By Simon Parker
What is it?
A circular route on a mixture of forest/village roads and marked paths that passes some of the locations used in 2003 film, Cold Mountain, including the final scene. It offers some spectacular views of the Piatra Craiului and Bucegi mountains and ample opportunities to observe the local wildlife – don’t forget your camera and binoculars!
Where? Zărnești and Măgura
Child friendly? Depends on your child….
Do-able in winter? Usually – obviously it’s more physically challenging, but it’s a true winter-wonderland hike.
Maps: Zenith maps numbers 8 or 3. Both can be bought on-line at: http://zenithmaps.com/wp/
If you have an Android phone, you can download both these maps, from this site, for free.
It’s about a three hour drive from Bucharest. Take the E60: past Otopeni, Ploieşti, Sinaia, Buşteni, Azuga. After Azuga, get ready for a left turn to Zărnești – it’s before you get into Predeal town centre and is just over a bridge, Turn left to Zărnești – it is a twisting road through the mountains (DN73A), Turn right at the big T junction at the end of the road – it is signed Sibiu/Brașov and then Sibiu/ Brașov /Zărnești right at the junction. Drive less than 1Km through Rașnov, Turn left to Zărnești a few metres after an OMV petrol station which is on your left. Follow the road through the countryside into Zărnești – when you get into the town follow the signs for the centre/Măgura – you will go past a large factory on your right before coming into the town centre. When you get to the centre, keep following the signs for Măgura – you’ll come to a roundabout – again, follow the signs to Măgura which is straight on. When you reach Cabana Gura Râului the tarmac ends and you are on a forest road. The parking place is about 1km along this road at Fântâna lui Botorog which is marked on both Google Maps and the hiking maps, just before road crosses the river and bends sharply left up to Măgura.
Where to eat:
Casa Rustică in Zărnești: Strada Ion Metianu 61. Excellent and very reasonably priced traditional food and pizzas & very friendly staff.
Where to stay:
I’ve usually done this hike as a day trip, but if you’d like to turn it into a weekend getaway, I would heartily recommend Hora cu Brazi in Zărnești, but it’s so popular, you’ll need to book at least a few days in advance. (www.horacubrazi.ro/)
(All photos taken mid-March 2018)
Part 1: the gorge
Starting from the carpark, the first kilometre, following the blue stripe and red cross markings, is a pleasant gentle warm-up along the two-tone forest road with Spruce trees on your right and Birch on your left. When you reach the barrier you enter the gorge proper. In the summer and autumn you might see the mountain gymnasts climbing up the rock faces and what appears to be crude graffiti on the rocks are in fact cryptic codes pinpointing particular routes. The wildlife is even more interesting. If you are quiet and look up, there’s always a good chance of seeing a wild mountain goat, the capra neagra, which is technically a goat-antelope, doesn’t look much like a goat and can traverse near vertical rock faces without the need for ropes or tight fitting Lycra. Summer bird life includes Alpine swifts, Wallcreepers and a surprisingly wide variety of owl species at any time of the year.
Just after you reach what looks like a gazebo in a clearing on your left, you’ll see a sign with the red cross marking directing you into Cheile Pisicii which in its literal translation means ‘the cat gorge’. While you don’t have to be particularly feline to clamber over some rocks to take this shortcut, you’ll not lose much time by sticking on the forest road which quickly takes you to the one of the final scenes in Cold Mountain was shot. Go in the winter, you’ll see real snow rather than the tons of artificial stuff used in the filming.
Part 2: gaining altitude
As the gorge opens out after a few zig zags, you’ll come to an intersection. Take a sharp left at which the road almost seems to double back on itself.
You’ll enjoy the first of some excellent views looking both down the valley and up towards Piatra Craiului but don’t panic if there are initially no red cross markings: these reappear after just over a km when the Cheile Pisicii path re-joins the road. After about another kilometre and a half, the road comes to an end. You’ll see a new signpost where it finishes which confusingly doesn’t give trail markings, just a bicycle sign. Follow it anyway onto a path with leads to up into the forest to the left of the stream bed, and the red cross signs will reappear. When you emerge from the trees into Poiana Vlădușca you’ll get some even better views of Piatra Craiului. The path becomes flatter and the red cross markings are soon joined by the red triangles as you approach La Table, which is a reasonably good spot for lunch.
Part 3: the Shepherd’s path
La Table is an important local cross roads. You need to follow the follow the red stripe and the red cross up and away from Piatra Craiului. At Saua Joaca (an even better place for lunch) make sure you swing left, again following the red stripe and cross markings. In the summer you are likely to shepherds and local villagers using horse-drawn transport to commute back and to from the high pastures where sheep, goats and cattle are grazed before the first snow arrives. After about another kilometre and a half, the path swings to the left and you begin to see the first signs of habitation in the form of simple wooden fences as you approach Peștera village. Peștera is the Romanian word for caves (they have one full of bats) so the Peștera caves is literally Cave caves……
Part 4: the beautiful villages
When you get into Peștera proper you’ll soon reach another crossroads, of sorts. On the map it’s marked as Casa Folea and there’s a sign with a map of the area on it. Take the red cross path going up an incline, not the road down into the village. The path takes you along the edge of the village bordering the Muntele Toancheș forest and you soon run out of superlatives to describe agricultural scenery which has, using the frequently used cliché, has remained largely unchanged for centuries.
The path slowly evolves into a road as Peștera morphs into Măgura (population circa 500), a village that entered the anuls of history in 1713 when the region was still part of the Hungarian empire. It was always been inhabited by Romanians though and you’ll see a path/road down to a recently built monastery (which you can visit) going down from Pensuiunea Mosorel 2. Financed by a local businessman, I have been told it is adorned with some outstanding icon paintings. Soon the stunning views to your right, towards the Bucegi mountains begin to grab your attention on a clear day.
Getting back down to your car is relatively straightforward. Look out for a blue triangle on a concrete telegraph pole on your right followed almost immediately by path on your left, initially bordered by a drystone wall and marked with a green arrow. Keeping an eye open for dogs and cows (which both use the path as a thoroughfare) wander down the path until it abruptly widens out just before it enters the forest. There are now two possible routes back down to the carpark: one follows a stream bed on your left, but it’s easier cut across to your right towards what looks a bit like a dog kennel and a low fence that you climb over. The path becomes clear again and aided by a few more green arrows, quickly takes you back to the to the forest road where you started. Turn right when you get to it, and you’ll soon be back at the carpark. It’s now time to set your GSPS to guide you to Casa Rustică and enjoy a well-earned meal.
More comfortable with a guide? Well they simply don’t get better than Greg Helm, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org – as professional as he is personable.
Simon Parker is the director of Albion International Study, a Bucharest-based counselling organisation for UK university applications.