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Ecotourism in Romania

Posted by Richard Hammond at 03:51 on Friday 25 September 2009

Simon Scardifield discovers a remote spot and one of the greenest places to stay in Romania's wilderness...


When I saw Cold Mountain I sat through the credits to see which part of the world had turned in such a magnificently verdant and timeless performance, promising myself I’d go walking there. This summer I did. 


In the abrupt intimacy of a couchette heading eastwards from Budapest a man who had spent last summer touring the Ukrainian plains by bus said he thought the Carpathians sounded exciting. Perhaps after that anything would...


Three hours or so north of Bucharest is the resort town of Sinaia, where gaudily turreted villas glower moodily. It’s as if Hitchcock had been allowed to run amok in Malvern. But up in the trees is also one of Ceausescu’s cheerier legacies: an excellent infrastructure for hikers. Liberal democracy is all very well, but when a capricious Transylvanian mist descends I don’t mind way-marking that errs on the dictatorial side. 


Left: Splendid isolation in Romania's wilderness. Photo: Simon Scardifield.


The mountain huts are excellent too. At the top of the Bucegi range is Mt Omul, no giant by Alpine standards, but high enough at 2,500m to have rocks sculpted into eery shapes by the wind. The cabana there is as cozy as anything Switzerland has to offer, and a lot cheaper. Something like £14 will buy you a big dinner (a no-nonsense dish of polenta and cheese, for example - it’s called bulz, and looks like it), a bed and enough breakfast to get you up the next ridge. I have a hunch there are also astonishing views, but some mischievous clouds mean that’s largely guesswork. 


The bulz is your own, but you’ll have to share the bed. At Omul there are only two beds, they’re just very large. If your neighbour is snoring you won’t just hear it, you’ll feel it.


A knee-trembling 1500m of descent leads to Bran, where there are startling things like people, cars, and Vlad Dracul’s castle. The walk up from here to the next range of mountains is a festival of perfect lunch-stops, starting with haystacks, wildflower meadows and orchards (with apples, cherries and plums to scrump), and leading through the village of Magura to beech woods (are wild raspberries and strawberries scrumpable fruits?), then through pine, juniper (blueberries), over rocky crags, and eventually to Curmatura cabin, with its wood-burning stoves, wooden terrace and - the ultimate alpine touch - two dozy St Bernards. 


Looming above the cabana is the Piatra Craiului, a 6-mile long limestone ridge with a roller-coaster profile. Halfway along is Grind refuge, a red plastic igloo perched right on the edge of a kilometre-high drop. Come nightfall, it’s a day’s walk away from the nearest person. 


I’m sure Ms Kidman’s schedule was very tight, but I like the thought of her taking a night off to shiver in the windswept solitude of Grind refuge and be spooked by the dawn grazing of Carpathian chamois outside the door.


Getting there

Simon took the sleeper from Budapest to Brasov (3 hours short of Bucharest) and booked via erail.co.uk, tel: 020 7619 1083. For information on how to travel from London to Romania by train (via Paris and Munich or Brussels and Cologne) see: seat61.com.


For more information on ecotourism in Romania, see: eco-romania.ro.


See also Simon's excellent article on tackling a stage of the Tour de France: The Pain of Pedal Power.


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