Our last morning in the Retezat park was upon us. We were feeling a little sad to leave the park and its mountains behind. I was also tired, thanks to hardly sleeping an eyeful for the night, rather being paranoid of every single sound. Soon enough our small car was bouncing on the gravel road leading our of the Retezat park, we were heading to Fagaras mountains.
It was a drive of a good hour, through villages that looked positively soviet and small country roads with horse carts on them. Until we found the high way! EU has been funding a project of building a highway from Bucharest all the way to Hungary, and it apparently is the only highway in the country, so far. Not that locals care too much about it, they drive the highway speeds where ever it is possible without loosing the doors of the vehicle.
After a stretch we veered off of the highway as we saw the first views of the peaks of Fagaras. We were passing some villages again on roads that we often thought our rental car would not be able to handle. Apparently there would have been a better route too, but we were using less than reliable navigators, so we ended up spending 2 extra hours on the road.
I had planned our next hike to start from a forest lodge rather deep in the forest and move from there up to the ridge of Fagaras and all the way up to the peak of Moldoveanu. We were aiming for a village called Slatina, where there was supposed to be a road up the Rea valley. Despite the fact that our spines had gotten shorter and our nerves were wrecked, it was a beautiful road trip.
We got to enjoy an endless amount of lovely autumn colors in the gardens, grannies sitting on their benches, looking at the world go by and cows disobeying their herders.
We finally passed Slatina and after a while we got to notice, that all of the driving had been a futile expedition. The road was blocked about 18 kilometers from where our hike was meant to start. After a very short consideration we came to the conclusion, that we were not prepared to hike that extra distance.
Off we went, back to where we came from, bouncing on the road towards hopefully a tolerable hotel. Earlier we had driven through a city and were hoping to find something from there. At least there would be a very promising sounding “Hotel Dacia” if nothing else.
It was dark when we finally reached the place and managed to find a place to stay for mere 100 RON. There was a wedding going on and we were welcomed as extra guests. Turned out the groom was currently living in Belgium. The identity of the bride still remains a mystery. It looked like a good party, though we only managed to stay awake for one beer before strolling into our humble dwelling. It was a beautiful room, but lacked heating again.
It was a time to pull out a back up plan since our original idea for a hike was smashed and stowed under the seat and chewed by a dog.
The good thing was that the famous Transfagarasan mountain pass went right through the village we were staying in. Along side that road there were plenty of hikes and even some touristic attractions.
If you are wondering why the road is famous: Well, it was built by the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu for army purposes and is the second highest asphalt road in Romania. Also it appeared in one of the episodes of the British Top Gear and drove those guys bonkers in their sports cars. It is a fabulous road through bear country, in short.
We set our eyes on one shortish loop that would take us to the ridge via a refuge hut and back down again. The road trip to there was magnificent. First the road climbs up to a damned lake through a large forest. After crossing the dam there is a long bit of more even grounds until you reach the end of the forest and get a rather breathtaking view to the peaks. And oh my, were they pretty.
It was quiet on the road, not too many cars were passing us by. We made slow progress since the views demanded photos, plenty of them. Soon we started to cross some tunnels and after one of them, popped out on the other side of the whole ridge. It was a sudden change of weather from sunshine to fog. And there were people more than we would have hoped.
So we were quick to leave and find a starting spot for the climb of the day. We decided to get up to the refuge, sleep there and carry on the next day for the rest of the trail. Just as we started to pack our packs it started to drizzle and soon enough it became heavy and cold rainfall. We were trying to wait it out for a while, but it became apparent, that the mountain was determined to get us wet.
After a while we admitted to our defeat and started climbing towards the hut at 2063 meters of height. It was only a short climb of couple of hours, but it went steep up and we were soon sweating nicely inside our rain gear. The rain turned into snowfall as we got higher, which was not at all what we had been expecting.
Finally, after a bolder, we saw our hut. It wasn’t the kind of cosy hut you would be hoping when it is freezing outside and you have been sweating like a pig. It was a metal box, a tin can bolted on the side of the mountain at a windy piece of a ridge. We were both thinking, that this might not have been the best of ideas. We entered the cabin and found a very modestly equipped hut. It had windows and wooden platforms for sleeping, no stove to heat up the place.
We were standing there for quite some time considering whether or not we should spend the night there. It would be a cold night, it was already below freezing, and it would be much more below freezing once the sun would be gone. We must not be the smartest of people, since we decided to stay.
It was still early afternoon, but nothing but crawling into the sleeping bag seemed to get us warm. So we boiled water, which is, by the way, quite a task on a wood gas stove in the altitude of 2000 meters, and had our hiking meals, they brought a bit of warmth into our misery. After eating it was just the business of waiting for sleep to come and get us.
It was a cold night, we slept short periods huddled together until the sun was rising. I have never been so happy to get out of the bed and moving again. There was a beautiful ridge waiting for us after a quick breakfast. The weather was better, so we could shove the rain clothing into our backpacks and walk a bit more free. We took our time though, the rising sun was changing the colors of the mountains and the clouds were moving in and out too, so at every glance we had a different view all together.
I have to say, those Romanian people, they are excellent trail builders!
Even the steep climbs go easy with their trails, they make perfect serpentines and select always the smartest places to climb! That being said, it didn’t take long until we were higher up and saw all the other peaks around us. We cot a view first to Moldoveanu and a bit later to Negoiu, the second highest peak in the Fagaras ridge.
Our only companions were a couple of herds of mountain goats, that were surprisingly tame and a flock of very curious birds. Even as we got to the set of lakes, which are often crowded by tourists, we saw nobody. All the green meadows were just for us to enjoy. From there we took a fairly steep decent back towards the road where we had left our car.
That was our last hike in Romania, for now. We packed ourselves into the car again and drove off, to the northern side of the Fagaras, via a beautiful mountain pass! Our last hotel of the holiday was in the city of Deva, roughly half way from the mountains to Timisoara. They have a very well preserved medieval castle there, which we did not have time to visit, unfortunately.
In the morning we left early to catch our flight in time. We got stuck in a traffic jam of crawling trucks and our navigator almost got us lost and refused to keep us on the highway and caused us a small heart attack by giving a wrong arrival time. But eventually we got there. This was one of those holidays I didn’t want to return from.
I would have like to have more time in the Fagaras and see a bit more of the culture. We are pretty sure that we’ll need to return to this wonderful country. I had a vague image of Romania to begin with, but it seems that the people, although a bit preserved, are friendly and helpful and the nature there is just magnificent. I do warmly recommend it to all of you nature lovers!
Oh! And the pictures are here!