Fairy tale Farming in Eastern Europe
A time capsule of old-fashioned farms and villages in the heart of Romania. Horse-drawn carts, small villages, and an ancient way of life.
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Nearly every friend who found out that where we were traveling this spring asked “Why Romania?” or warned us to be careful. It’s not a surprise since the country has such a bad reputation for being dirty and dangerous. What we’re not told about is the beauty of the countryside and the hospitality of the people. Never mind the time capsule of traditional living that still thrives in the mountains. These are the photos I took over a ten-day holiday in one of the most stunning countries I’ve ever visited.
April 2016 Trip to Romania
For over a week, Josh and I backpacked through the Brașov area and into the Transylvanian Alps – this is the area made famous for Bran Stoker’s Dracula. While we didn’t spot any Gothic beasties, we did discover a land that seemed plucked right out of a fairy tale. These are some of the photographs I took and a little explanation of each.
Deep inside the Piatra Craiului national park are scattered villages where traditional farming is still practiced. Up until recently, these villages could only be reached by rough tracks not made for motor vehicles. Walking along the dirt road from Măgura village to Peştera we spotted some movement to our left – it was a farmer forking hay into his horse-drawn cart. This time of the year the grass is beginning to grow but the livestock still needs to be fed hay cut by hand from last summer’s fields.
We used no motor vehicles during our stay in the park. We hiked over the mountain from Bran to Măgura on a misty and wet day and were greeted by this view on our descent. There were dogs barking in the distance and we soon came across an old man walking down the muddy path. “Măgura?” we asked. “Da” he said and waved us along with him.
The only road in sight was the grass-covered track we were walking on. This was surprising to us due to so many homes in sight! Scattered on the hilltops were generously sized cottages surrounded by roughly built barns and cone-shaped haystacks. They must be completely snowed in during winter.
Birch trees abound on the hills and along the borders of alpine meadows. This little cottage sits in a little grove of them along the walk uphill to Peştera.
I was reminded of my visit to this Permaculture farm when seeing sheep grazing in this orchard. Keeping sheep among the trees helps to replenish the soil with nutrients and keeps any fallen fruit from attracting pests and disease.
The villages in the national park are set on steep hillsides but that doesn’t stop the people from farming the land. They seem to do it mostly by hand or with horse-powered equipment.
There seem to be very few pets in Romania but a whole lot of dogs. Some are free-roaming and others are chained up or in pens for part of the time. It seems a bit cruel to our perception but we didn’t see a single skinny or truly bad-natured dog during the trip.
The hills echo back the barking of dogs and you can hear it pretty much all of the time, even throughout the night.
Heating and cooking are often powered by wood fire but most of the houses are wired with electricity and phone lines. The phone lines seem fairly unpredictable though since both the phone and internet cut out during our stay – our hosts said it was probably something to do with all the rain during the previous two days. They said it with a shrug like it was normal and not something to be too concerned about. With a stack of wood outside the barn and the peaceful sound of nature, how could anyone be worried?
I don’t know the breeds of chickens they have in the area but they all came with feathered feet. You see them on the road, in pens, and even poking around the only shop in town like these three. The “shop” was in someone’s basement and had a few dusty shelves of packaged essentials and cases of drinks.
When the fog rolled in the vistas are obscured and the old barns and buildings take on an eerie feel. When I took this photo the only sound you could hear was the crunch of our feet on the path and the sound of the bells tied around the necks of unseen livestock.
Traditional farming seems to be done here because it’s the best way to make a living on this hilly land. Modern ideas aren’t thrown out though and greenhouses help to extend the season and provide early greens in spring.
When dogs aren’t barking or greeting us on the road they are often fast asleep in the yards or on porches and steps. This old guy could barely be bothered with getting up but he eventually did. We greeted him with some strokes and some scratches behind the ear.
Wooden horse-drawn cart with modern tires transferring wood from the forest to a farm. This pretty much sums up Romanian village life.
Our hosts in Măgura were a family – a young couple with a baby, Mother, and Grandma who lived next door. In the summer they collect and dry rose-hips, Elderflower, Raspberry leaves, and Linden (Lime) leaves for the most delicious tea.
This horse barely paid us any attention as we walked through his pasture and up to an ancient cave. His bell chimed with each tuft of grass he pulled up to eat.
Many of the buildings we saw were both home and barn combined. Here you see the window to the living room in the front and the door to the chicken coop on the back.
Sheep are shorn with scissor-like clippers in spring and then the wool that grows on them over the summer keeps them warm through the cold season. Note the long tails on these animals – sheep don’t naturally have short tails and in many countries, the tail is removed shortly after birth.
In the field, a woman is putting out hay for the sheep. Inside the dark doorway of the barn was the rear end of a relaxed milk cow.
The knees of these sheep are muddy because they kneel down on them in the grass while they’re grazing.
Thoroughly enjoyed your blog on this trip! Such an interesting place!
Dear Tanya you and your Josh are such amazing photographers. Thank you so much for sharing your trip. The coltsfoot grows wild here. Stunning countryside and farming life. I almost feel as though I have been there now. Thank you. Let them talk then these people can have some peace from Western “civilization” :)
Thank you for sharing your travels and those stunning photos! You do have a gift there. One thing, there are actually some sheep breeds which have naturally short tails, such as Shetlands – a sweet, small, hardy breed from Shetland, of course. ;-) Also Finnsheep and a very few others. But you are definitely right, that most have long tails that many producers cut off.
What a wonderful post and lovely, lovely photos.
At our last rented smallholding there was a gardener/maintenance guy called Artur that came once a month to keep the paddocks etc under control and he was over in this country earning money to build up his own farm back in Romania. He had bought some land with money he had earnt before we met him and had a small house on it, which sounded very like the buildings you have photographed on the property. While we were there he managed to earn enough to fence his land and was looking forward to going back to get everything fenced and start bringing in chickens and sheep with his wife who remained on the farm while he was away earning money.
It seems such an idyllic set up but we know ourselves how hard a small farm can be to run and maintain. Looking at your pictures has helped me picture even more clearly the things he told us over the many cups of coffee we shared. I would not like to be stranded on one of those hillsides in the depths of Winter, but I guess with your livestock around you and basic supplies in it is very survivable.
It sounds like you had a really lovely break, doing something that is more outside the normal tourist routes.
Thank you for sharing your trip in this perspective! My paternal grandmother was from Romania and while the only thing I know about her is the superstition she brought with her I know there was family still there are one point but now I know nothing and you have lit a fire in me to find out more. Beautiful pictures of the country side. Thank you.
Very interesting blog with beautiful evocative photos, thank you so much.
We are off to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in June and you have certainly whetted my appetite, Andy.
What a wonderful post and a magical trip! Your photos are breathtaking! Pinning to my travel board to reread later