Ripe berries and wind bells in our summer collection of thrills
Blessed to live in serene lands surrounded by ancient woods and stork nests where the sun cozily sets at the sound of wind bells, the hard working people of Transylvania, Maramures and the Székely land end each and every day with a blissful smile.
The road to the North is quite long thus making it the perfect occasion to cross the longest gorge in the country carved by the stormy Olt River, all the way up to Cisnadioara, one of the first bastions of the Transylvanian Saxons. Up hill the center of this charming little village, behind a massive Saxon gate and surrounded by apple orchards, hides the loveliest guesthouse. Have your first stop here, accommodated in a traditional furnished room while lunch and dinner are mere pretexts to awaken at once all your senses. Home made and exclusively organic three course meals are undoubtedly accompanied by the finest Transylvanian wines, from the rich flavored farmer harvest to the award-winning boutique wines. As a bonus: the fresh air and good spirited conversations with the head of the household.
Cisnadioara has a long history and plenty of activities to fit everyone’s taste: a visit to 12th Century Roman Basilica which hosts the oldest pipe organ in Romania or a short trip to close at hand town of Cisnadie for a quick visit to the Drapers’ Guild Museum and the Evangelical fortified church. You might also pay the local tiled stove craftsman or the traditional Saxon painter well worth a visit.
Have a leisurely start of the day and proceed on your journey towards Cluj County until you reach the old town of Turda. The Dacian founders named it Potaissa and the Roman conquerors brought here their mighty Fifth Macedonian Legion, but it’s all about the prehistoric salt mines that Turda became famous. The Hungarian kings brought settlers from all the corners of their realm to work here and it was not long before the city started to play a decisive political role only to turn into a forceful freedom voice. Not surprisingly, Turda was the first European town which granted freedom to all religions in the 16th Century to later fight against noble oppression and foreign rule.
Nowadays this enchanted medieval town welcomes its visitors not only with ancient tales of courage, but the formerly closed salt mines are now available for halotherapy and small boat tours across the underground lake. The storytelling and especially the cool salt air highly increase the appetite, so to speak, inspiring us to recommend a rustic feast of traditional specialties and, to the appreciation of your taste buds, game specialties. Once indulged all senses, you are cordially invited to rest during the night in one of the sumptuous rooms of the castle.
Start your day early as the journey to the North carries you through golden wheat hills and sun flower crops while water buffaloes distantly chew the cud. When the round hay bales turn into pointy haystacks and yellow gradually becomes red poppy spotted to vibrant green meadows, you have reached the land of Maramures. The first gem of historical Maramures is the village of Sapanta, a place of many wonders. Before embarking on a discovery quest, you’re most likely hungry after the long road trip hence a lunch stop to a local fish farm would be required. The restaurant is set right above the fish pond, always perfect to enjoy some sizzling cornflour battered trout alongside steamy polenta topped with pricking sour cream and mashed garlic dip. Would you care for a little piece of advice? Have the wild boar sausage appetizer before everything. It’s heavenly!
Sapanta is quite a small village and a lazy after lunch stroll would be suitable to visit the renowned Merry Cemetery. For each visitor, this unique place provokes wonder, but for the locals it represents the best proof of a lightheartedly accepted death. There is nothing either gloom or sad, but hand carved oak crosses, painted in a lively shade of blue. They’re covered on both sides with naive paintings and carven poetic epitaphs depicting in the most comical way the life of the deceased and the death cause. Have more than a moment to examine the cemetery and the museum dedicated to Stan Ioan Patras, the first master artisan, author of the tombstones; the nearby exhibition is the best opportunity to test your bargaining skills for traditional woven bedspreads and other artisan objects. Later on take a walk to the village end right next to the Ukrainian border at Sapanta-Peri, the tallest wooden church in Europe.
Travel no more than a few miles south to the one guesthouse where you can enjoy a balcony view to both Romania and Ukraine. Once the night has fallen, the view is even more spectacular with the lights of bordering towns: Sighetu Marmatiei and Solotvino. The couple of hours before dinner could be leisurely spent around the cherry orchard or taking a quick nap in the meadow up hill. You should only make sure to be back in time as in Maramures no meal is regarded as casual event. Locals are most proud of their traditional elaborate garments and are always happy to lend all size costumes to their guests, only upon request, naturally. Traditional attire is a must when attending the Sunday service with the entire community, but dinner is also an excellent moment to display hand woven clothes of many colors. Especially when ceterasi, the lively fiddlers, entertain the guests and a peak in the menu discloses the lady of the house signature bread baked in clay oven and spread with thick shepherd butter and honey cakes.
Breakfast would be the best excuse to have a mug of fresh foamy milk and some pancove, flat pastry filled with jar preserved salted pot cheese, fresh dill and shallots before taking a short trip to close at hand town of Sighet, short for Sighetu Marmatiei. Ravaged by the Holocaust during the Second World War then turned into an infamous political repression center by the communists, Sighet is now home of the Elie Wiesel Memorial House and the Memorial Museum for the Victims of Communism. At the opposite end of visiting choices is the Etnographic Museum of Maramures.
Take the road further south to the mountains and before long you shall reach Botiza, the heart and soul of historical Maramures. Every house is guarded by old monumental gates of oak meticulously carved by craftsmen faithful to ancestral symbols: the sun, twisted rope, tree of life and the forefathers. Pass through the gates to the simple wooden house that welcomes you to catch your breath and enjoy a well deserved lunch. Here every respectable meal starts with slanina – salted and slightly smoked pork fat – pot cheese, tomatoes and bell peppers right from the guesthouse garden. There is no need to be intimidated by the pork fat as a shot of horinca should do the trick. Also known as the hot, fiery water, horinca is a strong double-distilled plum brandy which best untangles the tongue and the spirit.
Before dinner you might find interesting a walk to the local valtoare. In Maramures carpets aren’t machine washed or dry cleaned, but taken to the village natural whirlpool.
Morning arrives with a choice of post breakfast delightful activities: a visit up to the local sheepfold followed by a traditional shepherd’s lunch balmos: milk and cream boiled polenta with pot cheese and a buttery finishing touch. Perhaps the large display of vegetable carpets at the accommodating guesthouse would be of interest as the lady of the house is not only an excellent cook, but also a skilled carpet weaver using natural colors made of wildflowers. Lunch shall be served at the guesthouse. Otherwise we might tempt you with a short trip to Barsana, the village hosting the largest and finest artisan clothes road exhibition, as well as a masterpiece of the vernacular architecture of Maramures – the wooden monastery. Famous for their culinary arts, the nuns are always eager to serve their guests with home-cooked meals.
Shortly after lunch you’ll be ready to get back on the road only for a little while as the close-by town of Viseu de Sus awaits you. With a long forestry railway history, Viseu may accommodate its nonconformist overnighters in a stationary hotel-train fancying a finger licking three course meal in the dining car and a bonfire party on the banks of Vaser River. Surely there is the alternative of a traditional guesthouse hidden among raspberry bush meadows.
In case you’d like to take a walk around Viseu, don’t forget about the Elephant House. This is the last conserved traditional Jewish house belonging to Alexander Elefant, former sawmill owner and important member of the Jewish community before the Second World War.
There is absolutely no reason for anyone to travel all the way to Viseu de Sus unless they take a ride with Mocanita. The tiny steam powered train, fondly nicknamed Mocanita, rushes everyday on the last forestry railway operating in Europe using the old Austro-Hungarian standard gauge of only 760 mm (30 in). Mocanita starts its incredible round trip journey every day at 9am sharp while the passengers take their full view seats in the open railcars relishing on some fresh traditional pastry. The tourist operating track is 21 km long (13 mi) and the scenery changes from sunny villages to cool wild forests while colorful butterflies and ladybugs travel along. It always smells like fresh cut lumber and burned wood from the locomotive and there’s a fair chance you’ll have a bit of soot on the face and clothes, but you can surely wash up in Vaser’s clear water during the halts.
At Paltin turning point you’ll mostly enjoy the wood-fired mixed grill sprinkled with the coldest beer. Have a rest to soothe your mind on the way back to Viseu then prepare to yet again take the road south and leave the good natured land of Maramures to enter the country of proud Székelys. The Hungarians from eastern Transylvania known as Secui in Romanian language were once skilled Crusaders brought along with Saxons to defend the newly widen territories of the Hungarian kingdom. Today the heir of the first noble Székely family ever mentioned in this area is proud to welcome you to the family’s manor.
Wake up at your best convenience and not long after breakfast take a ride to the single volcanic lake in Romania: Sfanta Ana or Saint Ann Lake. Beautifully shaped like a painter’s palette, the lake is by far a never-failing source of geological and wildlife adventure thus making it the perfect opportunity to personally test some of the local legends from the accurately predicting weather conditions trick to the mysterious origins of the lake.
The surroundings are enticing not only visually as no one should miss the chance of relishing on a finger-friendly picnic on the lake bank. The rest of the afternoon is peacefully spent around the bog located in another crater close to the lake, an excellent chance to spot the carnivorous Sundew (Drosera). In the evening return at the manor for a dinner meant to satisfy the hungriest of appetites.
After breakfast embark for the last stop of your holiday: the Azuga Royal wine cellars*. The wine tour shall be rewarded with an exquisite lunch among the pine trees, fully enriched with the fizzy taste of a bottle of the first-class Extra Brut Imperial Cuvee. Take your time and let your senses be once again thrilled, thus you’ll have quite a few pleasant memories to remember on the way back to Bucharest. That would also be the perfect time to plan another treat for your senses.
*The trip to Azuga Royal wine cellars can be switched to a visit to Urlateanu Mansion for wine tasting and lunch. However, the availability of organized group visits to Urlati depends on a certain number of tourists.
Note that in certain contexts, Romania might be an overwhelming experience as there are areas which do not avail modern day facilities such as television and Internet connection. Furthermore, parts of the local infrastructure weren’t intentionally modernized in order to preserve the rural, authentic surroundings.
Roundtrip transportation from Bucharest can be organized upon request and number of tourists by car (private tour or rental), coach, train or airplane.
Some tours are subject to availability as the activities depend on the traditional farms’ yearly schedule (mowing, fruit/mushroom picking, jams, pickles and preserves etc). However, all tours are flexible and may be adapted, as well as the activities interchanged.
Local families are trained to cook special meals for vegetarian and vegan tourists.
All tours and activities represent suggestions to selected areas and can be changed according to individual client requests.