Transylvania

  • The ridge west of Malancrav - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Charcoal burning - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • From Copsa mare - © William Mackesy
  • Traditional agriculture, Copsa mare - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Forest above Copsa Mare - © William Mackesy
  • Copsa Mare from end of walk - © William Mackesy
  • Malancrav, storm approaching - © William Mackesy
  • Malancrav, first walk - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Walk 1 - © William Mackesy
  • Floresti - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Malancrav from second walk - © William Mackesy
  • Malancrav walk 2 - © William Mackesy
  • Shepherd - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • bear print - © William Mackesy
  • Deep ancient track - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Orchard - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Fagaras range - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Viscri, evening - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Viscri church - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • from Viscri church - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Above Roades - © William Mackesy
  • Forest above Roades - © William Mackesy
  • Descending to Roades - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Roades - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Viscri - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy

Key information: Transylvania

  • This huge bowl of rolling hill country in the heart of Romania has a peculiar aura and reputation.
  • The area has a long and complicated history, including “Saxons” settling in the Middle Ages, resulting in a fascinating historic and cultural legacy, fortified churches surrounded by their ancient villages, all set in “the last example of an untouched mediaeval landscape in Europe”.
  • The mountainous surrounds, arms of the great Carpathian range, are a natural glory.
  • There is a huge variety of great walks here, from mountains to Saxon meadows.

Walkopedia rating

(Top 100)
  • Walkopedia rating92
  • Beauty30
  • Natural interest15
  • Human interest16
  • Charisma31
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating92

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Your choice
  • Maximum Altitude: 2,544m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
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Forest above Copsa Mare - © William Mackesy

WALK SUMMARY

Transylvania has a peculiar aura. Its name, a “one-word poem” (Dervla Murphy), invokes castles and forests and timeless farmlands. And, yes, Dracula. It lives up to this billing. Castles, palaces, Saxon fortified churches, remarkably unchanged if often dilapidated villages are strewn across the “last example of an untouched medieval landscape in Europe”.

Transylvania is a huge bowl of rolling hill country in the heart of Romania, actually an eroded plateau which was once a seabed, surrounded by arms of the Carpathian Mountains. Wide, open landscape predominates in some parts, a more attractive mixture of valleys, grassy hillsides and forests in others, in particular the Saxon south.

The mountainous surrounds are a natural glory, the main Carpathians to the north and east and the fascinating limestone Apuseni a protrusion to the west. There are many sub-ranges, including the Transylvanian Alps to the south, at their heart the Fagaras, home to Romania’s highest mountain at 2,544m, and the gorgeous limestone ridge of the Piatra Craiului NP, widely agreed to be the country’s finest mountain area. These mountains host famously diverse ecosystems, from superb and often untouched forests to gorgeous alpine meadows, to the cliffs and crags of the highlands. Some tremendous gorges wind out of their flanks. The main Carpathian range was once Europe’s longest volcanic chain, so very different rock from the limestone of the Apuseni.

The wildlife is of continental importance: in the forests and mountains, a superb array includes half of Europe’s surviving brown bears as well as wolves, lynx, chamois, deer, boar and marmots. Birds include eagles and vultues. The vegetation is similarly diverse, from the varied mainly deciduous forests, to the high meadows and rocky wildernesses, to the flowery delights of the hay meadows. 

The area has a long and complicated history, not least as result of its having been part of Hungary for centuries, then the Hapsburg domains, with some Ottoman overlordship thrown in, and a resultingly mixed population of …er…Romanians, Magyars (Hungarians), Szekely (who claim descent from the Huns) and Roma amongst smaller minorities. Transylvania is as a result home to a remarkable selection of denomination, from Catholics to Orthodox, to Lutherans and others, but has a history of admirable tolerance compared to much of Europe.

“Saxons” were invited to settle 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, as a bulwark against the encroaching Tatars and subsequently Ottomans). They 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. 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 are now mostly long gone, leaving their sometimes melancholy legacy of great fortified churches, charmingly dilapidated villages and huge empty landscapes of beautiful rolling grasslands and deciduous forests. This makes for extraordinary walking, combining uniquely resonant landscapes and villages. See our Saxon South page for more on the Saxons.

There is a huge variety of great walks here, from mountain to Saxon meadows, from short explorations to multi-dayers. 

The Saxon south

With its huge 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. The 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. Multi-dayers can be constructed, too. Magical. See our Saxon South page for more on walking here.

Elsewhere in the heart of Transylvania

Turda Gorge: a 300m deep limestone gorge, with dramatic and thrilling scenery of the sort you might expect: huge, sheer cliffs, spires, and gouging and polishing of the cliffs by the river over the millennia. A very special microclimate,so unusual vegetation.  Easily accessible and popular, so you may not be alone – but there are many trails in the area, so you can get away. Very worthwhile if passing.

Sfanta Ana Lake: said to be the only intact crater lake in Europe. Very popular, so not normally a natural Walkopedia walk, but it is a fine specimen. A nearby peat bog in a secondary crater, which you can explore on boardwalks.

Southern mountains

The Carpathians wrap southern Transylvania in an arm of sub-ranges, all making for some of south-east Europe’s finest walking. From west to east, they are:

Retezat NP: exceptionally beautiful scenery of rough, have high mountains, cliffs and rocky drama, and more than 80 glacially-gouged lakes.

Fagaras Mountains: this long range, Romania’s highest, has superb walking, some claim Romainia’s finest. You can make a hut-to-hut traverse of the range in some 5 days. 

Piatra Crauilui: a narrow ridge of high, jagged limestone peaks, with beautiful forests and meadows on the lower slopes. A beautiful, unspoilt area of the Carpathian Mountains, claimed to be the most spectacular ridge in the southern range. As well as a huge variety of wildlife and pristine landscape, the farmland and villages are also delightfully unspoilt. A variety of excellent walks, but the 2 day traverse along the ridgeline is the most famous trail here.

Bucegi Mountains: a small group of high, steep mountains near Braşov. Superb landscape, including a high plateau with heavily eroded formations. Several chalets, so you can make a comfortable and thrilling multi-day walk.

Eastern Carpathians

There is a lot of superb landscape – wild mountains and forests – in the eastern Carparthians.

Bicaz Gorges-Hasmas Mountain NP: a wild area of dramatic limestone mountains, deep gorges and a famous red lake, with huge biodiversity and plenty of good trails to enjoy. The nearby Ceahlau Mountains Have some very fine walking, including to Toaca Peak at [6,200ft]. The Duruitoarea waterfall is worth a walk. You can make a “Neamt Monasteries” walk between the villages of Varatec, Agapie and Neamt: a remarkable world

Apuseni (north-west)

The Apuseni are limestone mountains on the north-western borders of Transylvania. While they aren’t huge (1,400m-ish, highest 1,849m), they make up for that with superb scenery of peaks, cliffs, spires, gorges, many vast cave systems, huge and famous sink holes, karst plateaux, even waterfalls. Much of it is covered in fine, unspoilt forest. There are plenty of good walking trails, and you can spend several rewarding days here. The Padis Plateau is particularly exciting, a rugged karst area with many classic features including disappearing streams, vast sink holes and huge caves.  There is also an exciting-sounding 6km ridge walk which takes in Bohodei Peak (1,650m). The Galbena Valley, of gorges and waterfalls, is also too good to miss.

Northern Carpathians

Rodna Mountains: this long Carpathian range in the far north of Transylvania reaches 2,300m. Beautiful and remote. (We currently have limited information on this range, and plan more research: contributions welcome!)

Calimani Mountains:  this once volcanic area in the north-east has rich mixed forest and a wide diversity of wildlife. (We currently have limited information on this range, and plan more research: contributions welcome!)

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This can be demanding walking in remote mountains with uncertain weather. Come fully 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, when you could become painfully aware of just how empty the area is!.

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 guidebook, packed with valuable information, including excellent detail on the route. Recommended. Find relevant books on Amazon.

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Books and Maps

Suggest books and maps

Books on this walk (support us: find books using our Amazon search box) 

Find these and other books on Amazon.

Other books (support us: find books using our Amazon search box)

Transylvania – Lucy Mallows for Bradt. A good guidebook, packed with interest as well as practicalities. It has an excellent bibliography.

Between the Woods and the Water – Patrick Leigh Fermour – celebrated account of his journey there in the 1930s.

Along the Enchanted Way – William Blacker. His more recent life and lose there in the 2000s.

Find these and other books on Amazon.

Maps

There are topographical maps available (for the Tarnava Mare area, the heart of the Saxon South, at least) and well worth getting although they shouldn’t be relied on too literally when it comes to paths. These can be got, locally, although they aren’t to be found plentifully. The Scale is large, but rather peculiar.

GPS is therefore worth having.

Stanfords: A good online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks). Also try Maps Worldwide.

Best times to walk/weather

Best times to walk

Spring and Autumn (and Summer in the mountains) are the best times to walk here. Winter is bitterly cold and summer can be sweltering. Spring (April/May/early June) for wildflowers and Autumn for colourful leaves on the lower-to-mid slopes. The high mountains are only snow free in late June/early July and are walkable until October-ish. Winter walking/snowshoeing are very viable if very different experiences.

Weather

Can be fine in season, but come prepared for heavy showers/storms and, higher up, very unpredictable mountain weather (expect some storms at least) and cold nights.

For detailed weather information, have a look at: www.worldweather.org or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides.

Getting there/transport/permits/fees

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Check the current visa positon for people from your country.

Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu and Tãrgu Mures are the major airports in the region. A new airport at Brasov is being developed (as of 2017). Bucharest is further away, although logical for the mountains of the south or if you are making a larger Romanian expedition. Skyscanner is an excellent comparison site for finding good value flights.

There is no major city here, but several substantial towns.

Train is a possibility, busses less so.

Car hire is reasonably easy, but driving isn’t straightforward, not least because of the lack of roadsigns.

Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from/to arranged start/departure points.

Local taxi services generally exist in the towns, can (eg) take to or pick you up from a roadhead, or transport luggage.

Possible problems, health, other warnings

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  • Mountain weather in the mountains: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Come prepared.
  • Heat, humidity, and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
  • Harmful animals including snakes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Bears are a potential problem: come prepared to deal with an encounter. Beware wolves, too. Take all appropriate precautions.
  • Canyon dangers: gorges can be lethal, particularly as a result of flash floods. Assess and prepare for all risks on those walks involving canyons. In particular if rain is possible.
  • This can be remote country: help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
  • Beware of dogs: sheepdogs are fierce and can attack, in numbers. Walk in a group, keep away from flocks, close up together if they approach, carry/pick up a stick if near a flock. Walk steadily, don’t run.
  • Confusing forests: keep your wits about you in the forests: it really is easy to get lost, when you could become painfully aware of just how empty the area is!

See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Make sure you have appropriate insurance.

Guided or independent?

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Independent

You can do these walks independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared.

Guided/supported

Many people form or join organised/supported expeditions, particularly when doing multi-day walks. Travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has huge advantages.

Choosing a suitable guide or company is of course vital, and the guidebooks contain good advice in this regard.

If hiring a guide locally, meet him/her and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and, of course, remuneration!

Walkopedia spent a walking/cultural week in the Saxon South with Andrea Rost (andrea-rost@gmx.net), and couldn’t have been happier: very knowledgeable, charming and patient!! A major love is the high mountains, too!

Expedition organisers include:

Our partners Responsible Travel offer several excellent-looking expeditions (from classic Saxon meadows to the Fagaras to winter snowshoeing), so you should be able to find something that really suits.

Explore! - reputable and experienced organisers. 

Wilderness Travel

Sherpa Expeditions

High Places – we have used these (elsewhere) and been very happy

Kudu Travel

Check TripAdvisor for some reviews of this walk and walk organisers which may prove helpful.

PLEASE HELP Walkopedia by recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise. 

Accommodation

Transylvania, especially the Saxon areas, is full of excellent guesthouses in old and atmospheric village houses and even a manor house. The brilliant Mihai Eminescu Trust have been restoring houses for a couple of decades, and has a stock of marvellous places to stay. See Useful Websites below.

When in the mountains: there are mountain huts in some areas, usually in superb or at the least very pretty and charming locations. They provide food as well as comfortable sleeping. Most require you to bring a sleeping bag liner, although some a sleeping bag too. You do, though, need to book ahead.

Camping is also option, the only one in many remote areas. Wild camping is not allowed and discouraged by those who know, unless you are experienced both of the wild and of Romania!

A good range of hotels can be found on the unimaginatively named but effective Hotels.com.

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Other information and tips; responsible tourism and charities

Bring eye shades and ear plugs.

Tipping is expected, so come mentally prepared and with enough cash. Check guidebooks for current rates. Do err on the side of generosity if unsure – it will make a big difference to them.

Walkopedia encourages responsible tourism! Have a look at www.stuffyourrucksack.com for projects you can take things for. The Bradt guidebook lists some good local charities.

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Useful websites and information

There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.

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Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

Romania has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be.

Other activities

Mountain biking, climbing, birdwatching and other natural delights.

Culture, history and people watching. Dracula if you must.

from Viscri church - © William Mackesy

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Traditional agriculture, Copsa mare - © William Mackesy...
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