Archive for the ‘Classy Sightseeing’ Category

The isolated Czech villages from Banat – a region with probably the most interesting mix of ethnic groups of Romania

This year, I decided together with my family and friends to spend the 1st of May extended holiday weekend in a different place: Cheile Nerei National Park, near the Danube Gorges in the Western part of Romania called Banat.

We knew that the region is a fantastic one with amazing landscapes: the Danube river flowing along the green mountains, waterfalls, caves, and we also heard about the isolated Czech villages making great plans of exploring the area as much as possible …but in the end, things were a little bit different from what we expected 🙂

Besides all these natural attractions, we found out that in a village called Garnic, near Moldova Noua, there is a music festival called the Rocker`s Challenge Garnic, taking place every year on May 1st. That was great news for us: during the day we could explore the nature and in the evening we could enjoy the concerts!

On the morning of May 1st, we left Bucharest very enthusiastic and fresh, because we had a 7 hours journey in front of us (470km)- towards Garnic village, which would become our home for the next 3 nights. Everything went as planned until we reached Orsova, a nice port city on the Danube River, above the Iron Gates. But from this spot on, the unexpected happened: we experienced the bad roads taking us to Moldova Noua and Garnic village! Imagine, it took us about 3 hours to drive just about 100 km!!! So, if you decide to discover the area and you really want to get there, you need to be calm, spare some time and have a strong car, like a 4×4 or a motorbike. 🙂 But it was totally worth it!!!

Once we arrived in Garnic, we completely forgot about the long and bumpy trip, we were instantly charmed by the beauties of the place, and we could feel something different in the air: the place, the people, the mood, we didn`t know exactly what it was, but we were about to discover it in the next days.

Garnic (Gernik in Czech) is a village surrounded by green hills and untouched by the modern world where about 500 people still speak the Czech language have preserved their customs, culture, traditions and way of living for generations – perhaps due to the difficult access to the place and the isolation. There is only one guesthouse in the village, however you could spend the night at the locals and this was for sure a challenge for all of us (30 Ron/bed/night – about 7 Euro)! Maria, our host, a very nice lady wearing a traditional Czech dress and a headscarf told us the story about her ethnic minority in her poor Romanian, which was very interesting for us.

In 1820, Banat was under the Hapsburg Empire rule colonizing this area with Czech people for various reasons: to guard and protect the military borders, to populate the weak inhabited territories or for foresting and mining of the area.

The Czech people established in several villages and today only 6 of them are still here: Garnic, Sfanta Helena, Rovensca, Eibental, Bigar and Sumita. Their way of life is a simple one: farming and handicraft work, their houses are old but well maintained and one doesn’t notice any local people sitting in front of their houses for a chit-chat (like Romanians do :); everyone is just taking care of their households. Most of them are old, while the young people have left the village mainly to the Czech Republic. Our host Maria was in the same situation: all 3 of her children live in Prague and they come to visit her every year. We were really sad to find out that the number of people from this beautiful and archaic minority has decreased significantly in the past years….

But going back to our adventure, on the first day we explored only Gernik village, walking on the streets, admiring the houses, exchanging some words with the locals we met by chance while they were cleaning the garden in front of their house and listening to the silence (as we came from never-sleeping Bucharest :)) The weather was with us, sunny with fluffy clouds, a perfect Spring day in a perfect setting where a beer was more than welcome! The local bar in the center of the village surprised us: they served Czeck draft dark beer at only 3,5 Ron (less than 1 Euro)

The friendly lady from the bar of course spoke Czech, our table neighbors were some students and volunteers from the Czech Republic who were there for a camp in Gernik. The bill was similar to those in Prague (photo) and we were surprised to find out that you could also pay with Czech Koronas! That’s when we asked ourselves: where are we, in Romania or the Czech Republic?! The feeling was just great! And another important detail worth mentioning to some of you: the mobile phone signal is almost non-existent, but you have free Wifi at the local bar. 🙂

Next day we visited two other special and quiet villages: Sasca Montana, the perfect point to start your trails into the National Park Cheile Nerei and Socolari, that impressed me so much because of its houses made of river stones. Recently many artists from Timisoara like painters, sculptures, musicians have moved here and I can understand them, because the peace and quiet along with the sources of inspiration are generous in these areas!

Our bonus trip: Rocker`s Challenge Garnic festival was an amazing and very well organized event, with great sound, good bands, free supervised activities like biking, trekking, flying fox, tasty food cooked right in front of us (15-20 Ron/big portion – 3-4 Euro) and not least, quality personalized T-Shirts, the perfect souvenir 🙂 We spent two memorable evenings surrounded by friendly people from Banat , enjoying every second, especially when we heard that in 2015 will be the last year of this festival after a 6-years-tradition (so don`t miss this last chance!) The organizers said that due to the difficult access to the location, the audience is not that numerous… We didn’t know about this festival either, we found out about on our way there! For sure next year, we`ll be there because we made a promise!

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Overall, apart from the interesting history of the Czech minority, this region of Banat hosts a mix of Ethnics: Serbian, Croatian, Hungarian, Germans and Ukrainian. The area has a big potential and can satisfy all needs a tourist may have:

  • adventure tourism in the Cheile Nerei Natural Park : biking, rafting, hiking, trekking, kiting, speoadventure, archery, motosport (guided ATV rental very famous), flying fox

  • a cultural experience

  • heritage and history in its purest form

Unfortunately, we didn`t have the enough time to explore the entire area; there are so many places to visit were you need at least 6-7 days, but we`ll definitely return to see the other Czech villages and the natural beauties!

I hope our story will open your appetite to travel to this unique region in Banat, to have a different experience discovering the precious Czech cultural heritage fenced under Romanian borders. And of course, we would be happy to assist you with other personal suggestions and tips 🙂

So come along friends….

Madalina Visan

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A lot can be said about the Romanian people, but in any case that it is not religious. Most Romanians believe in a higher power since the oldest times when Zamolxis was the supreme god of the Dacians. As a consequence dozens of religious buildings flourish in this country: churches, monasteries, convents and Orthodox hermitages concentrated mostly in the Northern Moldavia and Southern Bucovina.

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Most were built between the end of the fifteenth century and the end of the sixteenth century, many monuments enlisted in UNESCO patrimony, but all, without exception, are wonderful jewelries both architectural and spiritual. Built by important Romanian rulers like Stephen the Great, Petru Rares and Alexandru cel Bun, for gratitude to God for the help provided in battles, the ancient churches had set the tone of an era ruled by peace, tranquility, faith and reconciliation with self. When we forget who we really are, when we stray away too far from the simplicity of life, it may be worth it to visit this part of Romania, where you get a sense of timelessness among the symbols of steadiness and beauty that time, always unforgiving, was never able to diminish. Here, in the monastic environment of Moldova and Bucovina beat true Romanian hearts. Who are the Romanians? A faithful, extremely creative people, good-hearted, mild as the surrounding landscapes. Nearly half a millennium, we managed to build these remarkable proof of religious artwork. All are open to the public, accessible by road, and you can be eventually followed by a mild and pleasant hike through the forest.

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The most attractive are monasteries in southern Bucovina historical due iconographic program developed as world premiere under which their exterior was painted entirely.

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The most famous is without a doubt VORONEŢ Monastery, founded by Stephen the Great which became famous due to its unique colors of the walls, named after the church itself “Voroneţ Blue”. The mystery of obtaining this color is nowadays not fully discovered. There’s a version that says that the secret ingredient is plum brandy as the craftsmen were also paid with barrels of this drink. You know what they say, what is good also God loves! About Voroneţ it is worth mentioned that the construction lasted four months, which was a record at that time (in 1488). Its first abbot was Daniil Sihastru, the hermit who’s hut was 70 km further North, near another jewel monastery – Putna, built by Stephen the Great, where he is also buried, place called by poets  the “Jerusalem of the Romanian people”. Close by is the oldest wooden church in Europe!chilia daniil sihastrul

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Next on the list is Humor, with the oldest exterior painting in Romania. Bogdana, located in Radauti city is the royal necropolis of Moldova, four important princes being buried here, including the founder the Moldavian feudal state, Bogdan I. Suceviţa is, in my opinion, the best beautiful and with the best preserved outside frescoes. Moldova and Probota (built during Petru Rares reign) Dragomirna (fortified church) Râşca (the most Southern church painted on the outside), Arbore (flooded several times) or Pătrăuţi (the first of Stephen the Great) are the other recommendations of outside painted churches.

DSC09483South from all these great there’s the star of all churches, the oldest and biggest Moldavian monastery Neamt. Around it, scattered on hills and hidden in the woods there can be found many convents, hermitages and caves inhabited by hermits or abbots. At least one week would be necessary to visit them all! The one that attracted me like a magnet, thanks to its isolation and beautiful trail through the woods towards it, on a route with wooden paves and ladders, positioned among high rocks and roots is the Cave of Saint Theodora of Sihla.

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In this area without pair, part of Neamt Hunters Natural Park, with a little luck , you may find in the warm summer evenings, wild bison. Those who do not want to rely on luck may encounter them at the Zoo “Dragos Voda”, on the way to Neamt Monastery. Close by there’s an unique item in Romania, the Suspended Bridge, where fresh air lovers can enjoy the forest and wildlife from a height of 15m.

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I end my amazing journey on the territory where you can feel the truly Romanian heart with three final recommendations – Văratec Monastery, Agapia Monastery, whose interior was painted by most famous Romanian painter Nicolae Grigorescu and Pângăraţi Monastery, the only place where there are two overlapped churches.

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By Anda Stanciulescu

In the South–West of Romania, the nature is like it went nuts … from so much beauty! Either you are Romanian or foreigner it’s no way that you come here and you don’t fall in love on the spot! For some the Danube … represents the most beautiful place in Romania. And maybe it is. I, nevertheless, prefer to admit Austrians take on this, that considered in 19th century that Baile Heculane (Herculane’s Baths) to be the most beautiful resort in Europe. Others can’t take their eyes and feet from Cheile Nerei, without a doubt, one of the most enchanting places in the area, but I will remain forever in love of Cheile Corcoaiei. So many opinions and all good! The most unbelievable is that they are all in the same area, in the South-West of the country, where mighty river Danube, together with the dwarfy but strong ones Cerna and Nera, moulded a fairy-tale land, rarely seen.

I propose we start the journey through this dreamy land, cause you want it (don’t you?), from the amazing city Orsova. The city not very rich or full of touristic objectives, quite new actually, was moved here after the Iron Gates Dam was built. As still, I say it’s fantastic. I couldn’t describe it otherwise when it is so well located in the scenery. Bathing in Danube, surrounded by wooded hills, set on one of them, with steep slopes and small buildings facing the main attraction – second largest river of Europe. One morning here, in a late fall, with a croissant on the bench of Danube and mild chill it is exactly the beginning that I expect in any travel, let alone one that promises so many wonders.

The KettlesWe start slowly from this Danube’s city and we headed towards New Moldova. Now, as far as you can see amazing landscapes, that only Danube could have carved! But … what we see between Small and Big Kettles (Cazanele Mici si Mari) is not quite nature-made. We are looking at the biggest stone carved statue in Europe of the famous ancestor of Romanians, king Decebal. Back to natural marvels that accompanies us on the 100 km of modernized road, the only element that confirms that you don’t live a dream but pure reality. Caves where the access is easy only by boat, hidden in the shade of immense and beautiful stone blocks, that stretch between water surface and small vegetation, more alike Mediterranean one than Danube Continental.

From the elegant land of stone we move up North, in a land governed by other stone wonders, this time carved by Nera river. We put light but waterproof shoes, and off we start! Ahead we have many hours of exploration of a land where man could not say anything in front of nature but prolonged ‘wow’s: carved in stone tunnels, carved in rock paths where you entrust your life to cables, cascades, lakes and beautiful Nera, ‘guilty’ for everything. All these can be seen on foot or from rubber boats during rafting. The adventure is guaranteed no matter what we choose!

Cheile Nerei

Cheile Nerei

We return towards Orsova, but we salute it later, as is MANDATORY that we reach to Herculane’s Baths. The resort is placed in amazing scenery, where every rock, house and tree says a story. A delightful one of course! For me, it is the most beautiful resort in Romania, but also the one where I have to disregard some flaws, not worth mentioning here, as I am very confident they will disappear. Herculane is one of the oldest dwellings in Romania, discovered by Romans and elevated to the rank of balneal climacteric (SPA) resort by Austrians. The very fresh air from a few hundred meters here is comparable with the mountain one, and the springs and thermal baths (some of them in open air, other indoor modern facilities) are the perfect transalation of the old saying ‘youth without ageing’. Once a preferred destination for seniors, Herculane is, although many don’t know it, the perfect choice for a few days of relaxation or of intense adventure for .. young people. Hotels and guesthouses of 3* and 4* offer high class SPA & wellness services, where anyone can feel like a princess or a prince, most like the King of Austria and Princess Sissi when they felt in love in this place blessed with indecent attractive beauties. Speaking of beauties, The Herculane Baths are the pearl of Cerna, the river that carved an enchanting valey where many paths invite for long walks. I was several times here and I still have places to discover!

Baile Herculane

Baile Herculane

I propose you a tour of gazebos, a nice stroll, accessible all year long, alongside spectacular panoramas that will delight our eyes. Blue, green, yellow and red (at the highest altitude) are the colours on which you should guide yourselves in the forests around the resort, the names of gazebos will call you their way.  Just a small part of the largest national park of Romania (Domogled-Cerna), is the ‘special appetizer’ to go further. Maybe towards small villages Scarisoara și Inelet, hidden behind hills, where the only access way are some wooden stairs or towards Cheile Corcoaiei, from the edge of a remote dwelling that I like to call “the end of the world”. There would be many to be seen, but let’s take it one at the time. Herculane has an special historical center where we can meet mighty Hercules, the train station one of the most beautiful in the country, and during Easter Holidays the town offers a touching show: hundreds of torches placed on the edge of roads or beard by believers are lightning the main street of the resort write till the ex-Casino, where under a colorful pavilion, the priest are serving the religious service.

Let’s take it slowly I say, so we don’t get sick from so much beauty! Don’t forget though that the next holiday to plan it in a land governed by Danube, Nera and Cerna rivers. Come on, it’s easy to remember and put into action, so you know what to ask to Classy Romania!

By Anda Stanciulescu, our blogger partner http://www.hailabord.ro/

4 days are not enough to discover a region in Romania, especially one so interesting as Hunedoara. Lying between one of the most beautiful national parks in Europe – Retezat and Apuseni mountains, where life is so simple, unaware of the calendar, technical evolution, at 2 hours distance from Sibiu (European Capital of Culture in 2007), Hunedoara and may seem at first sight it has not so much to offer. Touristic guides insist on only two “must see” objectives, in a place where, well, what else is there to see? One is of the most impressive castles on continent where Dracula was prisoned for a few of months, the capital of DACIA, today UNESCO monument, which attracts tourists daily, but they remain with the impression that this is all that the county can offer. WELL, I had the opportunity to discover in November 2013 that Hunedoara is an amazing realm at each step, that could be easily highly ranked that any area of Romania. It is, maybe, the most interesting and beautiful to see county of Romania!

Of course I started my journey at Huniazilor Castle (also called Corvinilor Castle). It is an Gothic architectural jewel, recently considered the eighth most scary place in Europe. In one autumn morning, in the dungeon, I felt some goose bumps, inevitable when a load music rumbles in your years and you assist to live executions, of course played by actors who almost fooled me they are real prisoners! Otherwise, the castle is as welcoming as the Gothic structure allows, the stroll through interior old yard and rooms allowing me to feel myself for a few minutes the master of the castle. A fantasy yes, but you get used to this feeling is so hard to let it go!

Huniazilor Castle

I continued my trip climbing the Orastie mountains, after a 20km forest road we arrived at Sarmisegetusa Regia, the ancient capital of Dacia, the land of Romanian ancestors! The image that impressed me so much that I will never forget it, the one that is posted on all Romania promo materials, opened to me under a warm noon light – The Great Circular Sanctuary was vibrating under the divine sun!

Sarmisegetusa Regia

At this point I should have packed my bags and say good bye to Hunedoara County, but I discovered a small little place where I was feeling more that delighted to sleep and recharge my batteries, in the middle of nature, but with 5* comfort. “Casa Gradinii” (House of the Garden) from the estate of Archia Mansion was the first BIG surprise: WiFi, painted armchairs, furniture, living room, terrace; coziness, refined taste accompanied by an excellent autumn weather – my definition of what Classy Romania is all about! Lifting my head from fluffy pillows and throwing the sheet on the colored floor, I drank my coffee and hit the road for the 2nd day.casa gradinii conacul archia noiembrie 2013 DSCF0671 But where? It was not far when my next discovery happened, as Hunedoara was set to surprise me. A stop for refreshing on the Lake Cincis, known also as Hunedoara’ sea, then some photos taken with the oldest furnace in Europe that delivered cast iron to no other than Eiffel Tower, located in Govajdia village, hidden between hills.

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Few kilometers from Hunedoara City, a lunch among crystal ponds, falling leaves and fairyland scenery at Dendrologic Park Simeria, the largest and rich in species of trees park in Romania and the 6th in Europe. Then, all was followed by and intense session of military stuff at Arsenal Park, an adventure park with military theme where even girls can catch the taste for ‘man stuff’ at least visually. In one hour tour with a golf cart I had fun driving the small car on the paved alley, most of the times 🙂 , while the tanks, rackets, trolleys and all sorts of machinery were competing in a ‘war’ to conquer my attention. At the end I declared myself ‘defeated’ .. by pleasure. The day could not end but high.

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Literary! Up, at Deva fortress that guards the county capital Deva, the view captivated me until sunset. After the smooth climbing with the cable way with the highest incline in the world, the desert of a full day was exquisite! Deva is an amazing city from above as well as from its streets .. from where we offered the world one of the greatest champions of gymnastics – Nadia Comaneci! Deva, the capital of Romanian gymnastics, a sport of sweat but also graciousness couldn’t not have been anywhere else but in this county where you sweat and are bewildered by beauty!

The next day I sweat in front of the power of nature, to which no matter what we do it has the power to revive. As much as attractive Hunedoara is, it can be also ravaged in the same time. If even natural disasters can attract tourists like Cernobyl for instance, well, also Hunedoara is a region where industry, mines and pollution made their hard imprints. I could not ignore them in my short visit: from the ash pond and Mintia thermal plant to cyanide pond from Certeju de Sus or immense quarries they all impress you, but nature is everywhere present at the edge of disaster trying to impose its will. I have the hope it will succeed!

To cheer up I headed to the city Hateg. Unbelievable how many things still to be seen in this corner of Hunedoara! The aurochs (wild bulls) reservation, Densus church, probably the oldest in Europe, a stone church and Kendeffy Castle from Sântămăria Orlea or the Carphatian Castle from Jules Verne book, known to locals from Suseni village as Fang Castle (Cetatea Colt).

cetatea colt castelul din carpati biserica densus 2008-2 After 4 days I was exhausted and happy in the same time. I wondered picturesque routes, I caught myself in thistles and I lay down on leaves carpets waiting for the winter, I laughed, I cried, I lived every moment! All in a county of only 7000 km².

By Anda Stanciulescu, our blogger partner http://www.hailabord.ro

Maramureș (Maramu’ for friends and locals) is a region in lovely Romania which has many natural wonders and remarkable pieces of art, all linked somehow by the natural resource „wood”.

In a tiny village called Săpânța, a tourist could find an open-air museum, unique in the world. Strangely enough, The Merry Cemetery gives you lots of laughs because of the funny lyrics on the crosses which evoke the dead people’s life. The words gain life right in front of the visitors while they simply read the poems painted on colorful wooden crosses. All the drama is free in probably the only place in the entire world where death can and will make you laugh, laugh out loud.

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Moving back 100 kilometers, we found deep in the mountains, near the Borșa town and ski resort, another unique place – The Iezer Lake. Located at 1.825 m above sea level, in Rodnei National Park, its emerald color impresses any viewer as same as its form which is a surreal copy of Romanian territory. Quite impressive! We are quite sure that only Romania has a lake which borrows the country geographical form. Only two hours of hiking from Borșa’s hospital give you the opportunity to see this spectacular natural wonder.

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Back at lower altitude, we propose you to discover the religious attractions that made Maramureș a well known tourist destination. We talk about the wooden churches; astonishing sacred spaces build in very modest architectures with very tall towers. Bârsana, Ieud or Șurdești are some of the most famous wooden churches also because they are included in Unesco World Heritage. Just take a deep breath and introvert your mind!

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Above all the beauties in Maramureș style stands its queen – Mocănița. It’s a wood-burning steam locomotive which travels along the last remaining forestry railway in Europe. Hop on at Vișeu de Sus train station and embark in a journey that will lead you through an almost untouched part of Europe, the wild a romantic Vaser Valley. The adventure isn’t for free, it will cost you 45-48 RON (about 11€), depends on the season, but we guarantee you that will be worth every penny, or every “bani” in our Romanian case :D.

This is Maramureș, the land governed by wood in various and beautiful forms that will surely make you fall in love and be anxious to come back again. If not for its charming sceneries and delightful touristic sites, you will be here again, without any doubt, for its energetic traditional music which vibrates up to the sky and for the delicious meals that every hospitable local will charm your culinary tastes.

by Anda Stanciulescu, our blogger partner      http://www.hailabord.ro/

 

Man is not different from nature, man IS nature.

And when saying this, you realize that this is what we are all searching for during our getaways- spending time in the natural environment and enjoying its wonders.

And there is a perfect spot, in the heart of Transylvania where one can have such experiences.

The Saxon villages in Romania bring a very picturesque view to Romania, thanks to symmetry shown by the fortified churches and the beautiful houses with barns which create a second fortification. Imagine that these villages have remained almost intact since the 13th century!  Unpaved roads, village or house wells as primary water source and the scythe as the main farming instrument. This can be a normal description of such areas where traditional ceremonies, superstitions and magic charms are still performed.

HRH Prince Charles has been very attracted by these villages which are now UNESCO world heritage sites, in particular by Viscri where he has even bought a few properties and has started developing projects for the local community.

Other villages worth seeing are: Archita, Saschiz, Biertan, Prejmer, Valea Viilor or Dârjiu. You can serve a great lunch or dinner at the local inns throughout these villages. These places serve traditional Saxon and Romanian food from local production which makes the culinary experience even more pleasant!

After a day of driving through these villages, the best place to stay overnight would be in Sighișoara, the best preserved fortified town in Transylvania. This town is actually the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler and still hosts a Medieval Festival every summer.