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Romania has some of the best wilderness areas in all of Europe
One of the reasons we wanted to visit Romania was to hike through some of the national forests we’d read about in our Lonely Planet guide. These mountainous havens are some of the last places to see large European mammals such as brown bears, red deer, and wolves, and in the case of the Piatra Craiului park it’s also an area where traditional Romanian farming and lifestyle still thrive.
We settled on the idea of arriving in Bucharest, immediately taking the three-hour train to Brasov, spending time seeing Bran Castle, and then hiking from Bran to the village of Măgura and spending time in the park. For a week’s trip it ended up being the perfect way to see as much as we could and enjoy spending time outdoors.
Hiking in the Piatra Craiului National Park
Măgura is a village set inside the national park and up until recently it was inaccessible to motor vehicles. Life is sleepy there and farms that seem to be taken out of a fairy tale are peppered across green hills. To get from Bran to Măgura we started at the little field in Bran where the locals hold their community festivals. Red and white markers show the way to go up and over the mountain and down into the valleys of Piatra Craiului.
It took about four hours for us to complete the very steep hike but it could probably be done in less time if the weather were better – it was drizzling and very muddy but we were determined to keep to our hike plan.
The next day we set out on a drier morning for a day’s walk around the area. There are grass lanes and dirt roads to walk on through the park but some of them are so eroded that they can really only be called trails. I like that.
A cave that people had lived in thousands of years ago
High on a cliff face near the village of Peştera are two cave openings. One has high ceilings and meanders about 100 metres into the hill.
Liliecilor Cave is sometimes home to endangered bats (we didn’t see any) but years ago the floor was excavated. It was discovered that people had made this place their home between 10,000 to 30,000 years ago. Climbing up into it and looking around reminded me of some of my favourite books: the Clan of the Cave Bear series.
My love for finding use for wild plants and herbs started with these books. So I nearly whooped when I spotted Coltsfoot later in the day. I’d never seen it in the wild before and it’s mentioned in the books as a salt substitute. I’ve also read in modern herbals that it can be smoked or taken as a medicine for coughs and Bronchitis.
Brown bears and wilderness
The next day was our moutains hike and we started off a trail directly across from our guesthouse. It wound down to a park service road that cut through high limestone cliff faces. From there we diverted off on a rougher track that took us straight up and through a narrow gorge.
Josh was constantly on the lookout for the 150 brown bears in the area. As we walked along a little nervously at first, I kept thinking how dumb I was to have not brought a bear whistle. The locals assured us that it’s rare to see one but even so…
We crossed the stream that than through the gorge about half a dozen times before it met up with the park road again. After following it for another half an hour it dwindled into a narrow track that wound up through the forest and into the mountains. We didn’t see any other people or animals but we did spot the track of what we think was a wolf. It was far too large to have belonged to a dog.
Higher still we climbed and eventually come out into grassy meadows dotted with wildflowers. Some I can’t name but others were common garden flowers that you’d never think of being ‘Wild’. One slope was practically purple with the blossoms of Crocus.
It was so peaceful and you could see spring unfolding from a cold winter. In places patches of ice were still on the ground and if you shouted, your echo would sound through the hills.
Put Romania on your bucket list
We made out way around four mountains before descending once again into the valleys. Surrounded by snow covered peaks, the little villages and farms seem straight out of a fairy tale.
If you’re thinking of an amazing (and inexpensive) getaway, I highly recommend you think of visiting Romania. It’s a beautiful country filled with a lot of contrasts but also very hospitable people, beautiful countryside, and a way of life that has all but disappeared in the West. We’re already discussing our second trip to the area and have also been encouraged to visit Bulgaria as well – handy since our travel book covers both countries