Romania Walking Holiday 2018 Report

Fifteen of the ERC members on the trip met at Birmingham Airport at the very early hour of 05:00 a.m. Everyone was in good spirits; the weather forecast was quite good but, as expected, very variable, with temperatures ranging from 26ºC down to 2ºC. The journey involved two flights with our final destination Bucharest and the changeover at Frankfurt where we were joined by Charles. So now we were 16. There were no great dramas although a second hand luggage security check at Frankfurt had those members with, so called, duty-free worried about their precious purchases. Eventually, we arrived at Bucharest where the time was two hours ahead of the UK. We were met by our driver for the holiday, our Mercedes Mini Coach and a trailer for the luggage. The journey time was around 3 hours, initially through the flat plains around Bucharest. Eventually the road entered a long valley and we had our first view of Transylvania and the mountainous area we would be walking in. We also had our first encounter with the many roadworks between Brasov and Bran. Eventually, we arrived at the Guesthouse at around 6:00 p.m. and met the owners John and Ioana. John, was English and had been in Romania for around 20 years. His local knowledge and willingness to help, in every way possible, with our trip, was a great bonus. We soon settled into a daily routine with the men (Glyn, Paul, Charles and Peter) being ferried by John between their accommodation up on the hill and the main guesthouse. There was a rumour that Paul was allocated the honeymoon suite but this was not verified by the rest of the group. After a quick visit to the local mini market shop to pick up drinks we enjoyed our first meal at the guesthouse. John and Ioana took a great pride in their use of local and homemade products with breakfast choices of cheese, cooked meats and other tasty specialities being particularly interesting and different from home.

Friday 21st September – Day 1 of our walk. Our driver picked us up and drove to the large historic town of Brasov. After an hour’s free time to look around and, perhaps, get the taste for a longer visit later in the holiday, we made our way to the Tampa Cable Car to climb to the top. Our carefully planned route to the cable car was unfortunately blocked by some painters who, by chance, were repainting the walls of the world’s narrowest street (if you believe it of course!) After a quick coffee stop at the top of the cable car, we started our walk across the top of the ridge to Poiana Brasov, a ski resort originally built by the Russians. We arrived after 7 miles with around 1,500 feet of ascent and 1,200 feet of descent. We soon found that cafes were in short supply, but interestingly, found a dental implant centre with accommodation and a nice drinks terrace. After asking if there were any cakes available, we were introduced to the traditional Romanian dessert papanasi. This consisted of a very tasty donut type centre covered in cream and a fruit sauce. This delicacy was keenly sought after for the rest of our stay. The journey home introduced us to the Romanian way of dealing with the many roadworks on the road from Rasnov to Bran. When queuing at the red traffic lights controlling the road work section, it appears that the last vehicles in the queue believe they should be the first vehicles through the roadworks!!! An interesting concept which provided an excellent spectator sport.

Eventually, we arrived safely home to base. The normal evening routine was now supplemented by cocktails before the evening meal. The local shop soon found there was a significant and unusual demand for gin and bottles of tonic. It must be documented that the ladies were at the forefront of this activity.

Saturday 22nd September – Day 2. We returned to Poiana Brasov to continue our adventure. First we took the cable car to Mount Postavaru and then made the short walk to the summit which was reached by climbing over some very steep and slippery rocks with the help of some iron railings. We were rewarded by some excellent 360 degree views from our vantage point of over 7,000 ft. After descending via the cable car we continued our walk to Rasnov via a somewhat wet path following a stream. We eventually, met up with Charles who had walked ahead whilst we were up the cable car and descended into Rasnov via a very interesting and busy citadel. The final descent into Rasnov was via 480 steps. Glyn found a very local bar serving good local beer for 3 lei which is around 65 pence but no papanasi. The walk was around 7 miles with 400ft of ascent and 1,700ft of descent. The journey home featured the normal spectator sport at the roadworks traffic lights. 

Sunday 23rd September – Day 3. This walk started directly from the guesthouse initially following a small road through the village of Simon. Before leaving Bran we encountered another feature of walking in Romania. A local dog (probably of no fixed address!) decided that we needed a guide. As it happens it was a very pleasant dog, very well behaved and in the end, much admired by some of the group. It was clearly intent on going the full distance to Moieciu de Sus our destination for the day. We did try a local bar for coffee. It was extremely rustic and the toilets earned the lowest score ever on Hazel’s ‘TAS’ (Toilet Assessment Scale) – it was unbelievably revolting. The walk continued through the normal mixture of open country with great views and forested tracks. At one stage Paul decided that the group had not done enough climbing and took some of the group up and extra hill whilst Alan continued along the correct path to our lunch stop. We finally made a very steep descent into Moieciu de Sus to find a very nice hotel with a bar and garden. A few beers were ordered and the hungrier ones ordered papanasi. Unfortunately, a recurring pattern started to emerge – Glyn ordered the papanasi but it failed to materialise! After drinks we made our way to meet our driver and said a tearful goodbye to our guide for the day – the brown dog. Peter did offer the dog a sausage left over from his picnic, but managed to explain his kind action in a way that caused considerable hilarity (no further elaboration is possible at this point in time!). The walk was around 9 miles with 1,900ft of ascent and 1,200ft of descent.

Monday 24th September – Day 4. Today we returned to Moeiciu de Sus to start the walk to the village of Sirnea. After a quick look for our trusty dog from the previous day we started the day’s walk. For the only time during the holiday we did not find the exact planned route. However, a more obvious path provided a good alternative, before going off piste to find the original route. We climbed up to the ridge of the Fundatica Mountains and made our way to the village ‘town hall’ where we stopped for our picnic lunch. Betty showed great initiative to enter the town hall and negotiate the use of the toilets. Our driver met us at this point to pick up Maggie, Gay, Paul W, Margaret and Charles who made their way back to Bran for an afternoon look round the famous Bran Castle. The remaining walkers continued up through the superb karst style mountains to reach the village of Sirnea. We had been told that there was a very good guesthouse / bar which we eventually found after a further climb out of the main village. Once again beer was ordered along with some papanasi. Unfortunately, once again Glyn did not manage to get any!!! The driver picked us up and we returned to Bran by a very pleasant country lane. Today’s walk was around 10 miles with 1,900ft of ascent and 1,200ft of descent.

In the evening, we went out to a local restaurant called the Wolf for what turned out to be a superb beef steak (Australian?) followed by papanasi. It was good news that Glyn got his deserved cake but unfortunately the vegetarian option was not the best. 

Tuesday 25th September – Day 5. We started the walk from our previous end point, Sirnea to walk to the village of Magura. This walk took us up into the national park Piatra Craiului, a region with the largest biodiversity in the Carpathian Mountains and the home to brown bear, wolf, wild boar, black chamois, deer and lynx. For such an adventure we picked up three guide dogs when leaving Sirnea. The temperature had now dropped to just above zero and whilst sheltering at an animal hut at lunchtime we encountered a brief snow storm. During lunch the three dogs, who once again behaved impeccably on the walk, sat on guard surveying the horizon for any unwanted visitors. Once the snow had subsided we continued the walk with great views across the mountains to eventually arrive in Magura.

Unfortunately, one of the dogs, having finished the walk, got a bit bored and decided to chase some sheep which, understandably, was not appreciated by the locals. However, there was also a human failure since Charles misjudged the location of the bus back home and eventually arrived at the Guesthouse in a taxi. Fortunately it was a case of all’s well that ends well. For the statisticians, the walk was 10 miles with 1,300ft of ascent and 2,000ft of descent. The now normal evening pattern of cocktails and a meal at the guesthouse continued.

Wednesday 26th September – Day 6. The group was now getting fully into its stride and the more demanding walks commenced. Today’s walk started at the Botorog Fountain and there was the option to return to the fountain late morning to be picked up for a further more cultural visit back to Brasov. The start of the walk took the group through the Prapastiilor Gorge with its spectacular 800ft high vertical walls. At the end of the gorge Christine, Graham, Margaret, Paul and Charles returned by the same route to the fountain to meet our driver who took this group back to Brasov. The group who continued the walk were then faced with a long steep climb up to the Cabana Curmatura mountain hut. We were rewarded by the hut being open and serving excellent soup and bread as well as hot chocolate or coffee according to taste. Glyn used all his mountain experience to add a side order of rum to lace his hot chocolate. We returned to the fountain via a different path that descended steeply through hay meadows and forest trails. On reaching the fountain we had made good time so continued to walk to the small town of Zarnestii. After a fruitless search for a café we met our driver with the group returning from Brasov. The now reunited group returned together to the guesthouse. We had walked just over 11 miles with an ascent of 2,500ft and a descent of 2,700ft – a good day’s walk!

Thursday 27th September – Day 7. We returned to Botorog Fountain to walk across the Magura Mica ridge back to Bran. This turned out to be one of the most demanding walks involving a very steep initial climb up through the forest to reach the first peak on the ridge. Once at the top there were great views with the path alternating between meadows and further climbs and descents over the intermediate peaks on the ridge. In one unfortunate moment it was possibly proven that photography is more dangerous than walking. Whilst taking a photo, Christine put her hand down awkwardly and damaged her wrist making the rest of her stay rather painful. The group also did its good deed for the day since Glyn found a pair of expensive binoculars that appeared to have been very recently left. Eventually we found out that a group of American tourists were some way ahead of us on the path, but a fast dash enabled Paul J to catch them up and return the lost item. The final descent into Bran was very steep with many tree roots and loose gravel. Fortunately, we all made it safely with Charles following on behind with great tenacity and perseverance. We walked 7 miles with 2,600ft of ascent and descent. We had now completed the linear walk from Bran to Bran using a 4 day circular route through lovely villages and mountain tracks.

Paul, Hazel and Peter managed to fit in a trip round the castle to round off the day. Some others made an early start to cocktails in the town, having found a good source of Aperol Spritz.

Friday 28th September – Day 8 – the last day of our holiday. The weather had returned to being hot and sunny. The day’s walk involved a longer than normal drive to the busy tourist town of Bustini. On arrival, we checked that the cable car was running and that the queues were not too bad. Everything looked positive, although there was a slight panic when a Tripadvisor comment indicated that they only took cash. Paul J and Betty made a quick dash towards a cash machine but a quick chat with a local tourist information person put our minds at rest and we dashed back to the queue. After queuing for half an hour or so we reached the top and were met by some spectacular views over the surrounding hills and mountains from our 7,500ft high plateau. We then walked over an undulating path towards the very large Caraiman Cross. There was a considerable descent, with a few chains to hold on, to reach the monument which was in the process of some extensive renovation work. Some of the group stayed at the top and those that went down returned fairly quickly to join the picnic spot. Anticipating that the queues to get down again may build up we shortened the walk originally planned to try and beat the rush. Unfortunately, this plan was not very successful and we had to queue for an hour or so to get back down. The exceptional weather and extensive view made it a very worthwhile trip. Eventually, we all descended and met up with our driver to return to Bran. The walk was around 4 miles with an ascent and descent of 1,100ft.

In the evening we crossed the road from the guesthouse to the Hanul Bran restaurant for our final evening meal. There was a very vibrant atmosphere, a good meal, and plenty of satisfaction that we had successfully completed our planned itinerary.

Saturday 29th September – it was time once again to load up the trailer, say our goodbyes to John and Ioana and make our way back to the airport. The journey was at best interesting and at worst terrifying, due to the absolutely manic and often very dangerous Romanian driving. Fortunately, our driver had seen all of this many times before and showed great anticipation and skill to avoid the lorries, vans and cars that used the road like a fairground dodgem ride. Once at the airport we had an easy relaxed journey home. The Lufthansa sandwiches were a downside, being almost as bad as Romanian driving. However, the Lufthansa complimentary wine was not at all bad!!!

In summary, a great holiday with fantastic support from our hosts John and Ioana and our excellent driver. The group were very sociable, the area lived up to expectation, the walks were interesting and posed a challenge, but generally remained within the group’s comfort zone. We walked 65 miles, climbed 13,200ft and descended 13,700ft – a great achievement by all. The amount of gin, wine and beer consumed remains confidential.

We all look forward to next year in Berchtesgaden.

Paul J