Hiking in Romania
The Alps of Transylvania
The high Carpathian Mountains of central Romania are an “off-the-radar” destination for most North American hikers. But despite their obscurity these mountains, also known as the Transylvanian Alps, offer some of the finest mountain hiking opportunities in Europe. On this trip, sample the trail that leads along the main ridge of the Făgăraş Mountains–one of the longest continuous high mountain hiking routes in Europe. Hike to the summits of Romania’s three highest peaks (Moldoveanu, 8,350 feet; Negoiu, 8,317 feet; and Viştea Mare, 8,291 feet). Round out your Romania adventure with visits to the splendid medieval town of Sighisoara (a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site), and a sampling of Transylvania’s treasury of castles, monasteries, and fortified Saxon churches.
Overnight in Sinaia
This morning, depart Bucharest to travel to the mountain town of Sinaia, the “Pearl of the Carpathians,” nestled in the Prahova Valley with the Bucegi Mountains rising abruptly to the west. A short walk along shady forest paths brings you to the Sinaia Monastery and its 17th century church whose interior walls are covered by frescoes. After lunch, visit the opulent, neo-Renaissance Peles Castle commissioned by Romania’s King Carol I in 1873 as well as the more intimate Pelisor Castle built by Carol for his eventual successor Ferdinand and his wife Marie. Enjoy a welcome dinner of traditional foods this evening.
Overnight in Moeiciu de Jos
Ascend into the Bucegi Mountains by cable car. From the Babele Chalet strike out across the expansive high plateau that forms the central portion of the range. You can follow trails to the summit of Omu Peak, and if you desire, complete a traverse of the Bucegi by hiking all the way to Bran village in the northwestern foothills of the mountains. Overnight at a lovely small hotel in the village of Moieciu de Jos, your base for two nights.
Overnight in Moieciu de Jos
Enjoy a choice of hikes in the Piatra Craiului National Park. Hike through the cool depths of the Zarnesti Gorges before making your way through strikingly beautiful rural landscapes (see the photo above) back to your hotel in Moieciu de Jos. A more challenging hiking option takes you to the Curmatura Chalet from where you can experience the craggy, saw-toothed limestone ridges of the Piatra Craiului Mountains.
Overnight at Lac Bâlea
In the morning visit the Bran Castle perched on a rocky promontory. The castle was originally built in the 14th century to defend the nearby city of Brasov. This castle has become associated with the Dracula story even though the Wallachian prince Vlad Tepeş (often recognized as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s character) may have had only a fleeting association with the castle. Later, travel to the Brancoveanu Monastery in the foothills of the Făgăraş Mountains. Don’t miss the beautiful painted chapel on the second floor! After the visit to the monastery you’ll enjoy lunch at a farm in a village on the north slope of the mountains. Continue by vehicle into the Făgăraş Mountains and overnight at the Lac Bâlea Chalet, your base for two nights.
Overnight at Lac Bâlea
Begin your exploration of the Făgăraş Mountains. Head west on a trail that climbs out of the Lac Bâlea basin to gain the main Făgăraş ridge. Continue on the ridge-top trail and revel in the quintessential high Făgăraş landscape of grass-cloaked ridges and lush mountain pastures punctuated by rocky summits. Reach the summit of Vârful Laitel (Laitel Peak) and enjoy the view over Lac Caltun to the summit dome of Negoiu Peak. The view from Vârful Laitel is one of the most spectacular in the Făgăraş. If you’d like a more strenuous hike, descend from Laitel Peak to Lac Caltun before tackling the steep trail to the summit of Negoiu Peak, second highest point in Romania. Retrace your steps to return to Lac Bâlea for a second night.
Overnight at Podragu Chalet
Depart Lac Bâlea on foot bound for the Podragu Chalet. From Lac Bâlea the trail ascends quickly to reach the Şaua Caprei and the calm waters of Lac Capra just on the other side. The trail proceeds along the main ridge of the Făgăraş descending into cirques, crossing ridges, and traversing narrow mountain passes. After about six hours on the trail you’ll reach the Şaua Podragului, the mountain pass that provides access into the Podragu Lake basin. Descend into the basin and arrive at the Podragu Chalet perched above its namesake lake, the deepest in the Făgăraş.
Overnight at Podragu Chalet
After breakfast, hike back out of the Podragu basin to regain the Făgăraş main ridge. Head east along the undulating ridge crest toward the peak of Viştea Mare. The ascent steepens to bring you to the summit of the peak. From the summit of Viştea Mare, you can walk to the summit of Moldoveanu (Romania’s highest at 8,350 feet), only a few minutes away along a ridge-top trail. Retrace your steps to Podragu Chalet where you’ll spend a second night. Those who desire a more strenuous hike can continue eastward from Moldoveanu along the rugged main ridge to the Fereastra Mică a Sâmbătei, a mountain pass above the Sâmbăta Valley. The round trip hike to Fereastra Mică a Sâmbătei is a challenging one that will involve about ten hours on the trail.
Overnight at Sighisoara
This morning, hike from the Podragu Chalet via the Podragel Lake basin to the Zmeilor Pass before descending to the Trans-Făgăraşan Highway. From here, travel by vehicle to Sighisoara, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. Spend the evening at a comfortable hotel within the walls of the old citadel.
Overnight at Pietrele Chalet
Spend the morning wandering the streets of old Sighisoara. Climb to the top of the clock tower for a panoramic view over the city. Later, travel by vehicle to the village of Biertan where you’ll visit the Biertan Church, perhaps the best surviving and most representative example of a medieval fortified Saxon church. After lunch, continue by vehicle to the Retezat National Park at the eastern end of the Transylvanian Alps. A one to two hour hike along a rushing stream brings you to the Pietrele Chalet set on a stream-side meadow and surrounded by coniferous forest.
Overnight at Pietrele Chalet
Explore the high country of the Retezat National Park, perhaps the best protected of Romania’s natural preserves. The greatest number of glacially carved lakes and tarns in the southeastern Carpathians is found in the Retezat. Hike up the Pietrele stream past the lovely Lac Pietrele before ascending to the Bucura Pass for panoramic views across the range. A more challenging loop hike takes you over the summit of Vârful Peleaga (Peleaga Peak) and down the unfrequented Valea Rea.
Overnight in Sibiu
Enjoy a morning walk to the crest of the Lolaia ridge for views of the flat-topped summit of Retezat peak before hiking out of the mountains. Travel by vehicle to the beautiful Transylvanian town of Sibiu (named a European Capital of Culture for 2007 by the European Union). Settle into your hotel close by the town’s newly restored central square. Explore the streets of Sibiu on your own before dining together this evening.
Overnight in Bucharest
Spend the morning walking through the grounds of the Ethnographic Open Air Museum, part of Sibiu’s excellent Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization. The open air museum extends over two-hundred acres and boasts ten kilometers of footpaths that lead you to three hundred buildings brought here from different parts of Romania. The museum offers you a perfect way to wrap up your Romanian adventure. Later in the day, travel by vehicle back to Bucharest and enjoy a farewell dinner of Romanian specialties.
Please note that this itinerary involves 6 overnight stays in mountain refuges where accommodations are very basic. Sleeping accommodations are dormitory-style (3-14 bunks per room); private rooms not available. Blankets, sheets, and pillows are provided by the refuges, but we recommend bringing your own sleeping bag. Showers are not available at the Podragu and Pietrele chalets but are available at Lac Bâlea. Toilet facilities are basic and shared and some are in separate out-buildings. Lac Bâlea Chalet features modern western-style bathrooms with sink, shower, and toilet. This itinerary can be revised so that overnight stays at mountain refuges are minimized or eliminated.
Information on the Retezat National Park. In Romanian only.
The Alpinet.org website (in Romanian) contains a wealth of information on Romania’s mountains. Click on Ghid Montan and check out the pictures (fotografi) and maps (hărţi).
Visit the website of Sibiu’s Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization for a glimpse into Romanian folk culture.
The Transylvanian city of Sibiu was named by the European Union as the European Capital of Culture for the year 2007. Prepare for your visit by reading about Sibiu at the Sibiu tourism website!
Learn more about the Brancoveanu Monastery in the northern foothills of the Făgăraş Mountains. In Romanian.
For one traveler’s impressions of Transylvania, look up “Medieval Magic: In Transylvania the Past Waits for the Modern Time-Traveler” in the February 1999 issue of Condé Nast Traveller magazine.
Photos on this page are by John Osaki except as otherwise credited.