5 reasons why Romania should be your next hiking adventure
Romania is mostly known for being the domain of Dracula, in his Transylvanian castle. This mountainous region is also an area loved by Prince Charles - where rolling hills hide quiet villages that look as if they’ve been stuck in time for the last 50 years.
Fri 2 Feb 2018
Perhaps you don’t know much about the country.
But let me tell you a secret: Romania’s vast lands are nothing less than nature’s playground. Tucked away in Eastern Europe (between Moldova, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria) are some natural wonders, parks and reserves that will make any adventurous, eco-conscious traveller happy. Why? Because these places are unspoilt by civilisation, low in tourist numbers and perhaps most attractively of all, cheap. Their beauty is undeniable.
Starting from Germany and working its way through 10 European countries, the Danube River finishes its journey in style in Romania, before flowing into the Black Sea. Europe’s best preserved river delta, the Danube Delta is a patch of land three times bigger than Greater London and is, truly, a miracle of nature.
Its lush vegetation is home to over 3,500 species of birds, fish and animals and offers chances to watch natural wildlife that are pretty unique. In the know wildlife photographers and enthusiasts flock here quietly every summer.
Navigating the Danube Delta’s canals you are immediately struck by a sense of awe for nature’s power. Because it’s a UNESCO Heritage Site, human settlements inside the biosphere are scarce and villagers have created a way of life that doesn’t disturb the rich biodiversity on their doorstep. The Danube Delta has become the ultimate eco-destination in Romania.
Where to stay
The Danube Delta can be accessed only by boat from the town of Tulcea (four-five hours away from Bucharest) and you need about two to three days to explore it. The villages of Letea, Crișan or Mila 23 have plenty of guesthouses (called pensiuni) but my favourite eco-friendly places to stay are the Green Village Resorts in Sf. Gheorghe and Casa dintre Sălcii - which is as traditional as you can get!
Apuseni Natural Park
If you’re a fan of hiking to escape it all and be surrounded by mountains and trees, then you’ll love exploring Apuseni Natural Park, in Western Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. It is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas in Romania with many natural wonders and picturesque parts to admire.
Across the park, landscapes vary from gentle hills dotted with scattered houses to wild plains with untouched woodlands and towering karst formations. Adventure travellers will be delighted to know that besides the numerous hiking and bike trails to sights such as Bride’s Veil Waterfall, Scărița Belioara Reserve, Scărișoara Ice Cave or Rusty Ravine, Apuseni Natural Park is a great place for caving and speological exploration, canyoning, via ferrata and zipline rides, white water rafting and even night-time photography.
But it’s not all adrenaline fuelled adventures. Part of the region is also known as 'Moților Land' because it is home to a folk community that has preserved its traditions and a unique rural way of life. Ready for a trip back in time?
Where to stay
The nearby cities of Oradea and Cluj-Napoca are the most convenient to get to (having airports and train stations) and from there head to the villages of Beliș, Smida or Răchițele to set up base and venture deeper in the park. Guesthouses in the area such as La Ivan or Colt de Rai may not look very traditional but their hospitality is fabulous, as is the food - all natural, homemade and plentiful. Or maybe you would like to stay in your own little idyllic village house?
Seven Stairs Canyon
If you’re short on time but still want to see amazing in Romania, head over to the Seven Stairs Canyon (sometimes called Seven Ladders Canyon). Just two hours away from Bucharest and less than 30 min from Brasov, you can start your hiking journey from Timișul de Jos and go through quiet woodlands before reaching this natural wonder.
Thousands of years ago the earth here ruptured and created a steep and narrow canyon in the underlying chalkstone. As the canyon is located at 950m altitude, river streams coming from higher up the mountain formed nine waterfalls. The noise, humidity and fresh air inside the canyon is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in such close quarters. You can cross the canyon in 30 minutes using a series of stairs and vertical ladders that are not difficult and don’t require special equipment.
Where to stay
There are plenty of choices to stay in this area, Valea Prahovei, but I love Il Piccolo Castello and Casa cu Farfurii because they’re both set in beautiful historic buildings and have preserved the aristocratic charm of their former owners.
Piatra Craiului Natural Park
If you’re visiting the popular city of Brasov you might see in the distance a continuous mountain ridge with white peaks scratching the horizon. It’s the Piatra Craiului Mountain range, one of the most beautiful in the Romanian Carpathians.
Image Head off on a day or two of hiking through the woods in Piatra Craiului National Park
Though the park is not very big, nature-lovers will be pleased with what is on offer. The adventurous can cross the limestone ridge on a two day hike or venture into Dambovicioara Cave. Moderate hikers can enjoy day trips to Curmatura Hut and Zarnesti Gorge. But everyone will get to take in some of Romania’s most picturesque scenery: the mountain villages of Magura, Pestera and Sirnea are renowned for their countryside charm and the villagers’ traditional way of life.
Where to stay
Finally, there’s one natural wonder whose beauty speaks for itself, Bigar Waterfall. If you’re in south west Romania, it’s an easy day trip from Timisora. Find it in Nera Canyon National Park and be entranced by its soft green curves, it's like something out of a fairy tale, with thin streams of water sliding down the rock faces.
Where to stay
Hotel Condor is a short walk from the station in Oraviţa, one of the nearest towns to the waterfall. There's free Wi-fi, breakfast is included and there's a bar.
Marius Iliescu is the founder of Romanian Friend, a locally-run initiative that connects travellers and handpicked local guides and recommended tours and trips that get up close to the authentic beauty of Romania and local, responsible travel.