Guest Post: Hiking in Romania
by David Elliott
Romania is the ideal country for great hiking trips, with a range of different landscapes from the soaring horseshoe of the Carpathian Mountains to vast plains and river valleys, not to mention some of the most stunning medieval castles on the planet.
Like the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, Romania was for centuries a bulwark of Christendom against the Turks and has seen some eventful history. There’s a resurgence of strong national pride since the Iron Curtain came down, and the Romanians love to show off their natural and cultural treasures to visitors. Trawl through the late holiday deals and start planning the European hiking trip of a lifetime in this bewitching country.
The best hiking trails are located in and around the Carpathians, which run in a vast arc across the country and encompass some of Europe’s wildest landscapes, unchanged for many centuries. There are still a few bears and wolves in these parts, but nowadays they steer well clear of humans and there have been no real issues since the famous Werewolf of Brasov made off with five village children in 1652. That’s the sort of land Romania is – rich in legend and folklore, as you’d expect from a country whose national hero is Vlad the Impaler, historic model for Dracula.
Half the wildlife of Europe roams these dense forests and majestic mountains, and on a hike across this spectacular terrain you’ll almost certainly spot wild boars, foxes, deer, the occasional brown bear and even lynxes, one of the rarest species left on the continent. Streams, rivers and natural springs punctuate the landscape, and in the foothills of the mountains themselves there are some spectacular waterfalls. The Romanians enjoy walking in the mountains and there are many well marked trails through the forested regions as well.
Brasov is a favourite spot for setting out into the wilderness, with an official trail taking you through the mountains of Bucegi and into the Piatra Craiului National Park, one of the oldest in the country. The picturesque city of Zarnesti is typical of the many medieval settlements that litter the region, interspersed with charming villages such as Magura.
Of course, no hike in Romania would be complete without taking in a few fairytale castles, and on this particular trail you can stop off at the most spectacular of them all. This is Bran Castle, a dream of a fortress that stands guard over one of the few passes into Transylvania. The Romanians tout this as Dracula’s Castle, and although he is known to have spent only a couple of nights here as a guest of the local governor it certainly fits the bill perfectly. His real castle is just a ruin high above the Borgo Pass and pretty much inaccessible unless you can change yourself into a wolf or bat to get up there.
There’s plenty of accommodation in the form of hostels, pensions and guestrooms right across the region, and you’re sure of a warm welcome wherever you go. Joining an organised tour headed up by a professional guide is probably the best idea if you’re new to hiking in Romania, and later when you’ve fallen in love with the country you can try branching out on your own to savour its rarer delights.