R omania’s diverse natural landscapes offer numerous choices for exciting outdoor experiences. Travelers can walk through serene alpine meadows covered with scores of wildflowers, trek around glacial lakes, take in the lush-green scenery while horse riding or mountain biking, climb curious rock formations, photograph fossil traces of 15,000-year old cave-bear species, track gold eagles or other rare birds, study endangered flora, wander in the countryside, picnic in the fields, try your hand at traditional crafts, – or just relax in the home of a village family and sample wholesome, country fare with home made wine and plum brandy. Adventurers and wildlife enthusiasts who hear the call of the wild can add these unique experiences to the top of their activities list:
• Spotting wild egrets, Dalmatian pelicans, glossy ibises or some other 300 species of birds in the Danube Delta
• Rock climbing the unusual-shaped rocks Pietrele Doamnei in the Rarau Mountains
• Visiting the Scarisoara ice cave in the Apuseni Nature Park – the 153.6 ft. deep entrance shaft leads to some impressive ice structures, including spectacular six meters high ice stalagmites.
• Exploring the Berca mud volcanoes near Buzau – a stark lunar landscape of erupting mud.
• Taking the Sky Highway challenge — a trek around the Capra glacier lake in the Fagaras Mountains.
• Paddling through the frothy waves of the Crisul Repede and Bistrita rivers.
• Trekking Retezat, the rockiest mountain massif of the country, home to more than 80 glacial lakes and over three hundred flower species.
• Watching wolves at play in the natural park of Vanatori-Neamt in the Stanisoara Mountains, once the hunting ground of Stephen the Great.
• Horse riding in the Calimani National Park, renown for its volcanic bizarre shapes, traces of old craters, and the largest volcanic caldera in Carpathians.
• Completing an exciting multi-day hike along the main ridge of the Fagaras Mountains – one of the longest continuous high mountain traverses in Europe, taking you over three of Romania’s highest peaks (Moldoveanu – 8,346 ft.; Negoiu – 8,317 ft.; and Vistea Mare – 8,291 ft.).
National parks encompass extensive areas of particular geographical interest or outstanding natural beauty. They have an important conservation role and offer protection to many rare species of animals and plants. In addition to nature conservation, Romania’s natural parks also play an important role in preserving local customs, traditional crafts, historical settlement patterns, and regional architecture. Most of Romania’s national parks have arrangements for outdoor activities with a network of marked paths and trails and overnight accommodation in either staffed lodges or local guesthouses. In vulnerable areas where it is desirable to limit the impact of visitors, paths and accommodation are minimal.
APUSENI NATURE PARK
The Apuseni Nature Park (Parcul Natural Apuseni) – known as the cavers’ paradise, protects one of the most interesting cave fauna in the country. Traces of the prehistoric man, as well as fossils of animals that lived in the Ice Age were found in several of the caves, along with rare bat populations. The higher ridges of the park are covered with spruce fir, while at lower levels the forest is dominated by mountain beech.Limestone underlies most of the park and is responsible for the area’s impressive landforms. Sculptured mountain ridges, mysterious underground rivers, and delicate cave decorations will surely keep visitors’ photo cameras busy.
The complex karst landforms of Apuseni Nature Park are an attraction on their own, especially hikers with a fascination for geology. Deep valley and gorges, karrens and karst depression – where underground rivers and streams flow – give the landscape an exceptional character. Below ground lies the important and fragile ecosystem of the caves, the main attraction for amateur and professional cavers.
Note: Apart from the Bears’ Cave and Scarisoara Glacier, caving in the Apuseni Nature Park is not visiting nicely prepared tourist caves but visiting them as the first explorers have seen them. That means that you’ll have to climb, use ropes, crawl and creep to see their splendid beauty.
As opposed to other national and nature parks in Romania, the Apuseni Mountains are populated up to high altitudes, with permanent and quasi-permanent dwellings. The hamlets on the Ocoale – Scarisoara plateau, at 3840 ft., are among the highest settlements in the country.
If you wish to discover local life and preserved traditions, one of the main points of interest is the Aries Valley, where the beautiful villages of Albac,Garda, and Arieseni are located. Skilled artisans, the Motzi people, carve musical instruments, hope chests and houses from the local wood, the spruce. The Apuseni Motzi villages are some of the best places in which to find tranquility and timeless wisdom of the traditional village way of life. InPatrahaitesti, a little mountain village, you may hear the famous Bucium („Alps horns”), used for generations in the Apuseni Mountains.
BICAZULUI GORGES – H??MA? NATIONAL PARK
The Bicaz Gorges are famous for their 1000 ft. limestone rocks towering over narrow roads and passes. The road that slices through the Bicaz Gorges (Cheile Bicazului) is among Romania’s most stunning and spectacular. For kayakers and fly-fishing enthusiasts the park’s main attraction is the Red Lake (Lacul Rosu), created in 1837 after a major natural landslide. Short and long walks provide access to the lake’s spectacular scenery and many fishing spots. The Bicaz Gorges offer a unique view of the Ceahlau Mountains.
C?LIMANI NATIONAL PARK
Mountain with volcanic origins, Calimani features the biggest inactive caldera in Europe (about 6 miles in diameter). Massive eruptive rocks and craters of old volcanoes in the Calimani National Park (Parcul National Calimani) are spawned over breathtaking landscapes, matched by the presence of large areas of natural ecosystems and the abundance of Swiss stone pine and juniper trees.
The Calimani Mountains features the highest massif in the Romanian volcanic chain, the Pietrosu Peak (standing at 6896 ft.).
The natural erosion process in the volcanic plateau has led to the formation of the unusual shaped 12 Apostles (Cei 12 Apostoli), Red Stones (Pietrele Rosii) andNefertiti geological reserves.
CEAHL?U NATIONAL PARK
Surrounded by watercourses and dam lakes, Ceahlau Mountain, the Olympus of Romania, displays an incredible concentration of flora – over 2,000 flower species, and wildlife. Fossil limestone, the rock formations Dochia, Cusma Dorobantului, and the Duruitoarea waterfall are just some of the main attractions in the park. The park is bounded to the east by the Bistrita River and Lake Bicaz, and to the south by the Bicaz River. Some of the most exciting Romanian legends refer to the strange stone shapes spread around the peaks in the park. The Dochia rock formations are said to represent a mean old woman („baba”) who came on Ceahlau to feed her sheep. Deceived by the sunny days of early spring, she took off, one by one, all her nine-sheepskin waistcoats. When the frost came, it turned both her and her animals into ice, which over the years transformed into the stones we see now.
PIATRA CRAIULUI NATIONAL PARK
Piatra Craiului Natural Park features the longest and highest limestone ridge in the country (over 15 miles long and 6560 ft. high). Bordered by glacial lakes, the ridge is regarded as one of the most beautiful sights in the Carpathians. The two-day north–south ridge trail is both challenging and rewarding. Starting at eitherPlaiul Foii in the northwest or Curmatura in the northeast, hikers climb up to the ridge along the narrow spine of the range. The descent at the southern end leads into a karst landscape of deep gorges and pitted slopes where water penetrating the rock has carved a series of caves.
The traditional villages of Magura, Pestera, Ciocanu, Sirnea, make for interesting starting points for the routes on the eastern slope and for getting in touch with the traditional Romanian way of life.
RETEZAT NATIONAL PARK
Hiking in Retezat National Park you may well lose your breath, not from the climb, but from the breathtaking views of nature at her wildest. Peaks of differing heights, many topping the 8,028 ft. mark (such asPeleaga Peak), provide hikers with plenty of challenges. Travelers willing to tackle them will have their efforts well rewarded. Local communities and cultural sights from around the parking area add a special value to that of the landscape and the biodiversity inside the park. The people in the villages of Salasu de Sus, Rau de Mori, and Campus Lui Neag preserve to this day the traditional lifestyle of the area.
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