Friday, July 15, 2011

Off The Beaten Track: An Eco-Holiday in Fairytale Romania

The Maramures Mountains (Inner Eastern Carpathians)
in northern Romania (Photo by Joadl)
Here’s a suggestion for this summer’s vacation: a stay at an eco-friendly guest house set in the fairytale lands of Romania.

Fresh air, a friendly boarding house, hospitable people, meals cooked with vegetables from their hosts’ own gardens, and lots of hiking. That’s how a typical day looks for tourists who choose an eco-boarding house (guest house) hidden in the small mountain villages. The number of such destinations is growing each year, as more and more people turn to environmentally friendly lifestyles and want to enjoy them even on vacation.

Romania is a land of paradoxes. Although it has tremendous tourist potential, the number of tourists who come here falls each year. Many are discouraged by the lack of infrastructure, inadequate housing conditions, or high charges. In some cases, they’re right, but we compensate with breathtaking landscapes and welcoming people.

A shepherd in the Făgăraş Mountains (Photo by friend of Darwinek)
The mountain villages, for example, are a perfect getaway destination. In some boarding houses in the countryside, you can enjoy real farm life, surrounded by Carpathian Shepard dogs, rabbits, peacocks, and quails. And you can taste the goodies cooked from the freshest ingredients.

Rolling hill leading into Piatra Craiului National Park
(Photo by Horla Varlan)
In Piatra Craiului National Park, in the picturesque village of Magura (170 km from Bucharest), you can experience life in the countryside. During your stay, you are invited to assist in household, daily chores. You can milk the cow, collect the eggs from the nest, or dig around the vegetable garden. If you would like to see the harvest of this year, you will be invited into the pantry usually full of vegetables, zacusca (a Romanian vegetable spread), tomato sauce bottles, and jars filled with fruit jam.

If you haven’t yet visited the magical realms of Bucovina, you’re missing out. It’s 450 km from Bucharest to village Vama, in the Suceava County, roughly 5-8 hours on the road, depending on your means of transportation (car or train). But it’s worth the effort! 

A panoramic view of Campulung Moldovenesc in Suceava County
Here, you will find green meadows and cheerful boarding houses. Carriage rides give you a tour of the hills. When you return from the carriage ride, you can sit in the yard, shaded by old linden trees, and taste an exceptional menu cooked by the farm’s hosts, who use old and unique recipes, flavors you will not forget. If you would like to learn the secrets of Romanian traditional courses during your stay, you can take cooking lessons. Everything you will use in the kitchen is 100 percent natural, purchased from the most trusted sources: the local gardens.
If you’re a gourmand, and you would like a taste of the best Romania has to offer, you should visit Turda (30 km away from Cluj-Napoca, a popular hotspot in Transylvania, and 350 km away from Bucharest) and surroundings, in the heart of Transylvania.

Look for “Turda steak” on local menus. It’s a course that became popular in the 1930s. It is cooked from pork soaked in milk until it becomes tender, seasoned with coarse salt from the nearby salt mine, then roasted in lard. It’s typically served with a choice of pickled cucumbers or sauerkraut, and best enjoyed with a bottle of Chardonnay. All restaurants in Turda serve this steak, but the locals would recommend you try the best at the Printul Vanator Restaurant (The Hunter Prince Restaurant), where you can also enjoy your meal in a lovely, rustic setting. For dessert, try the honey and cinnamon gingerbread, a century-old recipe. Gingerbread in Turda is famous for its presentation, because it is cut in a bone shape. Among other regional goodies are the palinka (booze made from plums) and the red onions from Aries, which you can buy in long ropes from the locals.

Children choosing from a bounty of healthy choices.
(Photo by the Turda Slow Food Association)
Those interested in healthy food will find a heaven of organic food in the Turda region. The Turda Slow Food Association supports the promotion of these foods: delicious, organic, and locally grown ingredients for a healthy meal. The Association organizes activities to which both local producers and tourists are invited.

"You could go to Turda during the Children’s Cooking Festival, which will be held for the first time this year in August, and you will be able to admire the little chefs making fun cooking demonstrations," explains Marta Pozsonyi, the president of Slow Food Turda. You can even visit the school gardens where you will find organic products, grown and tended by pupils from schools in the region, who thus learn to choose natural foods.

Locals from Aries braiding ropes of onions after harvest
 (Photo by Turda Slow Food Association)
Those who want to sample local delicacies should visit Romanian villages and mountain roads. Slow Food Turda recommends a visit to the local cheese makers, who welcome tourists into their sheepfolds to see sheep-milking demonstrations and taste different types of cheese.

Kirchenburg in Viscri (Photo by Wissenskanon)
If none of these arguments have persuaded you so far, the next one might make you choose Transylvania as a holiday destination. Prince Charles fell in love with these lands, and he considers this area as the greatest treasure of Romania. He liked Transylvania so much, that after spending several vacations here, he bought two holiday homes. One is in Viscri, not far away from the medieval town of Sighisoara (280 km away from Bucharest). It is a small and ordinary house. In fact, Prince Charles invested large sums of money in renovating several houses in the village, homes open to tourists. Since his first visit in Romania, in 1993, the British royal heir visits at least once a year and enjoys life in the Romanian countryside. During his last visit, in May 2011, he learned to mow the lawn, and he wanted to take a scythe back home with him.


  1. Alina, you make this area sound so enticing! I hope to go there someday and enjoy the wonderful Romanian hospitality. Such lovely landscape too. Thanks for sharing this corner of your country with us.

  2. And we thought Romania only had vampires. ;) What a beautiful, interesting country--can't wait to visit. Thanks, Alina!

  3. Alina, this sounds amazing! The children's cooking festival is a wonderful idea and I'm sure it will be popular. Thank you for sharing some wonderful attractions of this beautiful country!

  4. Thank you, ladies, for your beautiful words. Indeed, Romania has some hidden places that foreign tourists should discover. If any of you would like to come, I would try to be a good host and guide!