Romanian Carpathians

Romanian Carpathians belong to the Alpino – Carpathian – Himalayan Mountain Chain System, including intercontinental area of Euro Asia and are the backbone of Romania’s relief, being situated in the central part of country. Carpathians begin north of Bratislava in Slovakia and go to the Timok river in Serbia, as an extension of the Alps. The geologically young Carpathian Mountains, which are part of the main European mountainous chain link the Alps with the Balkans. Carpathians length exceeds that of the Alps, being divided into 4 groups: Western Carpathians, Forests, Eastern and Southern, extending to the territories of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania. The Carpathian region provides some of the Europe’s cleanest streams and drinking water supplies and contains Europe’s greatest reserve of pristine forest. The Carpathian area represents the unique composition of ecosystems with an exceptionally high biological diversity. Relatively small population densities, difficult access to many mountain ranges and a considerable number of large forests have allowed a rich and diverse flora and fauna to exist in the Carpathians. As a result of far reaching transformations of the natural environment in Central Europe, the Carpathians have remained either the only or the most important refuge for many plant and animal species, playing a significant role in the preservation of biological diversity in Europe. Once widespread across Europe, wild European bisons were driven to extinction in the early 20th century by hunting and habitat loss. Since 2013, Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania have been working together in the Southern Carpathians rewilding area to reestablish free-roaming populations of this iconic animal. Romanian Carpathians surround the Transylvania basin from the north, east, south and west, like a shielding wall, being called “spinal column”.

The Carpathians cover an area of about 209,000 km2 which is home a population of 17 million. The highest peak of the Carpathian Mountains is the Gerlach in Slovakia at 2,655 meters. The Carpathian range extends from Austria to Serbia, covering most of Slovakia and Romania and parts of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Ukraine. The Carpathians form a natural bridge between the Western and the Eastern Europe for species migration and genetic exchange. The greater part of the Western Carpathians and the northern part of the Eastern Carpathians is inhabited by a Slav population, and the southern part of both these Carpathian provinces, with the exception of the East Carpathian mountains, populated by Romanians and Hungarians. However, numerous hydronyms and place names of Slavic /Old-Serb/ origin in the Carpathians also prove the one-time presence of the Early Slavs /Old-Serbs/ in the vast regions within and west of the Carpathians. The name of the gorgeous Carpathian mountains actually origins from the name of Sarbati („p“ and „b“ have the similar resonance and thus are often mistakenly misused). Those mountains were named after the people who lived here – the Sarbati or the Serbs. To be more precise, it is the matter of the Sarmatians, although the western historiography likes to make confusion and creates hoax of the fake history. It is all the same issue – the Carpathians – the Sarbati – the Sarmati /Sarmatians/. In late Roman documents, the Eastern Carpathian Mountains were referred to as Montes Sarmatici. The Western Carpathians were called Carpates, a name that is first recorded in Ptolemy’s 2nd century book of Geographia. The name of the Carpi, a Dacian tribe, may have been derived from the name of the Carpathian Mountains. According to Zosimus, this tribe lived until 381 on the eastern Carpathian slopes.

The Romanian Carpathians form the Eastern part of the Carpathians that come into 3 geographical groups – the Eastern Carpathians that split into 3 groups: The Carpathians of Maramureș and Bukovina, the Moldavian-Transylvanian Carpathians, and the Curvature Carpathians, the Southern Carpathians split into 4 groups: Bucegi Mountains, Făgăraș Mountains, Parâng Mountains, and Retezat-Godeanu Mountains and the Western Carpathians split into 3 groups: Banat Mountains, Poiana Ruscă Mountains, and Apuseni Mountains. Carpathians of Romania contain some of the most intact ecosystems and are home to a wealth of indigenous species. Carpathian Mountains is home to the largest carnivores living in Europe, the vegetation is lush and the forests roar with wild animals. The Carpathian landscape has largely been shaped by a long tradition of mountain agriculture and sheep farming. Today these traditional occupations are in decline in the Carpathians because of economic development and increasing pressures on the natural environment. However, five Carpathian countries have now joined the EU which should increase the potential for sustainable development through new environmental policies. In Romania there is a strong effort focusing on the development and the management of the Carpathians, being the greatest tourism region, though the development of the infrastructure, as well as the online information needs to be improved. The Carpathians cover mountain areas, therefore it is worth to note, that travel to mountain ecosystems is increasing at a rapid pace, as growing numbers of tourists are attracted to the clean air, unique landscapes and wildlife, scenic beauty, culture, history, and recreational opportunities that maintain destinations offer. Most prominent transnational activities that are being developed in the Carpathians are : experiencing the mountain flora, fauna and landscape provides tourists with an opportunity to view, interact with and learn about native birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and other wildlife, cycling, mountain biking, quad biking, horseback riding, canyoning and, less often, rock climbing, ice climbing, hang gliding and caving, river tours, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, kite surfing, kayaking, rafting and freshwater fishing, cross country, downhill and glacier skiing, heli-skiing, snow scooting, snowboarding, tobogganing, snowshoe walking and sledding, mineral springs and climate therapies, local cultural heritage tours and interaction with locals….

The most spectacular Carpathians in Romania area is represented by the Southern Carpathians. They are also called the Romanian Alps“, because they reach high altitudes in the Fagaras Mountains (Moldoveanu Peak – 2544 meters), offering astonishing views and trips in the gorgeous landscapes of a carved glacier and endless pine forests. The Transfagarasan Road is the most spectacular road in Romania and crosses the Fagaras Mountains, binding Transylvania and Muntenia, by two traffic lanes of 92 km countless curves. The Transfagaras Road runs north to south across the tallest sections of the Southern Carpathians, between the highest peak in Romania, Moldoveanu and the second highest peak of Negoiu. The Transfagarasan road connects the historic regions of Transylvania and Wallachia, and the cities of Sibiu and Pitesti, with the highest point at 2042 meters and the tunnel which links the northern and southern sides at Lake Balea (Balea Lac). Along the Transfagarasan route of 150 km there are 27 viaducts and bridges, and the longest road-tunnel in Romania – 887 meters long, which passes through the Paltin Mountains, from Lake Capra to Lake Balea. The Capra Tunnel – 890 meters long and at an altitude of 2040 meters – marks the top of the Transfagarasan Highway. The Fagaras Mountains crossed by Transfagarasan road is open generally between July and September (closed in winter for large show and traffic depends on weather conditions), offering astonishing views to travelers and lots of attractions to visit. The most important tourist attractions of the Fagaras Massive are Vidraru Lake and the Vidraru Dam which is one of the greatest in Europe, then Poienari Fortress-Castle (built in the time of Vlad Tepes), Balea Glacial Lake and the Balea Waterfall. The amazing Balea lake is located next to the significant tourist cities of Romania, Sibiu and Curtea de Arges. If you are on vacation in Romania in summer time – between June and September, the Transfagarasan road is an amazing and unforgettable driving experience for both drivers and bikers. The Tarcu Mountains in the western part of the South Carpathian mountains is the winter sports area with most snowfalls in Romania. The highest peak is Vârful Căleanu, 2.196 meters. The Tarcu Mountain range offers mostly easy terrain, a good selection of runs that have up to 800 meters vertical drop. This resort is ideal for heli ski beginners and free riders who like to enjoy and take it easy.

The Transalpina or DN67C located in the Parang Mountains group in the Southern Carpathians of Romania is another road of the Carpathian Mountains, which connects Novaci, south of Parang Mountains to Sebes in the north. The story has it that it was built in ancient times when the Romans wanted to have another access into Transylvania. Another story says that the road was built by the German army during the Great War. For sure, the road was inaugurated in 1938 by the Romanian king Carol II, hence its second name: the Road of the King. It was repaired by the Germans in the Second World War and then forgotten by the communists. In 2007 it started the works to transform this spectacular road into a modern highway (148 km), allowing a rapid transit between Oltenia and Transylvania. In 2009 it was completely paved. It was totally opened to traffic in 2012. The highest point of the Transalpina Road reaches the elevation of 2,145m above sea level. Given the high altitude, the Transalpina road is closed during the cold months of the year. Works began in 2007 in order to transform this spectacular mountain road into a modern highway (148 km), allowing a rapid transit between Oltenia and Transylvania. The weather on this zone is harsh and highly unpredictable and it does not take much time for the bright sun shine to change over to moderate to heavy snow fall.

Bucegi Mountains

The border between the eastern and southern Carpathians is formed by the Predeal Pass, south of Braşov and the Prahova Valley. Making its way through the “heart” of Romania, the Carpathian Mountains have remained one of the last places that have not been adulterated yet in Europe. Along with the Danube and the Black Sea, the Bucegi Mountains represent the specific geographic element for the territorial uniqueness of the Romanian state. Prahova Valley (Romanian: Valea Prahovei) is the valley where the Prahova river makes its way between the Bucegi and the Baiu Mountains, in the Carpathian Mountains. It is a tourist region, situated about 100 km north of the capital city of Bucharest.

The incredible mountain landscapes of Bucegi Mountains, but also the amazing beauty of a land whose time seems to be endless (the shepherds lead their sheep, the horses harnessed to the wagons run slowly and the medieval settlements keep their traditions and customs) turn the Romanian Carpathians into a spectacular open museum, having a special status in the touristic circuit of the country because of the extremely impressive landscapes, glacial valleys, limestone areas, unique and peculiar shapes of the rocks. Here on the beautiful slopes of the high Bucegi Mountains in the Carpathians, shepherds still make a living as cheese makers, producing Brânzá de Burduf, the most valuable and highly appreciated among Romanian cheeses, retaining the the same milk processing technology and same type of wooden vessel used for generations. Bucegi Mountains offer a lot of opportunities to make a memorable trip. The highest Bucegi Mountains crest presents panoramic views, meadows with wild flowers and numerous narrow paths and touristic attractions. The cross commemorating the Romanian heroes of the First World War, placed on Caraiman Peak in Bucegi Mountains of the Southern Carpathians, was labeled as the tallest summit cross in the world by the Guinness World Record. Nearby, the Prahova Valley stands as a wonderful touristic objective, incorporating well-known resorts, such as Sinaia, Busteni, Predeal and Poiana Brasov.

The Eastern side of the Carpathians, called “The Oriental Carpathians”, are remarkable for the multitude of natural passes, such as Brotocea, Prislop, Bicau, Gutai, Oituz, passes that make the traffic possible on each side of the Carpathian chain. Red Lake and the Bicaz Canyon – Cheile Bicazului are unique and beautiful places in Romania. The Bicaz Canyon is part of the National Park “Bicaz Canyon”, which includes actually the following protected areas: The Red Lake, The Bicaz Canyon and The Hasmasu Mare Mountain. The entry gate to the Cetatile Ponorului – Fortress of Ponor has 74 m height.

Another branch of the Carpathians are situated at the boundary between the Danube Pass and the Somes Valley. The Romanian Western Carpathians are unique through the diversity of the karst phenomena where caves as Bears Cave, Scarisoara Cave and Vantului Cave represent true natural monuments. In the Northern part of the Bihor Mountains, there are the Cetatile Ponorului – Fortress of Ponor, the most astonishing karst regions of Romania, being declared a natural reservation in 1952.

The Transylvania Mountains – Montes Serrorum form the central part of the Western Carpathians in Romania and extend southwest to the Danube River. The western part of the Southern Carpathians – that is, the Banat Mountains and the mountains of eastern Serbia (which, at the Iron Gate, are split apart by the gap valley of the Danube) – do not exceed an altitude of 800 meters. The carstic feature of the Transylvanian Mountains provides majority of attractions of the region. Several tourists visit these limestone, as the spring lets where there are so many passes as nowhere else in Romania. It is said that there are 7000 caves in the depths of the Transylvania mountains. It is a fact that the longest, deepest cave of the country is to be found here, as well as the biggest underneath ice and the largest carstic area. More than 100 year old marked paths await visitors. In 2004 the Nature Reserve of the Western Carpathians on 75784 hectares was created. From a touristic point of view this region has three main points: Pádis-Glavoj, Stana de Vale and Vigyazo, but the blazes are confusing. We should pay attention though : we are going into the mountains, where the rules of mountains are to be followed! Rain and cold comes unexpectedly. So let us take warm clothes and raincoat, not umbrellas! Nights are very cold too!