Monks and mighty mountains in Buila-Vânturarita, Romania
“Probably we don’t see anyone for the next couple of days. Even a lot of Romanian people don’t know about this place”, Dan assures me.
“So if you would wanna kill me this would be the perfect place to do it?”, I reply. We have made a couple of multiple day hikes in Romania together, so we can make these jokes. Dan is the owner of Outdoor Activities in Romania and he spends most of his time in the mountains.
But Dan is right: during the 3 days in Buila-Vânturarita we only meet 2 other hikers, a couple of monks and some religious people who are visiting the monasteries. Buila-Vânturarita is the smallest national park in Romania. The mountain tops are not the highest in the country, but because of it’s remote location, multiple monasteries and the untouched, wild nature makes this a true adventure spot.
Hiking in Buila-Vânturarita National Park
After driving for 3 hours from Bucharest we
reach Bărbătești. From this town it’s a
couple of kilometers until the parking spot. While we are driving on a bumpy
road we see a mother with a small kid walking next to the road.
“Do you mind if we pick them up?”, Dan asks. I am totally fine with that. Where are they heading to? The small girl is not older than 6 years. Dan and the mum talk in Romanian, so I barely understand anything.
“The mum says they are going to the monastery in the mountains. Normally they walk all the way from the village, but now we save them the walk of 7 kilometer. I look at the mum and she smiles.
“Apparently they do this every week”, Dan continues. I’m impressed.
Especially when I see them going up the mountain after we parked the car. The little girl climbs up like a mountain goat. It looks effortless. After 15 minutes I already start sweating. It’s only 4 kilometers hiking up to the first monastery: Patrunsa Monastery. But it’s one hour going up. That shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s a bit harder than usual because of all the food and stuff we have to bring to the mountain hut.
Into the wild in Romania
At the first viewpoint we see the mountains and the monastery. And it makes it even nicer because people can only reach this place by foot. We put our bags aside for a bit and enjoy the sun, the view and a chocolate bar.
After that we continue the hike. We follow the trail although you can hardly talk about a trail. This is what I love about hiking in Romania: there are no maintained roads in nature. Like the trails you can find in countries like Germany, Italy and the United States. It’s just how it should be: untouched. But that makes it a bit harder sometimes as well.
“This place is at least as steep as the mountains of Piatra Craiului”, Dan says. I look around and I feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s indeed pretty steep. I have a flashback to my accident in the Romanian mountains, not that long ago. My hands are getting clammy and I start to sweat. And it’s not because of the hike or the sun. I feel my heartbeat rising. I slow down and focus on every step I make. Without realizing it I grab the grass constantly. The long grass that helped me last time. I take a deep breath and I find my inner piece again. The views are amazing, but it’s good to realize the mountains can be dangerous as well.
While crickets in all sizes and colors are jumping in front of my feet we hike towards the forest. Along the way we see a gigantic deer. Without any effort it climbs up a steep hill once it hears us. From here the hike is only a couple of hours to our final destination of the day: Cabana Cheia.
Home made booze and pizza in the middle of nowhere
Once we reach the mountain hut we see 2
older Romanian guys sitting on the bench. They are brothers in law and apparently
they make trips like this one all the time. They introduce themselves as Laur and Vio. They went via another road to the mountain hut on bikes. I look at them,
their beer bellies and the beer cans on the table. It maybe sounds a bit cruel,
but are they really in such a good shape? They don’t look like they love to
sport. One of them gives me a bottle. On the label it says it’s an energy
“Home made”, one of the guys says and he points to his brother in law. I take a sip. It tastes like whiskey with a fruity aftertaste. The home made booze is surprisingly pleasant.
In a mix of English and Romanian the guys
tell us that they are retired soldiers.
“They are not that old, right?” I ask Dan.
“That’s right, they must be in their forties. But in the army people retire at an early age. So they have more than enough time to enjoy their free time and go into the mountains.”
So with this information I can see how these guys can be so fit and active, in combination with all the alcohol.
“Here, take some zacuscă”, and Laur gives me a big with some red spread in it. He assures me it’s vegetarian. It’s made of onion, bell peppers and eggplant. And after the first bite I have a new addiction.
“Make sure you can eat something after this as well, the guys are heating up the brick oven and are going to make pizza.” Who would have expected that: eating pizza in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere? A great way to end a long day.
Hiking to the mountain ridge of Buila-Vânturarita
The next day we wake up early to go to the mountain ridge of Buila-Vânturarita. Laur poors himself a shot glass of the home made booze. “To brush the teeth”, he says and laughs. From the mountain hut it’s about 3 hours to the mountain ridge. Most of our stuff we can leave in the cabana, because we sleep there tonight as well. It makes it a lot more easier to hike up. There is some mist around the mountain tops, but other than that the views are incredible. We can even see the mountain peaks of Fagaras and Bucegi.
The rest of the afternoon we climb and continue our hike at the mountain ridge. The weather is perfect and we can enjoy the autumn colors. Yellow, green, red, orange, brown: all of them are there. Unfortunately we have to hike back at the end of the afternoon, but I could have stayed and enjoyed those colors for hours.
The brothers in law are arriving back in
the mountain hut an hour after us. They made a huge walk as well and now they
are in the mood for French fries with garlic sauce. You must know that Romanian
people LOVE their garlic. They will literally put it in every dish they make. And
so I’m always eating my fries in Romania with garlic sauce as well. The rest of
the evening is all about chilling and making music. I understand barely
anything of the lyrics, but the sounds are fun for sure. And every now and then
Dan gives me some translations.
“This song is about a guy that is together with a beautiful girl. But he can’t have sex with her, so he compares her genitals with a fire place where he’s not allowed to put wood in.” And I thought it was just a nice mountain song.
Monasteries in the mountains of Buila-Vânturarita
The third day we want to start our hike in a beautiful gorge next to the mountain hut. The gorge would lead us to another monastery and back to the car. But unfortunately the marks of the trail are in really bad condition. As in: some of the marks are gone and vanished by nature. So after an hour we decide to go back to the hut and take a different trail. Luckily our back-up plan is also pretty sweet and we walk through forests and via meadows. And then we find another monastery: Pahomie Monastery. People can reach this place by car (except for the winter months), but it’s still a hidden gem. And it has a great location, because the monastery is built in the rocks.
Once I enter the monastery I put a scarf around my head. I look like a gypsie, with the wild curls falling around my face. But it’s good enough for the monks. Although I feel how I make them uncomfortable. Not only here, but back at the first monastery as well. Probably they don’t see that many women passing by in the mountains. In general I don’t see many women in the mountains of Romania. I try to move around in the monastery as discrete as possible. It’s interesting to see how these people devote their lives to this one place in the mountains. Far away from everything. Although some can walk to the village, for example to get some extra groceries. We follow one of the monks while we walk back to the car as well. Yes, the monasteries make a visit to Buila-Vânturarita extra special.
Before my visit to Romania I had never heard of Buila-Vânturarita National Park, but now it’s one of my favorite places in the country! There is a big diversity: monasteries, gorges, meadows, forests and mountains. So you will not be bored easily. You can easily hike here for a couple of days, but I would suggest to go with someone or a guide who knows the area. Buila-Vânturarita is a place where you can find barely any information about, especially not in English. Besides that the marks of the trails are sometimes missing, so it’s good to know a bit about the area. Furthermore it’s a good idea in general to go with a guide if you don’t have any experience with hiking in the mountains.
This article is written in collaboration with Outdoor Activities in Romania. More information about collaborations you’ll find here.