Winter – not that it’s been a particularly long and cold one this year, thankfully – at last appears to have given way to spring, which for those of us who live for the mountains means it’s time to put the skis away and get the walking boots out again.
Romania is blessed with some of the best walking and hiking terrain in Europe, and the pursuit is very much a national sport: walking up the nearest mountain has long been viewed as a birthright in this country, something every local does as soon as they are old enough; it is just a shame that more recently the dickhead Dorobanti cocalar brigade has begun to think that driving up the nearest mountain should also be a birthright.
Fortunately, the dickheads do not venture very far into the mountains, and you can leave them behind very easily – even on some trails relatively close to Bucharest, two of which we walked (amongst others) last year. We are highlighting these two for they are both suitable for kids (if far from easy), while also being doable as day trips from the capital (either by car or by train). They also both start and end at the same point.
The first is above Sinaia: a superb (and sparsely-walked) circuit which starts at Cota 2000, goes around the Varful cu Dor and ends up on the Drumul de Vara, which is followed down to Cota 1400. The second is at Timisul de Jos, a trail which passes an amazing series of tiroliane (by the way: does anyone know the English word for tiroliana? Deathslide? Dropslide?) and climbs up through the Canionul Sapte Scari to 1200 metres before descending via the Prapastia Ursului and Drumul Familiar.
There’s not a kid in the world – including the grumpiest of teenagers – who will not enjoy both, particularly the trail through the Sapte Scari.
Trail 1: Around the Varful cu Dor
You will need to start early, as access to the start of the walk is via the old two-stage Sinaia cable car. The first leaves at 08:30. In good weather or at the weekend it’s wise to get here early, as the queues after 10:00 or so can be long.
At the top, you need to head out of the cable car station and head for the Valea Dorului chair lift. Built in the stone age the chair-lift is infamous as being the slowest in Romania (which, as you can imagine, is a fairly tough competition). Walk down one of the slopes on either side of the chair lift and after a few hundred metres you will pick up the actual hiking trail on the left-hand side, well marked with a yellow cross.
Follow the trail – gentle at this stage – and before long all signs of ski lifts and such like disappear. You will likely not see another soul all day, beyond the odd shepherd with his high-altitude flock. As you are well above the tree line here there is little vegetation and the surroundings are generally gorgeous, with extensive and rather spectacular views in every direction.
After walking a couple of kilometres the yellow cross trail meets another, marked with a red dot: it is this trail you want to take, heading left. The trail climbs a little before once again descending, this time into the valley of a spring (the Izvorul Dorului), which it follows for a good few kilometres. Look out for what are known as the lakes (La Lacuri): three small lakes which have formed at the point where the spring meets the Valcelul Clinului. If you’ve been sensible enough to bring sandwiches, a nice spot above the lakes is the perfect place to tuck into them.
The fun really begins when the trail starts to climb away from the river, and back around the Varful cu Dor peak. Almost at once it heads into deep forest, and although no part of the trail is particularly difficult, there are more than a few tricky sections, especially if it has recently rained. For a good hour or so the trail goes up and down like a tart’s knickers, crossing two or three brooks and the occasional waterfall. It’s often misty, and all a bit spooky. As we say: the kids will love it.
After around three hours at a decent (but not exactly fast) pace, a final push uphill will bring you onto the Drumul de Vara, a ski run that leads down to the intermediate cable car station at 1400 metres. Red horizontal stripes mark the way down. If you want, you can continue all the way back to Sinaia, but as this is hiking’s equivalent of the M25 it is best avoided: it will put you off the Bucegi mountains forever. Take the bottom part of the cable car back down instead.
In all, including the cable car ride up and down, and a couple of stops for food, you are looking at a five or six hour day trip. Well worth it.
Trail 2: Dambu Morii, Sapte Scari & Prapastia Ursului
If the trail above Sinaia is merely very good, then this trail is fabulous.
It starts in Timisu de Jos: take the road into the village from the DN1 (a right turn if you are coming from Bucharest), and after 300 metres or so you will see a makeshift car park opposite a couple of pensions. A number of trails start from here: the one you want is marked with a vertical yellow stripe.
Easy to begin with, the trail climbs steadily through the trees for just over three kilometres, and after about an hour you will reach the newly opened (last autumn, we believe) tiroliane. There are 21 tiroliane in all, of which the longest is more than 2000 metres in length. They are open from 10:00-18:00, and cost from 20-50 lei (depending on how many you want to go on). Note that the tiroliane are only open to those over 12.
You will also need to pay – 10 lei adults, 5 lei for kids – to pass through the Sapte Scari themselves, five minutes or so beyond the tiroliane. Unique in Romania, the Sapte Scari canyon and waterfalls were formed in the Jurassic era and extend for 160 metres, climbing steeply in the process. Access is via a number of steel ladders, usually soaking wet.
Beyond the Sapte Scari you have a number of options. If you want to head back down the same route (via the tiroliane), take the red dot trail which bypasses the waterfalls. You can also continue along the yellow stripe trail up to the Piatra Mare cabin at over 1600 metres: it is a very tough climb however, and not recommended for small kids. Instead, do what we did and take the blue triangle trail through the Prapastia Ursului (Bear’s Cliff). The first portion up to the highest point of the trail (1200 metres) is tough but short. From there it’s downhill all the way, via what is known as the Drumul Familiar (Popular Trail), marked with a red stripe. As you would expect given the name, it’s wide, free of any real danger and you might even see the odd fox in the middle of the trail. It’s long though: allow a good four hours for the whole trip (and that’s without factoring in any time on the tiroliane).
The only downside of this route is that the bottom part is also used by loggers, and can be horribly muddy. It’s also rather awful to see how huge swathes of Romania’s forests are being chopped down.