I recently came back from a trip around the country, a trip I guided.
The trip started in Transylvania continued to Maramures then Bukovina and back to Transylvania. I crossed the mountains 5 times, drove over 1500 kms in 9 days. Met some amazing people along the way and discovered quite a number of cool spots I very much want to share with you.
This post was supposed to be about all the great places on this trip but it turned too long so I had to split it. You’ll have to be on the watch for parts 2 and 3 (or just 2, haven’t decided yet). But first on the agenda: Maramures.
Maramures or Romania’s NorthWest is famous for several things: traditions, craftsmanship, hospitality and century old wooden monasteries. It's also a National Geographic top destinations for 2015.
This is my Maramures top 5 with the mention that I am sure there are other places worthy of being on the must do list in Maramures and as I get to experience them, I will add them to the list. Until then: Maramures top 5.
The Little Village of Breb
There is one person who we need to thank for putting this village on the touristic map and that person is Prince Charles. Wait, what? The Prince Charles, heir to the British Throne? YES!
His affinity for the Romanian countryside in Transylvania and Maramures is no secret to anyone and this interest has done wonders for us.
HRH bought in this little village of Breb a couple of traditional, century old wooden houses and now everyone wants to go and see them.
Besides the Prince’s houses, Breb itself is quite a magical place. I am not saying this to be cheesy.
traditional wooden house in Breb
First: people still live in little wooden houses like the ones you see in a village museum (Bucharest, Sibiu) which gives a certain timelessness to the place. It’s like time stands still in Breb. And the entire Maramures for that matter.
Second: wooden gates. Maramures is famous for its spectacular hand carved wooden gates. They come in different patterns and different sizes but the bigger the gate the wealthier the family.
Third: the people-although this should be reason no.1. For a big city person like myself and that city being Bucharest nonetheless, having strange people smiling and saying Hello! is rather shocking. The good kind of shocking.
Kids were extremely polite, people were genuinely happy to see you in their village and eager to be photographed and answer your questions. You’re not just a visitor in Breb but a guest and every single person there wants to make you feel welcomed.
traditional wooden gate
Let me share with you a short story:
When we arrived in Breb I had no idea where I could park the car especially since all our baggage was to remain in the car. So I went into one of the guesthouses to ask about a place to park. I disturbed the owners during their lunchtime only to tell me that I can leave the car in their yard while we walked around Breb.
They didn’t push a business card or anything like that. They were just nice people who wanted to help.
The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta
Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Out of all the weird things that one can think of, we Romanians decided we want to have a merry cemetery. What’s the deal with the merry cemetery and how can a cemetery be merry?
After one dies, his family commissions a cross and instead of the usual boring eulogy they compose a funny, ironic death poem based on the deceased life. Virtues, vices, personality traits, flaws, why the person died, no stone is left unturned. It’s taking trolling to the grave like a boss!
Merry Cemetery in Sapanta
Absolutely the least creepy cemetery one can go to.
Two things I advise you: if you don’t speak Romanian, get a guide to translate the poems otherwise you lose the best part of it.
Visit also the house and workshop of the founder of the Merry Cemetery. It’s just around the cemetery.
The home of the founder of the Merry Cemetery
The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance, Sighetu Marmatiei
Communism: taboo subject? Not really! Sensitive subject? Very much so!
For 40 years we were under one of the most strict, closed and terrifying dictatorships in Europe. The aftermath: 25 years later and we are still struggling to clean up the mess.
The former communist prison in Sighetu Marmatiei is where a lot of pre-communist elites have died. Leaders of political parties, professors, writers, journalists have been eliminated for the greater good and success of the communist party. It was part of the aggressive purification politics that underwent in Romanian in the 1950s. Communism had to be embraced by everyone therefore opposers had to vanish.
What will you see in the former prison of Sighet? A history of communism in Romania, its stages and the anti- communism movements in all the regions of the country. The walls are full of pictures with people who needed to die to secure the power of the communists.
Two prison cells stand apart: Iuliu Maniu’s, leader of the National Peasants Party, several times prime minister. He was a man esteemed by peers, locally and internationally, highly appreciated by the population and generally, our best politician of the interwar period. He was imprisoned, accused of treason, tortured until he died in 1953. His body was thrown in the common grave of the prison.
The cell where Iuliu Maniu died
Second cell is that of Gh. I. Bratianu. After the Royal family, the Bratianu family is the one that had the biggest impact on the modernisation and development of Romania from mid 19th century until the communist take over.
With such a family history, Gh. I. Bratianu, him too a politician and historian, member of the Romanian Accademy was a threat and needed to be put out of the game. He died in Sighet in 1953. One story says he hung himself because he couldn’t endure it anymore. The other story is that he was beaten to death by a guard.
These are the stories of only two people. Like them there were hundreds and thousands that had the same fate. Orwell’s 1984 was not fiction around here.
We need to know the stories of the victims of communism and we mustn’t allow us to forget. Ever.
The Villages of Barsana and Ieud
So now that I’ve blackned your soul a bit, let’s talk about something more cheerful like the villages of Barsana and Ieud.
At Barsana I recommend a visit to the new monastery. On the day of our visit it was pouring rain and still it was jaw dropping pretty. The settlement is on top of a hill so the views are not to be ignored.
Also in Barsana is the workshop of wood craftsman Teodor Barsan, a hot-shot in his line of business.
When we arrived at his workshop we found him on the porch, working. He immediately dropped his work to receive us and show us around. I really haven’t seen anyone so earnestly happy to have guests. He told us about his participation in the Smithsonian festival, all the awards he received, the magic bed and the kitty cat that became the mascot of the workshop.
wood craftsman Toader Barsan
The other village, Ieud is home to the oldest wooden church in the region: 1364. Besides its age, the church in Ieud is also famous for the interior wall paintings and for being a UNESCO heritage site.
If you go there and you find the church closed you need to call the number on the door and somebody will come to open it.
Drive on the DN18 to Prislop Pass
This is the road that goes through Rodnei and Maramures mountains and connects Maramures with Bukovina- the Northeast of Romania. The elevation is 1416m above sea level.
view from Prislop Pass
Before I start saying that roadtripping this road is a must I have to be honest and say that the asfalt is bad. Like really bad BUT that means you will have to drive slow and enjoy the views. Which, again in all honesty, are spectacular in every way possible!
Ok so this was my top 5 for now. Have you been to any of these places? Are there any others that should be on the list?
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