I came to Romania for my spring break, but I did not think Old Man Winter would meet me there instead. After a pleasant day walking around the capital, I took a train to Brasov. I arranged for two tours with Transylvania Wolf. The first was watching Eurasian brown bears feed just outside Piatra Craiului National Park. This was an incredible experience, and I was looking forward to the second adventure. This consisted of a couple hikes in the national park. One was through the Zarnesti Gorge, and the second was a walk up a river valley.
Transylvania Wolf Tours
The Eurasian brown bear tour was a great success. The weather was decent, and we saw seven bears including several mothers with cubs. See the above link for a description of that incredible experience. The leader of the tour, Dan Marin, picked me up and dropped me off at the wonderful hotel I was staying at in the village of Zarnesti. The hotel was Vila Hora Cu Brazi, and it was outstanding. I stayed at a reasonable rate, and my room had a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside.
I retired after having a wonderful meal at my hotel, and called it a night. The next day required an early start. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was not good. It started to rain after the bear tour, and that rain was supposed to turn to snow. The forecast called for several inches of snow overnight and for the snowfall to continue throughout the day. Sometime during the night, I woke up and looked out the window, and I could tell that the surrounding hills were now covered in a light frosting of snow. I figured the tour would be called off.
The walking tour must go on
The next morning, the snow continued to fall. The mountain that was just behind the hotel was no longer visible. A giant cloud had enveloped the higher elevations and was depositing snow on the lower reaches. The fields below the mountain were completely white, and the snow was falling pretty hard. There was still no communication from Dan about canceling the tour, so I started to get dressed and get ready. I enjoy winter activities, so I was pleased that the tour was not yet canceled, although I was still thinking it might not happen.
Dan showed up in his vehicle exactly on time, and the tour commenced. I was the only member of the tour. The tour was $60.00 per person, but there needed to be a minimum of two. I paid double, and I feel that even at the double price, it was well worth it. The snow made it even more memorable and beautiful.
Zarnesti Gorge hiking tour
Despite the snow, the day was comfortable. I wore an Adidas hoodie and a vest with a hat and glove, and I felt fine. I knew that coming to the mountains in early April meant that I needed to be prepared for all sorts of weather. We drove to the general area, where we watched enormous bears feed. I hoped they ate their fill the night before because we would be hiking in close proximity to where I saw seven brown bears the night before.
Hiking up the Zarnesti Gorge
We parked the car and started hiking up a well-defined gravel trail. The gravel was covered with about six inches of snow. A heavy snow covered everything. The Romanian Mountains were truly a winter wonderland. Cross-country skiing is one of my passions, and I never get tired of seeing fresh snow covering coniferous trees. The Carpathian Mountains had plenty of pine trees, so we were treated to extra spectacular views at every turn.
Although we were hiking up into the mountains, the elevation was not to difficult as we were hiking through a gorge. A gorge is defined as a narrow valley between hills or mountains. We were hiking through the gorge, so the elevation was not as steep as it would have been if we were hiking up into the mountains. The views were truly jaw-dropping as steep cliffs shrouded in mist and snow rose 100 feet straight up from my feet. Six months later, this scene remains my screen saver on my phone.
The Cave from Cold Mountain
Zarnesti Gorge is locally famous for being the backdrop to the movie Cold Mountain. Dan pointed to a cave and asked me if it looked familiar. Despite being a film that took place in the Appalachian Mountains, they used the Zarnesti Gorge as one of the filming locations for the film. Nicole Kidman hid out in the cave as dangerous deserters from the Confederate Army were seeking to kidnap her or worse. I have a friend who studied the wolves of the region when this filming was taking place.
Mint tea and homemade biscuits
Near the cave, there was a small gazebo-like structure offering temporary shelter from the wet snow. The snow kept falling furiously, and it was necessary to shake it off your clothes before it melted and got your clothes wet. Dan brought some delicious homemade biscuits and some hot mint tea from a thermos. This absolutely hit the spot. As I mentioned before, it was not too cold out, but it was not warm either, so the hot beverage hit the spot. We hiked back to the truck and relocated for our second hike.
Hike up a river valley
We drove down the mountain and then back up another road to another remote location in the national park. We hardly saw anyone all day. On our way back down the gorge, we saw another hiker, but we would not see another person in the river valley. Dan parked the car along the road, and we hiked down a gentle slope and had to cross the river. It was flowing at a decent rate, but the river or creek itself was only a couple feet across, so a good jump cleared the water.
We then hiked up into a beautiful valley with huge pine trees and mountain meadows. We did see some bear tracks, but they were already filled in with snow, so this meant they probably walked this path sometime either in the night or early morning. Dan reached about eight feet up a tree and grabbed some bear hair residue that was stuck to the tree. That meant the bear was about nine feet tall when standing upright. They use these trees as scratching posts. To keep safe in the wilderness, perhaps hikers should bring with them a bear-back scratcher instead of bear spray.
Zarnesti Gorge and hiking in Piatra Craiului National Park
There is a lot to do in the Transylvania region of Romania. Brasov, Sighiosoara, Bran Castle are all must sees while in Romania; however, a couple of days in Zarnesti is a great addition to your itinerary. If you enjoy the outdoors, then a hike in the Zarnesti Gorge should top every hikers list. I cannot promise it will be as beautiful and snowy white as you see in these pictures and on my phone, but it is well worth the time.