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Walking in Romania: Along the Enchanted Way

TOUR IN

EUROPE

  • 27 May
  • -
  • 05 Jun 2022
  • |
  • 10 days

$2625

per person

Availability: 12 places

    When William Blacker first crossed into the snowy landscapes of northern Romania, he entered a world that many people would hardly have recognised. In just a few short miles he had been transported back centuries to a medieval Europe of flickering candlelight and Romany gypsies, where the remote Transylvanian landscapes still haunted childhood dreams. In his book ‘Along the Enchanted Way’, Blacker describes a world that was disappearing, with gypsy lovers and howling wolves, where the cycles of the seasons slowed to the pace of a lumbering horse and cart.

    This fascinating journey follows in his footsteps. Beginning in the foothills of the Gutai Mountains we journey to Blacker’s spiritual home, the village of Breb, near where our adventure begins. During the next few days we will walk among the rolling hills of the Maramures and the beautiful Iza valley and trek through the spectacular highlands of the Rodna Mountains National Park. These are landscapes filled with unique wooden churches and painted monasteries, dark forests filled with bears and wolves and remote Saxon villages that still retain a wonderful sense of feudal Europe.

    For Blacker this was a world that offered an escape from the chaos of his modern existence. For us it is one that offers a chance to experience one of Europe’s last remote corners of medieval tradition.

    Day 1

    DAY 1: TOUR STARTS IN CLUJ

    Our starting point for this journey is Cluj-Napoca, the traditional capital of the Transylvania region, considered one of Romania’s most important cultural, academic and commercial centres. Meeting at the airport we’ll head out for a spot of lunch and into the rural landscapes of northern Transylvania, making for the foothills of the Gutai Mountains and the picturesque village of Hoteni. When William Blacker first drove into this landscape in 1989 it was covered in a blanket of snow and he described entering ‘a country frozen in time’. One of the most authentic villages in the Maramures, Hoteni is still steeped in the customs and lore of this region, a place that harks back to a time of childhood fairy stories and travelling bands of gypsies. Depending on the availability of accommodation we will either stay in Hoteni or the close by village of Breb tonight.
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    Day 2

    DAY 2: DAY TRIP WITHIN MARAMURES

    We start this morning with a leisurely walk around Breb and then head through meadows and orchards towards Budesti village - a great introduction to village life in Maramures. Here we’ll have a good look around the village before walking out into the countryside where we’ll hopefully watch locals going about their work. We’ll have lunch on the way to the village of Sapanta, home to one of Romania’s most remarkable sights, the unique ‘Merry Cemetery’ of Ion Stan Patras. Patras was a local artist and poet who, during the 1930s, began carving a series of decorative crosses and tombstones that depicted in words and pictures the lives of the deceased. These colourful grave markers were covered in pictures and amusing anecdotes, instilling in the place a sense of celebration rather than sadness, a tradition that has been carried on to this day by Patras’s students. From here we’ll visit one of the most remarkable churches of the region before heading back towards Hoteni (or Breb) for a second night. Total distance 5km, 100m climb, 100m descent. Approx. 2-3 hrs. Please note that these times are averages and dependent on other factors, such as the pace of the group and weather. They also do not include breaks for picnics, photos and the like.
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    Day 3

    DAY 3: TREK THE IZA VALLEY

    Today’s adventure takes us on a journey that spans centuries of cultural development in this region, as we make our way through the beautiful landscapes of the Iza Valley. Our first stop will be at a remarkable hydro-mechanical workshop in Sarbi village as well as a home-made distillery, before reaching the village of Barsana. Here we can see the locals going to church in their Sunday best before heading on to the wooden church at Poienile Izei, whose stunningly preserved frescoes have earned it UNESCO World heritage status. Dating back to the latter years of the 18th century, the paintings follow post-Byzantine traditions and depict a variety of themes, from the Last Judgement and the Old Testament to the life of Christ. We’ll have a picnic lunch and then continue on foot, walking across grasslands and through orchards en route to the village of Botiza. From here we’ll head for the village of Ieud, one of the oldest in the Maramures and home to the country’s second oldest church. All being well this evening we’ll stay in the house of an old friend, Liviu Ilea. Total distance 15.5km, 650m climb, 650m descent. Approx. 6hrs.
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    Day 4

    DAY 4: TREK THE RODNA MOUNTAINS

    Rodna Mountains encompass a biosphere reserve that stretches across the Eastern Carpathians, providing a refuge for brown bears, wolves, eagles and lynx. As we follow the ridge the views out across the landscape include the dramatic cascades of the Cascada Cailor (The Horses Waterfall), a vertical drop of close to 100 metres. From here we’ll continue on to the Stiol Plateau where we’ll enjoy some stunning vistas towards the high mountains to the west. We’ll have another picnic by the lake or at a shepherd’s sheepfold. There is also the option of lengthening the walk a little to reach Bistrita Glacier Lake, or even up to the main Rodna ridge at almost 2,000m high, before returning to the Golden Bistrita path. After some relatively easy walking we come down to the Prislop Pass (1,417m), where we’ll rendezvous with our vehicle for the onward journey into the Bucovina district. An oasis of Romanian spirituality the area is famed for its painted monasteries and masterpieces of Byzantine art whose exteriors are adorned with elaborate 15th and 16th century frescoes. Seven of these remarkable buildings were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1993. From here the road takes us down the Golden Bistrita Valley and through some wonderful examples of typical northern Moldovian villages, whose houses are beautifully decorated with traditional floral and zoomorphic symbols. As our long day draws to an end we round the north-eastern part of the Carpates Orientals and head for our night stop in the small village of Sucevita. Total distance 6km, 250m climb, 150m descent. Approx 2.5-5 hrs. Not including optional walks.
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    Day 5

    DAY 5: THE MOLDOVITA VALLEY

    This morning we’ll drive the short distance to Moldovita to visit the village’s Eastern Orthodox monastery, a wonderful 16th century building that blends Byzantine and Gothic influences and which holds the distinction of being one of the few churches around to be decorated with the famous Moldovian style of exterior painting. Afterwards we’ll walk up through grassland and forest heading towards the village of Runc, a small hamlet that lies encircled by dense forests of conifers and Europe’s largest population of large carnivores. This place perfectly encapsulates William Blacker’s first impressions of a land frozen in time. Sheltering some of the last traditional peasant communities left in Europe, this is a land where mythical beasts and fairies share the landscape with bear and wolf populations that number in the thousands. These northern Romanian villages provide a glimpse back to a Europe of legend and romance, and as we continue down through the intoxicating vistas of the Moldovita Valley we pass through a world far beyond our own. Our next visit is to the workshops of Glicheria Hretiuc, one of the most skilful exponents left in Romania of the traditional art of egg painting. Following a tradition that is meant to date back to the crucifixion, painted eggs are believed to bring luck and keep away unholy spirits, with each intricate colour and pattern dispelling a different form of evil. After a demonstration of her skill and a chance to see some samples of Glicheria’s work, we return to Sucevita for our second night. Total distance 11km, 550m climb, 550m descent. Approx. 4 hrs.
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    Day 6

    DAY 6: THE BICAZ GORGE

    After breakfast we’ll visit Sucevita Monastery – probably the grandest and finest of all the regions painted monasteries – before heading south into the landscapes of Moldova, a route which takes us through a string of wonderfully traditional villages filled with original architecture. Around lunchtime we’ll arrive in the village of Tarpesti, one of the journey’s cultural highlights, affording us an opportunity to pay a visit to the house of the late Mr Popa - whose collection of archaeological artefacts spans years of work and encompasses more than 20 different sites - and still under the care of his family in their beautiful home. After lunch our journey continues west, driving through the villages of Varatec, Valea Arini and Valea Seaca – where we’ll be able to take a short stroll to truly appreciate these wonderful homes – before reaching our hotel at the head of the dramatic limestone vistas of the Bicaz Gorge. If there is time we can go for a walk around the stunning Red Lake, a natural dam lake that formed at the beginning of the 19th century. Total distance 3km, 250m climb, 250m descent. Approx. 1.5 hrs.
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    Day 7

    DAY 7: EXPLORE HASMAS NATIONAL PARK; DRIVE TO TRANSYLVANIA

    Pull your boots on tight for the biggest and most rewarding, walk of the trip! Starting our trek in the mountains of Hasmas National Park, whose slopes are still full of pastoral life and ancient rituals, we’ll make our way to the White Meadow and on through vast open spaces to the top of the Hasmasul Pass, where we reach an altitude of 1,797m. Here we’ll have a truly awesome view over Eastern Transylvania and the Moldavian Carpathians: white limestone crags with green flat meadows dotted by little lakes and bordered by dark conifer forests. Numerous sheepfolds shelter at night the semi-wild horses and flocks of sheep which roam this land by day. In the afternoon we’ll continue down the ridge, through the lower meadows to where our vehicle will be waiting to transfer us to Transylvania and the Saxon village of Viscri (Deutschweisskirche), one of a number of German settlements that lie littered among the dense oak forests that blanket these hills, settled by German colonists in the 12th century at the invitation of the Hungarian king. These settlers brought with them a feudal society that thrived among the villages until the arrival of the Red Army in 1944. The German settlers are mostly gone now (although we do stay with one), but they have left behind a cultural legacy that is still very much in evidence in the region’s wonderful architecture, especially the medieval fortified churches that pepper the countryside. Total distance 15.4km, 800m climb, 1,200m descent. Approx. 6-7 hrs. As with all the walks on this trip, if today sounds a bit strenuous you can travel round in the minibus and enjoy lunch at a local café.
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    Day 8

    DAY 8: EXPLORING VISCRI

    This morning we will take a tour of the surrounding districts by horse drawn carriage, and meet with some of the local cottage industries such as the blacksmith. We’ll then return to the village for lunch and enjoy a free afternoon before visiting Viscri’s beautiful 12th century fortified church, a building whose development mirrored that of its Saxon inhabitants. As the need arose, the church was expanded and fortified over the intervening centuries to include towers and defensive walls that were still being added to until the end of the 18th century. Blacker was keen to try to preserve something of this way of life during his time here and set aside time and money to try to renovate some of the old houses. It’s interesting to note that Prince Charles has followed a similar path, purchasing two old Saxon homes and having them restored to their former glory for the benefit of visitors to the area.
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    Day 9

    DAY 9: WESTERN SAXON VILLAGES

    Leaving Viscri behind we continue on foot towards Messendorf village and into the regions Saxon settlements, where we will break for some lunch. From here we’ll head to Sighisoara, one of the best preserved medieval towns anywhere in Europe; a 16th century gem of cobbled streets, watch towers and ornate churches that positively exudes atmosphere and charm. Sighisoara is the birthplace of the infamous Vlad the Impaler (the progenitor of the Dracula legends), and the town was protected by a defensive ring of 14 watch towers and several bastions, each of which was maintained and defended by a separate guild. Total distance 14km, 400m climb, 350m descent. Approx. 4 hrs.
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    Day 10

    DAY 10: TOUR ENDS IN CLUJ

    The tour ends after breakfast. Those booked on our group flights will be transferred to the airport.
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