the Apuseni Mountains

 

 

In Western Romania lies a splendid mountain plateau that is little known: the Apuseni Mountains. The main access roads in the country swing around it, the towns are built at its margins. It’s a huge plateau cut in 2 by the scenic Aries River. The nature is green and unspoiled, the forested hills change with colorful open meadows. Numerous rivers have cut spectacular canyons and created the most fascinating caves. You could name them “the Green Mountains”. 

Experience the very warmhearted hospitality in a region where tourism is still relatively new and every guest is welcomed as a friend of the family. This page is a window to the beautiful landscapes, unique nature and people of the Green Mountains; The Apuseni Mountains.

 

 

 

The Apuseni Mountains have a complex heterogeneous geologic structure. During millions of years the mountains were several times lifted up and submerged by the sea. Different climates, starting with tropical, then subtropical and later glacial climates followed each other. In this relative small area you'll find a geologic mosaic of conglomerate, crystalline, volcanic rocks and limestone. There is iron, silver and even gold.

Big predators in the Apuseni

Brown bear and wolves are still roaming the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. Although the Apuseni Mountains are populated, bears and wolves are also here. They are wild, this means it is not easy to see them. You don’t find them around garbage bins, around holiday houses. The best time of the year to see the bears, is during spring when they are hungry from their long winter sleep. In the summer months they move to the very remote area’s because there are people in the mountains to collect mushrooms, berries, shepherds and harvesters.  Wolves can be spotted at daytime in the winter months. The rest of the year they mostly move at night, searching for prey near the sheepfolds. Their yellow eyes sometimes lit up in the lights of the high beams of the car when you pass a sheepfold. They don’t seem to be dangerous to men. There should be lynx and wild cats as well, but they are extremely shy and move only by night.

 

The unique flora of the Apuseni Mountains makes the region extra attractive. Several micro climates and the complex geographic structure of the mountains created ideal conditions for a wide variety, numerous endemic and even a lot of extremely rare plants.

 

Harvesting the forest is still mostly pure man and horse-power. Logs are moved down the slopes by horses, then transported with horse and wagon to the summer villages where they are cut to timber. Most of these remote places have no electric power and all mechanized tools are somewhere powered by tractors or other engines.  That means also that there is no electric power in the wooden cabins where the people stay for the summer.  They come up around the 20th of May and stay for 3 months, till end September, the time the grass is gone. The men cut and transport the trees and cut them to timber. The women take care of the household and the farm animals and often help loading, unloading timber. One of the best places to see this is the Calineasa meadow, near the village Poiana Horea

 

Things don’t change much in the mountain villages. Since ancient times people live in, around and from the forest. The people made huge pastures higher up in the mountains where they herd sheep and cattle. These open meadows are colored in spring and summer by millions of flowers, many species since long gone in western Europe. The shepherds move with the sheep up in the mountains in late May, only to return end September. Some shepherds are herding their own flock, others are herding the sheep for the whole village and are paid a percentage of the cheese. Some shepherds stay for the whole summer at the same spot, others move around and sleep in handmade mobile wagons. The sheep are milked up to three times a day and the milk is directly processed in cheese. The shepherds stay with their huge sheepdogs day and night around the flock to protect them from wolves and bears.

 
 

The legend of Miorita or the legend of the lamb

This is a pastoral, archaic legend about life, death, destiny, existence, typical for the Romanian people. It is a poem that exists over many decades and is only passed by word of mouth. The legend exists in more than thousand versions over the whole territory of Romania, but the essence is the same.

There are 3 shepherds, one from Moldavia, one from Wallachia and one from Transylvania. The Shepherd from Moldavia and from Wallachia plan to kill the shepherd from Transylvania because he has more and nicer sheep.

But one of the sheep hears them whisper. This sheep, named Miorita, has supernatural power; it goes to the shepherd from Transylvania and tells him about the complot. Instead of running away or standing up against his aggressors, the shepherd tells Miorita that this then will be his destiny, his fate.

He tells her: “every summer you have 3 lambs, if you are my sister, if you are a magician, tell everything to everybody, to burry me in the sheep-fold, the place where you keep the lamb, in the back of the barn, let the dogs howl,” and so on.

It is seen as a characteristic legend for the often passive and fatalistic attitude of the Romanian population in face of death, in face of an aggressor. Death is seen here as peace in the middle of nature. The shepherd sees his death as a cosmic marriage, he accepts his death, he doesn't fight, but transforms his misfortune in a fairy sacred mystery where he triumphs over his own destiny. For his 'marriage' the mountain will be his priest,  the birds will be the musicians, the guests the sun, the trees, the moon. 

His death is in fact his union with nature, his return to dust and ashes, “to burry him, in the sheepfold, to see his sheep, to have near me what I'm missing.”  

The region to the west of Cluj Napoca is dominated by the enormous Vladeasa Mountain. The more than 1800m high ridge is the first barrier after the flat plains of Hungary. The Vladeasa Mountain itself is an old volcano, but the surrounding mountains are mainly limestone. The region is world wide known for its magnificent caves, the largest and finest of Romania. The southern border of the region host one of the most spectacular nature reserves of the country: Padis. The Hungarian minority names this region the “kalotaszeg region”. Their culture and traditions survived here stronger then in Hungary. Their beautiful colorful handwork got attention during several world expositions at the end of the 19th century and ever since people produce all kind of embroidery that can be seen and bought in the region. Manastireni, Valeni and Izvoru Crisului have some lovely examples of the typical  “Kalotaszeg” church with very steep steeple and roof covered with wooden shingles. The ceilings are beautifully decorated with century old wooden cassettes. 25km long Fintinele lake is the highest of a chain of 4 lakes on the Somes River. A beautiful region to fish or for boat trips. Marisel, Rogojel and Maguri are some of the highest settlements in Romania. An enormous forest stretches for 100km from the Vladeasa mountain in the west to the Trascau mountains in the east.  It is a perfect region where you can make beautiful hikes or bike along the thousands of kilometers of forestry roads, a region where predators as wolf and bear still roam the remote valleys, a region where nature was mainly left untouched.    

The Aries River dominates the center part of the Apuseni mountains. The region is known for its spectacular landscape with narrow gorges, lovely valleys, steep slopes and you’ll find here one of Romania’s most impressive monuments of nature: the Scarisoara Ice cave. Near to this cave are dozens of other caves. All along the Aries valley lovely villages are built on the river banks. The upper part of the river is homeland to the local highlanders “the Moti”. They are masters in woodcarving and make dozens of different household items. Their huge wooden barrels are known all over the country and you might see them on their typical long wagons dwelling the countryside. The narrow Aries Valley couldn’t offer space and grassland for the growing population and people and their animals had to move over the years higher and higher in the mountains to find grassland. In the beginning they just moved during the summer months, later on, some of this summer villages became permanent settlements now the highest of Romania. Still people move to the higher alms during summer and unique for the Ghetar region is that even all farm animals move along during this “transhumance”. In the past the people communicated with wooden horns "bucium" named. They are still made in the region. The highest peak of the Apuseni, the Biharia mountain with 1848m dominates the region and guarantees snow from mid fall till mid spring. The region is bordered in the north-east by  Padis nature reserve, a fantastic limestone region with numerous caves, canyons and enormous dolines. The Aries River offers also nice kayak possibilities. In the village Arieseni is a small ski slope with chairlift. The upper Aries valley is a true all year round tourist highlight.

The Northern Apuseni Mountains are warmer and dryer. The region is dominated by the Trascau and Muntele Mare Mountains. Up and between these ridges are some superb nature reserves. There are the Turda, Rimets and Intregalde Canyons. There is Scarita Belioara, a superb limestone nature reserve at 1000m altitude, one of the earliest reserves in the country. 
Because of the difficult access roads, many of the mountain villages remained unchanged. It is one of the most interesting ethnographic regions with old watermills, typical farm buildings with straw roofs, wooden ox wagons.
The people live mainly from agriculture and also here farmers move to remote summer villages where they stay during the summer months. 
There are many superb monasteries in the region. The village Rimetea is unique. It was during the middle ages the center of iron mining for the region. Once a town, now it is a quiet village resting on the foot of the impressive Piatra Secuiului Mountain. The rich past of the village can be seen in the local ethnographic museum and some mine galleries still remained in the mountains. 

 
 

The town Cluj Napoca to the north west of the Apuseni Mountains has a rich past. About 2000 years ago it was called Napoca and was a Municipium in the Roman era. The Saxon colonists in the early middle Ages called it Klausenburg. They built together with the Hungarian colonists the defense walls and fortification towers that once surrounded the medieval town till the 19th century. They were destroyed when the new town grew outside the walls. Also the Habsburg left an important architectural heritage in Cluj. When you walk around in Cluj you find medieval Saxon style buildings together with neo gothic style, baroque style, empire style and  classicism. The history museum has an interesting collection of Roman edifices and the ethnographic museum displays a rich collection of costumes and house hold items. There is even a small open air section with several farms, watermills and a wooden church. Nature lovers will especially enjoy the Botanical garden. Accommodation can be found in 2, 3, 4 star hotels. There is a wide variety of restaurants, tea rooms and bars. 

 
 
 

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