A time capsule of farms and villages in the heart of Romania
Traditional farming in the Romanian hills inside the Piatra Craiului national park. Horse drawn carts, small villages, and an ancient way of life. Video at the bottom
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 in 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 need 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 is 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 seem 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 tyres transferring wood from the forest to a farm. This pretty much sums up Romanian village life.
Our hosts in Măgura were a family – 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.
Farms often have two to three dogs – I’m guessing one large one for protection and a smaller one for rodent control and for protecting the chickens. On a farm, everyone has a job.