Red Lake, the Bicaz Gorge & Cealhau
Hidden Gems of the Eastern Carpathians
Close to the border between Moldavia and Transylvania, eerie Red Lake, the dramatic limestone-walls of the Bicaz Gorge and the Cealhău massif are much admired by native Romanian’s but almost unheard of by anyone else.
Red Lake has a somewhat “other-worldly” feel about it, and the Haşmaş hills are sparsely habited, quiet and infrequently walked. The Bicaz Gorge is busy with tourists but dramatic nonetheless, as is the rocky fortress of Cealhău, which looks to be impregnable at first but is something of a magnet for local hikers.
These destinations are a little off the beaten track, and away from some of the more popular hiking centres in Romania. But they will give you an insight into the scenic landscapes and rich natural beauty that Romania has, and are well worth a visit.
Villages and mountains in Romania's most traditional region
Maramureş is widely regarded as Romania’s most traditional region. Take a trip there, and you will encounter landscapes and traditions that have remained largely unchanged for centuries. Horse-drawn carts rumble along village streets past farmhouses fronted with elaborately-carved wooden gateways, and things are still done in the time-honoured way, just as they always have been.
This landscape and tradition is best discovered slowly, and is ideally suited to exploration on foot. Gentle walks between some of the many fascinating villages are equally as rewarding as the high mountain trails, and in all likelihood Maramureş will weave its magic on you and leave you wanting more.
So be prepared – a first visit to Maramureş may not be your last.
Trekking in Romania
The opportunities for hiking in Romania are vast. Most are centred on the main Carpathian chain which curves through the centre of Romania before turning south into Serbia. The range is split into the Eastern Carpathians, the Southern Carpathians (or the Transylvanian Alps) and the Western Carpathians, and comprises a number of smaller mountain groups and massifs.
We have so far hiked in the Bucegi, Piatra Craiului and Făgăraş mountains, Bicaz-Haşmaş and Cealhău National Parks, Bucovina and Maramureş, and the range of mountains and scope for walking is huge, from gentle walks between villages time has forgotten to challenging mountain hikes and 2,500m summits.
Most of Romania’s National Parks and reserves are arranged along the curved spine of the Carpathians. It should be acknowledged that the infrastructure surrounding these mountains is not quite as well developed as it is, for example, in the Alps. These are wild, untamed lands, home to thousands of bear, lynx and wolf, as well as tradition, superstition and legend.
Trails exist, as do maps and mountain huts, and although still a work in progress, the quality and quantity of these is certainly improving compared to what we found on our first trip back in 2003. Still, it may be worth considering a guided trip to help with route-finding and act as a translator.
Rest assured though, however you decide to travel you should have a fascinating trip. We have found the little time we have spent there to be thoroughly rewarding, and Romania should definitely be on the radar of keen hikers wanting to try something just a little different.
Timeless Traditions and Cultural Encounters
In the north east of the country, wedged up against the borders with Ukraine and Moldova, Southern Bucovina is a place of forested hills, enduring traditions, history and folklore. Across the steep-sided, rolling hills and deep-cut valleys, there is a sense that time moves more slowly here, and that the ancient rhythms of the countryside still play out as they have done for centuries.
These hills and valleys and villages may not have the fame or reputation of other parts of Romania to catapult them to international stardom. But what they lack in profile, they more than make up for in timeless tradition and allure. Southern Bucovina is about as real as rural Romania gets.