The professional mountaineer kept telling me, walk flat footed while hiking in Romania. Take small steps. If you can’t breathe, raise your arms above your head. I had a few words to respond to that mountaineer and where he should shove those expensive hiking boots. Hungover, dehydrated, out of shape and tired, I was not prepared for a trek though the Carpathaian Mountains. OK, more like the hills before you hit the actual Carpathaian Mountains in Romania, but I digress.
My new Romanian drinking buddies had put me to shame the night before with copious shooters of homemade ‘palinka’ – each swearing their family made the best version in the country. I consumed with abandon, thinking I had the whole next day to recover with a “stroll” suggested for the late morning through the village.
The “stroll” turned into an 8-hour quest that first led us up a massive incline to an empty church, then a switchback over cattle pastures, with threatening clouds chasing the whole time and lots of slippery mud.
I did make it up that damn mountain (OK, hill) and actually, the mountaineer was especially kind to offer tips and stay behind the pack with me. But I learned a lesson – if you’re going on a group trip to the Romanian countryside, be physically and mentally prepared for anything!
Romania is Naturally Gorgeous
Many travelers who venture to Romania have a couple things on their list: partying in Bucharest, the capital city, and finding Dracula in Transylvania. Both are just fine, albeit coming with a few silly stereotypes. But if you limit your trip to this and not also try some hiking in Romania, you’ll be missing a rich tapestry of culture and naturally beauty this country has to offer.
If you’re on a work trip to the capital city or simply visiting with friends, think about spending a few days in the country, in and out of the Transylvania region.
Hiking in Romania: Piatra Craiului National Park
Have a slow and easy drive up into the mountains to The Piatra Craiului National Park, about two-hours outside Bucharest. This is where the fateful hike took place – only after I found out the area is full off brown bears, wolves, chamois, and lynxes! But in and around the village of Magrua it’s just the tinkling cow bells.
Enjoy time spent at Samedru, which is a new venture since 2015 to provide upscale yet simple accommodation to those wanting to escape the city for a while. Your travel squad can book rooms inside the ski-lodge type building, with amazing views of the snow-peaked mountains in the distance.
Dinner is included highlighting hearty grilled steaks, fish and chicken. There’s sauna rooms afterwards to combat the meat sweats. Just outside the front door is the village and beyond, plenty of hills to conquer. Just pack good waterproof boots – unpaved roads and trails can be super muddy.
Down time at Cabana Plaiul Foii
Also nestled in the Carpathaian mountain range is the Piatra Craiului Mountains toward the south. The areas in the valleys nearby are dotted with traditional Romanian houses and authentic, welcoming experiences for you and the squad. Once such oasis is Cabana Plaiul Foii, about an hour from Samedru. A bit more rustic and traditional, this lodge also offers unforgettable, home-cooked meals – don’t miss the bread bowl soup.
Rooms are lovely and spacious, adored in detailed wood carvings with all the amenities you could need on a mountain trip. They were happy to handle a large group of Romanians, Americans and more ready to brave the wintry weather for an outdoor BBQ – this is how they do things, no matter how cold it is outside! Just stand around the fire pit and sing some karaoke to warm up your frozen fingers. After a while, over good food and drink, you won’t notice the cold.
City Shenanigans in Brasov
Once you have your fill of venturing into neighboring villages, it’s time to head back to Brasov, as you drive through on your way to Bucharest. This plucky (and sometimes wild) city offers your squad the chance to mingle with laid-back Romanians with fun nightlife options and tasty dining choices.
Sergiana is the first place you need to visit for authentic and filling Romanian food. There you’ll find the beef served three ways, as they celebrate traditions from Romania, Germany and Hungary to boot. Have a look in their adjoining shop to take home local cured meats.
If you’re really missing your standard pub food, have a quick visit to Deane’s Irish Pub and Grill on Strada Repubicii. The locals love it here for pints of Guinness and piles of thick-cut chips. On Fridays it’s a lively scene, fun for visitors to let their hair down and warm up with whiskey, especially in the fall and winter months – it can get very cold and snowy in this part of Romania.
For something a little more relaxed, Tipografia has a cool vibe and delicious cocktails to boot. During the day, you can get a strong cup of coffee and watch the world pass by in this cosy place.
The Drive Back to Bucharest: Pit Stops
A few beautiful castles are waiting to be explored on your drive back to the capital city. Busteni & Sinaia are two regions worth taking a quick break in for food and a few souvenirs. I was entranced by Peles Castle on a previous trip to Romania, for its royal history and gold-covered room. I picked my favorite keepsake there too – a giant drinking stein with the Peles Castle emblazoned on the front.
If you really need to unwind after all your hoofing up the Carpathaian Mountains, have a late afternoon at Thermae Bucharest. It’s pretty much the best, chill place for you and your group to have a few cocktails, sauna time and floating around in a massive indoor pool complex to celebrate a successful weekend adventure. Don’t miss the waterbeds that double as incredible massage tables.
Thanks to Eoin Philip who helped with a few extra tips in this post about Brasov, and to Nicolae Alexandru Niculache for his beautiful photos of the countryside (and us partying!)
Do you and your friends like to try active pursuits when you travel? Or do you prefer to relax? What do you think about hiking in Romania? Have you been before?