The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hiking the Carpathians around Magura

Days 278-282, September 1-5, 2011

It had never really occurred to me to go hiking in the mountains of Romania for some reason. I think I just assumed that it would be difficult to reach the solitude that I was so craving. My assumption was so wrong! I did some quick checking up on Hostel World for hostels near the town of Brasov where it’s just a short bus ride to Bran and Dracula’s Castle. The first hostel that popped up was a farm villa near Bran, in the tiny village of Magura. It didn’t take me too long to make a decision on that.

For five days, I was going to be staying in the Carpathian mountains. No cities. No internet. No crowds.

Getting to Magura was the first challenge. The instructions on the website were awesome up until getting to the small village of Moeciu(Mo-ee-chew). From Bucharest, it was a simple 3 hour train to Brasov where you grab a city bus to the Brasov bus station. From there, you buy a stupidly cheap intercity bus ticket to take you all the way to Moeciu, passing the town of Bran on the way. It drives right around the small cliff that Bran Castle(Dracula’s Castle) is perched upon. Within 40 minutes of leaving Brasov, you are dropped off in Moeciu. Here is where it got a little sticky.

IMG_2409There were really only three options to get to the villa in Magura. 1)Walk. According to my GPS when put into track mode, it’s a 4.2km hike that goes from 856m to 1256m. 2)Hire a taxi. If you can find one. There’s 2 in the entire area that are willing to take the stone road up the mountain. And 3)Call for a pick up from the owner.  I attempted the third option. I found a pharmacy where the lady was kind enough to let me use her phone. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong date. It was the beginning of the month and car licence’s expire then. The owner had had no chance to get to a place to renew his licence so was unable to drive his car to pick me up. That left walking as waiting for a taxi could wind up taking over an hour. IMG_2410

I managed to arrive at the villa without any troubles about an hour and ten minutes later. Sweaty and tired mind you. The sight of watching the light fade over the mountains during my walk made it all the more peaceful. And thus began my four full days of hiking.

Day 1 – Magura-Moeciu-Magura. ~12-15km

A wonderful, lucky coincidence(I didn’t plan this at all!) was the fact that there was quite a number of geocaches in the area. A number of which were part of a power trail, or a series of caches set along a circular path, spaced between 100 and 800 meters apart. Seeing as I wanted to go hiking anyways, I figured I’d add this in too. Though, I doubt you would expect me not to.

IMG_2435The hike this day took me from the farm villa along the stone road into the village of Magura itself. It’s a tiny community. More like a collection of small farms located really close together. Chickens, dogs, cats, sheep, and cows were all over the hillsides. The smell of the forest mixed with regular farm smells, which I have missed from growing up on a farm. Familiar. It was an easy stroll, winding its way down the mountain all the way to Moeciu where I found a Wi-Fi signal in order to Skype with my mom for our preplanned date.

After that, I walked further into the community for a quick shopping spree at the small market to buy groceries for the remaining time on the farm. Stuffed it all into my backpack and hiked back up to the farm villa. The final three kilometers done in near complete darkness.

Day 2 – Magura-Bran-Taxi to Moeciu-Magura ~15km+

IMG_2475With the map provided by Isaac(the hostel/villa owner) I took off on the hike over the mountains towards Bran and Dracula’s Castle. The hike was easy enough at the start, going slightly uphill passing behind a few farms before it became much steeper. At this moment I was still walking away from Bran. The views over the Magura village and the valley and mountains were spectacular. I was lucky to have no rain.

The hills around this area are crisscrossed by a number of marked trails designed and maintained by the government parks department. The trail I was currently following was the IMG_2485Red Stripe trail. Though, for that first hour, I saw no markers so had no clue as to whether I was going the right way. Eventually, after the first major climb, and crossing a massive meadow, I found a signpost. I was headed the right way!

From then on, the ensuing 4 hour hike had the Red Stripe trail marker on a number of trees or boulders along the way. Though it was by no means at good spacing's. There were a number of times where I didn’t see a trail marker for a good half hour of walking. It was usually by sheer luck that I stumbled across another one. So many secondary trails wound through the woods that it was easy to veer off course.

IMG_2487Eventually though, the trees parted and the Red Stripe trail began to slope downwards into Bran. The last kilometer was the hardest as the rocks on the way down were insanely smooth and the angle was sometimes steeper than I was comfortable. But I did make it! And with an amazing sight before me of Bran Castle towering on the edge of the cliff.

IMG_2500Touring Bran Castle was amazing. It looks small on the outside, for a castle, but the inside is such a maze of corridors and rooms and courtyards that it gives it a much more grandiose feel. On the outside you definitely get the sense as to why Bram Stoker would’ve used it as an inspiration for the castle his Dracula lived in, but the inside was much brighter than I would’ve imagined for the lair of the worlds most notorious vampire. Outside the castle grounds is a hotbed of tourist stalls selling anything and everything with vampire lore on it. You have to hand it to the locals here. They took the idea and ran with it. And the tourists come.

IMG_2535As the sun was dipping low and I was not interested at all in walking back, I attempted to find a taxi to take me back to the villa. I only succeeded in getting a taxi to drop me off at the beginning of the stone road leading up to Magura so, once again, I walked in the quick fading light of sunset the 4km to the villa where I promptly fell asleep.

Day 3 – Magura –> Magura Viewpoint –> Magura. ~5km

I was already tired, my legs hurt, and I slept in. All led to me deciding to make this a very easy hiking day. Well, somewhat easy. It still ended up being a climb of about 300m in height over 2km.

IMG_2553The view from the top of the mountain over the valley was once again amazing. The fresh air and the near lack of civilization within sight was just the refresher that I needed. Along the way, on the flat portion of the trail, before it began the steep climb, I came upon a large tour group from the UK staying at a larger Pension within Magura. They were part of a tour whose company does eco-friendly excursions. Theirs was a weeklong hiking tour of the mountains. It was interesting to be able to chat to someone for part of the trip.

And more than once today, I wished I had one of those fancy manual focus cameras. Like a Nikon. Sometimes these little point and shoot cameras just do not do the scenery justice.

Day 4 – Magura –> Botorog –> Zarnesti Gorge –> Curmatura –> Poiana Zanoaga –> Magura

IMG_2562This was by far my most strenuous day of hiking. Even more so than the hike to Bran. I began by walking through Magura onto the winding road that led to Botorog, a small stream alongside another road that leads to the town of Zarnesti.

From there, it was a simple hike along the Blue Stripe trail into the actual Zarnesti Gorge, a place with massive limestone cliffs on either side of the stone path. Along the way, there were many different areas set up for rock climbing, should you so happen to have the right equipment. I actually got a kick out of some of the names of the climbs. One in IMG_2569particular stands out in my mind: “Trans Sexual.” I’m really curious as to who actually names these things and the criteria for it. . . if there are any.

The gorge eventually begins to drift away and the path veers off and up the hill. If you aren’t paying attention, like me, you’ll just continue on you merry way along the stone road until you consult the map(which has all the paths marked out pretty neatly). Curmatura is the name of the chalet at the highest point where about five different marked paths meet. It lies over 1400m above sea level. When you start the climb from the gorge, you’re sitting at around 840m above sea level. The majority of the climbing happens right at the start, which in a way is nice. Because after that, it’s about 2km of relatively flat path to follow.

IMG_2573Unlike the hike to Bran, this one had painted markers nearly every 10 to 20 meters. There was never a time where I was worried I was off course. In many spots, you could see two or three trail markers up ahead. I guess with it being so far from any sort of community and help, they’re not taking any risks of getting people hopelessly lost.

From Curmatura, I began the long, but surprisingly fast, hike down the Yellow Stripe trail. Past IMG_2579Poiana Zanoaga which was really just a huge clearing and meadow where a huge herd of cattle were being brought into a small corral to be milked. Thankfully the way down from here wasn’t nearly as steep as the way up and I made it down with little damage to my knees. At least, that I can feel now. Give it a few years.

And that’s that. After four days of hiking the mountains I left the villa back to Bucharest feeling more refreshed and alive than before. There were a number of other hikes I could’ve attempted but just didn’t have the time. Or the energy. No matter how refreshed I felt, my legs were still screaming at me to give them a rest.


  1. Absolutely beautiful pictures! I love the ones in town of the farms- it is sooo green. That must have been cool to see Dracula's Castle!!! Glad you had some refreshing renergizing time!

  2. Sounds wonderful. Your post is one of the reasons I plan to spend several nights in Magura this September. I'm considering staying at what I think is the same mountain hostel (Villa Park?), but am concerned that it might be a bit far removed from the actual village. Not that there's much in the village, but I do love a farm so would like to just stroll the hills watching the sheep and cows. About how far would you say it is from the hostel to the village proper?