The Saxon South
Key information: The Saxon South
- Transylvania’s Saxons left a sometimes melancholy legacy of remarkable fortified churches, charmingly delapidated villages and huge, empty landscapes of beautiful rolling grasslands and deciduous forests.
- Extraordinary walking, combining uniquely resonant landscapes and villages.
- Walkopedia rating92
- Natural interest15
- Human interest16
- Negative points0
- Total rating92
- Length: Your choice
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
Germans and Flemings (from the south-west, but universally referred to as Saxons) were invited to settle in Transylvania at various times, but particularly by a Hungarian king in the mid 13th Century to settle the south, which was thinly populated after the horrors of the Mongol invasions, in order to act as a bulwark against the encroaching Tatars and subsequently Ottomans.
The Saxons were tempted in by privileges and substantial autonomy, and built a series of remarkable towns and villages with heavily fortified churches at their heart, complete with towered walls and a fighting storey above the normal church. Theirs is a history and architecture of ordinary people rather than kings and lords and bishops: they were industrious and organized, and developed a prosperous region of carefully managed field and forest and tight towns and villages around the castle-churches, the landscape lightly inhabited as a result. The Saxons converted relatively peacefully to Lutheranism, in sharp contrast to most of the rest of Europe.
The Saxons are now mostly long gone, many having moved to Germany during the Ceausescu Communist regime, leaving their sometimes melancholy legacy of fortified churches, charmingly delapidated villages and huge, empty landscapes of beautiful rolling grasslands and deciduous forests. This makes for extraordinary walking, combining uniquely resonant landscapes and villages.
With its wide, empty landscapes of gorgeous rolling forested hills, with flowery meadows on their flanks and fields and old villages in the valleys, this is beautiful, fascinating and hospitable walking county. You can walk up almost any track and be enchanted – or indeed across meadows or through forests: you can walk anywhere. Beware, though, that few trails are waymarked, so you need to keep you wits about you once in the forest. A perfect walking holiday would involve staying in several old Saxon villages, which all now have guesthouses in atmospheric, historic old farmhouses, and enjoying a mixture of walks up into the local hills combined with some poking round the villages and their fortified churches. Magical.
While every village is a walking base, here are some walks Walkopedia enjoyed, as an illustration of the delights you will encounter rather than a definitive list:
Richis, near Bierten: a gentle 40 minute walk up this lovely, quiet valley to visit some of the last charcoal burners in Romania at work, with 4 huge heaps at different stages of progress.
Copsa Mare, near the superb Bierten: a 2-4 hour circuit up into the hills and woodlands above this laughably pretty village.
Malancrav: Walkopedia did 2 walks around this enchanting village, climbing away on either side of the valley. Meadows, orchards, forests, fascinating and atmospheric villages. Highly recommended
Roades: climb up a huge grassy hillside to the high forested hill to the north of author William Blacker’s home village. Walk the ridge in shimmering beech forest.
Viscri: this arguably finest and most thrilling of all the Saxon villages has excellent walking all around, particularly in the meadows and forested hills to its south-east. You have to stay here, in one of its many charming guest-houses, so you need to walk here – although Walkopedia ran out of time!
Long distance walks: you can easily walk from village to village, carrying a lightish pack or sending luggage round. You can stay in delightful guesthouses in many villages, so can plan a multi-day walk. For instance: Rishis to Copsa Mare (via Bierten if desired); Copsa Mare to Malancrav; Malancrav to Stejarenii. And Daia to Mesendorf; Mesendorf to Viscri. A formal, fully-waymarked long-distance trail is said to be planned.
This can be strenuous walking with changeable weather. Come prepared.
Dogs: sheepdogs are fierce and can attack, in numbers. Walk in a group, keep away from flocks, close up if they approach, carry/pick up a stick if near a flock. Walk steadily, don’t run.
Keep your wits about you in the forests: it really is easy to get lost, as few trails are waymarked; you could become painfully aware of just how empty the area is!
The Mihai Eminescu Trust is dedicated to conserving and regenerating Transylvania’s Saxon area’s villages, and have several brilliant guesthouses, www.mihaieminescutrust.org. Details of guesthouses at www.experiencetransylvania.ro. Have a look at TripAdvisor – there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on guides, places to hike and places to stay.
Bradt’s Transylvania is the best guidebook, packed with valuable information, although little detail on walking routes. Find relevant books on Amazon.
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For more information and photos, including detailed practical information and some warnings, see our Transylvania walk page.
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