Well the Romania blog is now going to be in three parts! We were enjoying the country so much and after meeting up with friends (more of that in the next post) we extended our vignette twice more to spend six weeks there.
The Moldavia region of northeast Romania (not to be confused with the neighbouring country of Moldova) is home to the Bucovina Monasteries, UNESCO protected painted monasteries dating from the 15th and 16th centuries and one of Romania’s top tourist attractions. There are in fact so many monasteries in the region, it could be difficult deciding which ones to visit so we opted to follow a route suggested in our Lonely Planet guidebook and take our time over a few days.
Initially we based ourselves at the Neamt Monastery where we were welcomed by one of the priests to stay in the car park as long as we needed. From here visited the monasteries at Sihastria, Varatec and Agapia. We had also tried to get to the wooden Sihla Monastery but access is via a muddy forest track and after the recent clutch incident, we didn’t dare attempt the last few hundred metres up a steep hill to the carpark!
Whilst visiting Sihastria, we were asked if we would like to join the monastery staff for a meal but politely declined as we had so much to see.
As we arrived at Varatec, the man who had earlier invited us jumped out of his car with fresh bread, stuffed cabbage leaves and a bottle of wine which he insisted we took. He also gave us an impromptu tour of the church at Varatec, explaining the different icons and paintings. Our brains seem to be hardwired into thinking that he’d want something in return, but no, he was just a kind man sharing the generosity and hospitality we still struggle to accept.
Following the loop in the guidebook we took in the monasteries at Moldovita, Sucevita, Arbore, Dragomirnaa, Voronet and Humor. The northwestern part of the loop is over the Ciumarna Pass which sits at 1,100m above sea level and is reached via winding mountain roads which were still covered in snow when we visited.
Most of the monasteries were free to park at and visit but we were out of season. Where we paid entry fees, it was usually lei10, under £2, each
After visiting so many monasteries we were looking for something different and headed into the mountains of the eastern Carpathians. Romania has a few famous driving roads and high passses but the two big ones we had on the list, the Transfagarasan and the Alpina passes were both closed for the foreseeable future but luckily for us the Transraraul was open….well sort of!
The Transraraul Pass is reached via either the 175A or the 175B and our first attempt was from the 175A near Campulung Moldovenesc. After tackling a few steep sections (one tight hairpin was on a 16% slope) we found the road closed until 30 April so we backtracked to the main road and tried again via the 175B. All looked good and after spending a couple of glorious nights near the top we tried to rejoin the 175A to come down the southern side of the pass. As we got to the top there was another sign to say this part of the road was also closed but we met a local who told us to ignore the sign – it was definitely OK to drive as he’d done it the previous week. Glad to say we got down the narrow winding road without incident!
We drove through the Ceahlau National Park which includes the 1907m high Ceahlau Massif, Moldavia’s highest point. Unfortunately we were unable to park anywhere overnight so drove straight on to Bicaz, and then the following day we headed into the Bicaz Gorge. The road here cuts through 300m high limestone walls which you can almost touch in places, the road is so narrow.
Following the road 12C out of the gorge you reach Lacu Rosu (Red Lake) which doesn’t live up to its name and even less so on a murky, drizzly day. It is a good place to stop though for lunch and souvenir shopping, not that we did the latter!
One last mountain drive took us to Lake Saint Anne (Lac Sfanta Ana) which is actually a lake in the crater of and old volcano. There is a good path down to the lake from the car park (a minibus is available for less mobile visitors) and there is a walk around the lake. This is bear country and although we didn’t see any, we did spot large birds of prey and got a great shot of an owl sitting in a tree by the road.
As we were in the area we decided to head back to Camping Honigberg to catch up with ourselves for a few days before beginning our drive westwards and out of the country.
Camping Cristal, Sucevita: Lei40 per night without EHU (usual rate is Lei70 p/n). Flat grassy area for motorhomes. Shower and toilet block. Lots of open space which would be great in the summer. An easy, flat walk along the main road to the Sucevita Monastery.
Cabana Turistica Lac Sfanta Ana: Lei80 (a little over £14) for 24 hour parking. At the time of our visit there was no water to the campsite as it was still too cold to switch it on but toilets are available at the ticket office/reception when open and because of the grass/mud parking it was difficult to find a level spot. We were given a 5l bottle of water and offered firewood when we checked in but it wasn’t the weather to sit outside! The campsite is surrounded by an electric fence to keep the bears out and there is a path down to and around Lac Sfanta Ana directly from the campsite.
Camping Honigberg: EUR18 p/n for two adults, the van but no EHU (available at additional cost). Grass parking within the vicarage garden. Washing machine available. We liked this campsite so much we came back! We were in the general area so decided to come back here to do the washing and make use of the good wifi.
Other overnight spots:
Neamt Monastery: we stayed in the overspill car park, a short walk to the monastery and the Church of St Nicholas. Water available close to the monastery library from an unthreaded pipe, and there are toilets at the monastery (not sure if they’re open when the monastery closed).
Transraraul Pass: in a roughly north to south direction, two roads cover the pass, the 175A and 175B. We initially spent one night at the end of the 175A near Campulung Moldovenesc in a large gravel car park. On the 175B we found a layby close to the top surrounded by snow and with stunning views over the mountains. We had a couple of peaceful nights parked here. No facilities.
Bicaz: a small carpark next to a small stadium. Flat, hard standing car park. No facilities. OK for one night.