Friday, 10 May 2013

Project Retezat [& Oltenia]



I haven’t posted in a while, but I had good reasons not to: I’ve been travelling. Our initial travel plan was designed to guide us through Retezat National Park for 4 days, but sometimes one has to adjust travel plans on the way.

Project Retezat [& Oltenia]:
  • Day 1:
-          We drove the 303 km to Râu de Mori Commune, Hunedoara County. From here, there are approx. 17 km left to Cabana Gura Zlata (775 m) on DJ685 (ensuite twin room: 90 lei/night; meals (even vegetarian) provided upon request; very welcoming personnel and owner and a great starting point for your treks through Retezat National Park; 0744648599; retezat.gurazlata@yahoo.com).
  • Day 2:
-          We had breakfast and started the hike through ‘Gemenele’ Scientific Reserve. How to get there? From the lodge, turn left and walk until you reach the nearest bridge. Turn right and follow the trail until you reach a big house on your left – it is the house of the Romanian Academy employees. It is time to show them your authorisation [to visit ‘Gemenele’ Scientific Reserve] and your IDs. There is a post dealing with the stages of obtaining the authorisation in Romanian, but please contact me if you are a foreigner and need additional details. Take the trail behind the house, to your left, then cross the bridge and continue until you see an iron gate, which marks the entrance into the reserve. The trail is very well marked (red arrow; mild; 3½-4 hrs.), so you can relax and enjoy your hike through one of the last primeval forests of Europe. There are two wooden tables along the way (the first one indicating that you’ve completed half of the trek and the second one indicating that you’ve completed three quarters of it). You will then have one quarter of the road left to ‘Casa Laborator’ (1770 m). From here, there are 30 more minutes to Tăul Gemenele (Gemenele Lake) (1934 m).
Gura Apei Dam
-          If you have time and are not tired, I recommend a visit to Gura Apei Dam, South of Cabana Gura Zlata. It provides a beautiful vista right before sunset and we witnessed an amazing show offered by two lovely foxes, so you might be in for some surprises before dinner. 
[Days 3 & 4 of our initial plan included a drive from Cabana Gura Zlata to a parking spot near Cabana Pietrele. We would hike from here to Lacul Bucura (Bucura Lake) (blue band; mild; 3½-4 hrs.) and camp near the lake. The following day, we would descend to Cabana Pietrele and return home. Because of the powdery snow and low temperatures, we decided to attempt this trek during summer. Consequently, we were forced to set up an ‘impromptu’ plan. See what we came up with!]
  • Day 3:
-          Right after breakfast, we headed (via Haţeg) to Târgu Jiu (137 km away). This city is noteworthy for the works of the greatest Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brâncuşi. You will find the Gate of Kiss (Poarta Sărutului) and the Table of Silence (Masa Tăcerii) in the Central Park. To see the artist’s masterpiece – the Endless Column (Coloana Infinitului) –, you will have to follow the road to Râmnicu Vâlcea. You will see the column and the park hosting it to your left after a five-minute drive.
-          We had lunch at the restaurant of Europa Hotel, conveniently located across the Central Park exit. The food was great and the portions were huge, followed by a small bill. 
-          We drove the 70 km to Horezu and spent our night there. We chose Pensiunea Criveanu (ensuite double room: 100 lei/night) and were by no means disappointed – see here why. For dinner, we settled for ‘Doi Cocoşi’ Restaurant – great food and service in a classy ambiance, topped with low prices.     
  • Day 4:
-          After breakfast (some snacks of our own – Pensiunea Criveanu does not provide any meals –), we headed to Horezu Monastery, impressive Brâncovenesc-style structure from the end of the 17th century. Its peacefulness is extraordinary and the frescoes are impressive in colour, composition, and degree of preservation; they reminded me a lot of Voroneţ Monastery in Bucovina. Admission is free of charge, but donations are welcome. Taking photographs is not allowed inside the monastery.
Pottery colours
-          Curious to learn more about Horezu pottery, we headed to Olari Village, where Alina Iorga, master potter, provided many insights on her art. Part of a fourth generation of master potters, Alina passed this wonderful tradition to her children, who are also very talented in crafting and painting the items by using the traditional colours of red, black, white, and green, to which blue is sometimes added. Horezu pottery is claimed to be one of the most natural types of pottery, because it actually represents painting by clay on clay. You can contact Alina and Liviu Iorga on their Facebook page or reach them at house no. 139 in Olari or at 0760092599.  
@ The Museum of Trovants
-          It was time for a geological phenomenon unique to Romania: the trovants. These are stones or sandstone concretions that secrete cement and appear to be growing. You can stop for a few minutes at the Museum of Trovants, situated on the way from Horezu to Râmnicu Vâlcea, in Costeşti Village. You will not regret it! The admission is free of charge. Access is only allowed by foot.
-          We arrived in Râmnicu Vâlcea just in time for lunch and dessert, after driving 44 km. We decided to have lunch at Hanul Haiducilor, a restaurant oozing tradition and personality. The portions are huge here and the food is great; I was not thrilled with the service, but I would however recommend a lunch here. A stopover in Râmnicu Vâlcea is incomplete without a visit to ‘Arkadia’ Sweetshop, one of the most enticing sweet experiences of my life. Warning: Making a choice will be hard!
-          We exited Oltenia, passing through Muntenia on our way home. We drove 60 km to Poienari Fortress – an attraction that had been on my ‘must-see’ list for a long time. Be prepared to climb the 1480 steps to the top of the cliff, situated 800 m above sea level. You will be welcomed by breathtaking views and by some impressive ruins dating back to the 13th century and having actually been a secondary residence to Vlad the Impaler. Admission fees: 5 lei (adults); 2 lei (children, students) | Opening times: (in summer) 9:00am – 7:00pm (Su-Mo) Avoid weekends and holidays, as it can get pretty crowded!
The view from Poienari Fortress: breathtaking!
-          Right before heading back to Braşov, we drove the extra 11 km to Vidraru Dam, which is – in my opinion – the most impressive dam in Romania, with the rocketing heights contrasting with the peacefulness of the water (fancy a boat ride on the lake?).   

In the end, I realised that I was as intimidated by the allure of Retezat Mountains as I was impressed by the time spent in Oltenia. It felt good, it felt welcoming, it got me closer to discovering the essence of my people!

When in the area:
-          During late April or early May, do go on a rafting adventure down Jiu River. It will live up to any standards!
-          Approx. 12 km on the way from Horezu to Craiova, in Oteşani, there is another trovant ‘populated’ area, on the banks of Gresarea Brook. We’ve searched for them, but were unsuccessful. You can get lucky!

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