The Transylvanian Trails – A Journey Through Romania’s Historic Landscapes by Rail

The untamed landscapes of Romania’s Carpathian Mountains inspire awe. Hike on trails lined with forest and serene alpine meadows filled with wild flowers, stroll through medieval villages and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and encounter diverse ethnicities as you explore this well preserved natural and cultural landscape.

Take the Mocanita train, once used for transporting timber, and feel like part of a fairy tale!

Vaser Valley

The landscapes of the Carpathian Mountains are a sight to behold, whether dotted with deep forests and high peaks or serene lakes and mountain pastures. This area is also home to a vast array of wildlife, from bears and wolves to many species of birds. But perhaps the most striking feature of Transylvania is its quaint wooden churches, which are recognized as cultural treasures by UNESCO. Whether you want to sit back and relax in the small Unitarian church of Inlaceni or see the colorful frescoes at Varful Paltinului, there are plenty of opportunities to explore this incredible region by foot.

One of the best ways to experience these high-country landscapes is by traveling along the Vaser Valley Railway, which is one of Europe’s last forestry railways still in operation. Its steam-powered locomotives—known as “Mocanita”—puff along the banks of the Vaser River in a wild and romantic valley where there are no roads, only forests and mountains.

Traveling along the track is an experience in itself, as you are transported to a simpler time and place. The only sounds you’ll hear are the puffing of the steam train and the sporadic shriek of the locomotive’s whistle. You’ll pass through mountain peaks and a landscape that seems to have been frozen in time.

The trip from Bucharest to the picturesque mountain town of Sinaia is a journey through some of Romania’s most stunning natural and historic landscapes. Once you reach the town, take a short walk along shady forest paths to visit the 17th century Sinaia Monastery and its monastery walls covered in frescoes. After your visit, head to the nearby Prahova Valley for some hiking and relaxation in this stunning mountain setting.

Getting around Romania is possible without a car, but it will be a challenge and require much more time than you might expect. Public transportation is limited, and it can take a full day to get from Bucharest to the start of a trail or into a national park. It’s recommended that you rent a car or take a private transfer to minimize your time spent on the road.

Transfagarasan Trail

The Transfagarasan is one of the world’s most impressive highways, with an amazing view at every turn. It spans over 92 kilometers from the village of Cartisoara, near Sibiu, to the village of Bascov in Arges County. It crosses the highest alpine unit in Romania, the Fagaras Mountains and connects two historical regions – Muntenia and Wallachia.

This is a road that Jeremy Clarkson once called “the best road in the world” (we’re not quite sure about this claim, but it’s definitely worth a visit) and it’s an important part of any road trip to Romania. The road was finalized in 1974 after almost five years of hard work and it’s still considered a major achievement of the communist regime, with the workers who died on this project being honoured with a monument in their honour.

The DN7C officially becomes the Transfagarasan at the small village of Albestii de Arges, just north of Curtea de Arges. From here, the road begins to climb, clinging on to the mountain sides, with breathtaking views at every turn. Before you know it, you will reach the colossal Vidraru Dam, which stands as a proud reminder of human ingenuity and power over nature.

On the way to the colossal dam you will pass through the Balea Tunnel – the longest road tunnel in Romania and another magnificent feat of engineering. It takes around 45 minutes to drive down from the colossal dam to the village of Cartisoara. On weekends however, the road is very busy and it can take double this time to get down from the colossal dam. We recommend planning your trip to the Transfagarasan so that you spend the most time at the top, rather than the bottom of the mountain.

It’s also a good idea to plan the route so that you’re driving from North to South, since this will avoid some of the most treacherous parts of the road during the winter. In the winter the road is closed between Piscu Negru and Balea Cascada, as well as some of the higher points on the mountain.

Valea Sambetei Trail

By European standards, Romania is an enormous country – one that offers mind-boggling contrasts. From towering mountain peaks and sprawling forests to enchanting castles and medieval towns, the landscapes are as diverse as the culture. With so much to see and do, the country is a hiking wonderland. But, as with all hikes, there are some essential things to know before you head out on the trail.

Hiking in Transylvania is a bit less well-known than in places like France and Switzerland, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid it. The mountains here are far less crowded, and the trails offer up some of the most stunning views in Europe. And, with 35 peaks to summit (including the highest peak in the country, Moldoveanu), Romania is a treasure trove of hiking opportunities.

In recent years, however, unrealistic expectations and relying on outdated or inaccurate information has led to an increasing number of people getting into trouble while hiking in Romania. The problems range from simple mishaps to dangerous encounters with mama bears. So, if you want to enjoy a safe and rewarding trip, here are some tips for hiking in Transylvania.

A long-distance trail called Via Transilvanica stretches across the whole country, connecting more than 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites along its 1,400 km route. The trail is marked by way-markers spaced around a kilometre apart, but it’s more than just milestones emblazoned with an orange ‘T’.

The trail is also designed to help travellers discover the best of the region. Whether you’re looking for a quiet spot to enjoy a cup of coffee in an abandoned village or want to explore the unique culture of Saxon villages, you can find it all here.

For those who have a love for the outdoors and are eager to take in some of the most breathtaking views in the world, you can’t go wrong with the Valea Sambetei Trail. This hike takes you through some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain in the country, and it’s sure to leave you with a lifetime of memories.

Sighisoara Trail

While the region’s awe-inspiring mountains are its main attraction, Transylvania boasts a wealth of historic attractions too. One of the most compelling is the Citadel of Sighisoara, which sits within medieval walls that have defended it for centuries. Inside the citadel’s historic streets, you’ll find the renowned Clock Tower and vibrant Citadel Square, which is home to colorful markets and medieval houses. If you’d like some expert insight as you explore, opt for a guided city tour with this option.

Beyond the citadel, visitors can enjoy a hearty hike with views over the medieval town. Taking you through the Upper and Lower Towns, the route also passes by the Bootmakers’ Tower, a well-preserved baroque structure with a soaring roof that has served as a clock tower and town hall over the years. You can also climb to the top of the town’s medieval walls for a panoramic view over the ancient rooftops below.

A short drive from Sighisoara is the Saxon village of Saschiz, which houses one of the most impressive Gothic structures in Romania. With a storied history that includes the burial place of local heroes, this church’s mighty facade contrasts with its airy interior, where the whitewashed walls guide your gaze towards the ancient altar. Alternatively, you can visit the nearby ruins of the Peasant Fortress.

If you’re looking to savor the natural beauty of this region, spring and autumn offer ideal hiking weather. However, even in winter, Transylvania’s mountainous landscapes are brimming with lush meadows and snow-capped peaks. Whether you prefer an easier day trip or an adventurous multi-day hike, the Fagaras Mountains and their surrounding national parks are accessible year-round.

A new and exciting hike in this area is the Via Transilvanica, which was designed to showcase Romania’s rich cultural and historical treasures. A project sponsored by Prince Charles, this trail features a blend of cultures that has shaped the country over the centuries and runs through seven different regions of the country. The hiking route can be done in sections, allowing trekkers to explore the 16th century Sucevita Monastery, take a tour of Teleky Castle, or see the Biertan Church.

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