing two old Saxon homes and having them restored to their former glory for the benefit of visitors to the area. Refurbished Peasant House (B,L,D)

Day 9: The Saxon villages of the west:
Leaving Viscri behind after breakfast we continue our journey west, towards more of the region’s Saxon settlements. Our first stop will be in Sighisora one of the best preserved medieval towns anywhere in Europe; a 16th century gem of cobbled streets, watch towers and ornate churches, that positively exudes atmosphere and charm. Birthplace of the infamous Vlad the Impaler (the progenitor of the Dracula legends), the town was protected by a defensive ring of 14 watch towers and several bastions, each of which was maintained and defended by a separate guild. From here we’ll head to the village of Cris where we’ll start our walk to Malancrav, which has probably the highest number of Saxon descendants left in any of the Transylvanian villages. It is also home to a church with the oldest and most extensive set of interior paintings in the whole region. Finally we’ll transfer to Cluj-Napoca for our final evening. Approximate walking time 3hrs. Hotel (B,L,D) Day 10: Tour ends in Cluj-Napoca: The tour ends this morning after breakfast in Cluj.
Wherever possible we aim to use accommodation that enhances the overall travel experience, not just offers a bed for the night. On this trip we will be in hotels, characterful homestays and pensions. Any accommodation mentioned in the itinerary is subject to availability and if not available substitutes will be of a similar quality. Please be aware that given the nature of the accommodation on this trip – small guesthouses – the group may on occasion be split between homes that are close together. We’ve done this a couple of years and it actually works very well – infinitely better that staying together in one of the few large characterless hotels!

This holiday is booked by phone. Click 'book now' to make a reservation request to our travel partner who will call you back to confirm your booking details and take payment. To speak to a representative now please call 0330 333 6781.

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