A Transylvanian Traverse – Hiking Through Romania

Petra Shepherd goes on a walk of discovery and finds “Europe’s forgotten jewel”

The knife edge ridges of The Faragas Mountains

The knife edge ridges of The Faragas Mountains

Sheep or sheepdog

Sheep or sheepdog

Piatra Craiului National Park

Piatra Craiului National Park

The horse and cart still rule

The horse and cart still rule

Sambata Mountain Rescue Hut

Sambata Mountain Rescue Hut

Still along way to go !

Still along way to go !

Petra happy to have reached the top of yet another hill

Petra happy to have reached the top of yet another hill

Cabana Omul mountain hut

Cabana Omul mountain hut

Exterior of Bram Castle

Exterior of Bram Castle

Donkeys 2

Donkeys

Traditional haystacks

Traditional haystacks

Fairy Tale Brasov

Fairy Tale Brasov

Romania is one of those country’s that is often overlooked and misunderstood, most commonly associated with Dracula and gypsies. Yes, Bram Castle is one of the country’s main draws but it’s also a land of unchanged traditions and immaculately preserved medieval towns, a destination yet to be touched by mass tourism with some truly breath-taking mountain scenery.  It was the latter that I had come to explore on the ultimate walking holiday through Romania’s Transylvanian Alps.  The Carpathian Mountains sweep across central and eastern Europe from Slovakia, through Poland and Ukraine and contain some of the few remaining large stretches of wilderness left in Europe.  The trek was to include walking along the plateau of the Bucegi Mountains and the ridges of the Fagaras Mountains with ascents of Omu and Moldoveanu, at 2545 m the highest mountain in Romania.

I wrote here about a challenge I undertook in April 2015 to swim from St Kitts to Nevis (link) but walking up to 11 hours a day, with steep ascents and even steeper descents, aided by cables and roped to a trusted guide was an altogether far more demanding adventure.  Among my walking companions were Lorie Hansen, a 64 year old from North Carolina and fellow American Nancy Martin, at 76 a true inspiration.    It just goes to show that age is no barrier and the two indomitable friends merrily tackled the mountains as if they were on a walk in the park.

The trek included some exhilarating ridge walks with stunning panoramic views but also some more gentle days, walking along old logging roads through forests, picking deliciously sweet wild raspberries along the way, meeting and greeting the odd shepherd with his pack of friendly sheepdogs, unkempt and shaggy and often indistinguishable from the sheep themselves.   Accommodation was in mountain huts and what they lacked in luxury was more than made up for by their atmospheric locations and warm hospitality.  Nothing beats a cup of hot sweet tea accompanied by sausage and mash after a hard day’s hike.

After the high ridges and dramatic scenery of the Fagaras Mountains it was time to tackle the more bucolic hills of the Piatra Craiului National Park where the rake, scythe and horse and cart still rule strong.  The latter taking us to an evening BBQ high up on a mountain meadow (reminiscent of Scotland but without the midges).  The meat feast was accompanied by our host strumming away on his guitar, singing untranslatable Romanian love songs and the more recognisable American Pie.  It was here that Jude Law and Nicole Kidman filmed Cold Mountain, the park doubling up for Virginia and North Carolina.  It’s supposedly how the latter would have looked at the time of the Civil War.

The film though that is most associated with Romania and Transylvania particularly is of course Dracula and no visit to the country would be complete without a stop at the legendary Bram Castle. Built in the 15th century by merchants from Brasov, the castle is famous for its association with the Dracula legend.  The story says that the wife of a Prince who was fighting the Turks, killed herself after being convinced that her husband had died in battle.  Angry with God, the Prince makes a pack with the devil and becomes an immortal vampire who will always look for women resembling his wife who killed herself.    The legend is inspired by the historical figure prince Vlad (1456-1462), known as the impaler.  The castle would be a child’s dream location for hide and seek, all narrow corridors, towers and hidden staircases, fascinating and a “fangtastic” way to spend a couple of hours.

Transyvlania’s countryside was undoubtedly stunning but the biggest surprise was the collection of medieval towns, I felt as though I had stepped into a long forgotten fairy tale.   Fringed by the peaks of the Southern Carpathian Mountains and resplendent with gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture, as well as a wealth of historical attractions, Brasov, our final destination was a tourist city par excellence.  Founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1211 on an ancient Dacian site and settled by the Saxons as one of the seven walled citadels, Brasov exudes a distinct medieval ambience.    It was a place to stroll around, admiring the colourfully painted and ornately trimmed baroque structures.  I’d recommend taking a peek inside the “Black Church”, the largest Gothic style building in Transylvania, home to one of the biggest organs in Europe with 4,000 pipes.  Music is the lifeblood of Romania and sitting down to listen to a concert was a welcome break after days of walking.

Often referred to as “Europe’s forgotten jewel” or “The Land that Time forgot” Romania was indeed a revelation, culturally intact it offered a fascinating glimpse of how much of Europe would been a century ago whilst the mighty mountain scenery will challenge and enchant even the most seasoned walking enthusiast.  About my Generation is all about unique experiences and traversing Transylvania certainly ticked that box although my legs are still like jelly!

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