Some years ago I spent a lovely week with some friends on a tour around?Transylvania. Our guide, Ramona, told us on a number of occasions that the scenery we were seeing was lovely, but that her favourite place to go walking was Maramures. So this year I decided to spend a week there. I got back in touch with Ramona and she agreed to put a tour together.
Maramures is a county of Romania that lies within Transylvania and is in the North of the country near the border with the Ukraine. It consists of a series of river valleys and has, until now, largely resisted modern life and retained its rural traditions. It is common for both men and women to wear traditional dress and at this time of year most people are working in the fields, scything the meadows and raking up the grasses into the distinctive haystacks that scatter themselves across the undulating hills.
Change is coming: often too fast for many, such as Ramona, who loves the traditions, landscapes and architecture of the county. Hosts of young people from Maramures have made the most of Romania’s accession to the EU and have travelled, largely to Italy and Spain, to work. As money comes back into the area the old traditional wooden homes are being replaced by new, larger and often quite garish houses.
The traditional wooden churches, many of them designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, are being supplanted in the villages by huge great churches. And it is something quite remarkable to come from Western Europe and see quite such a programme of new church building going on in the east.
For our accommodation we stopped mainly in local, independently run wooden guesthouses which sat in the same grounds as our hosts homes. Our first was Mr Pop’s house in Hoteni a village in the Iza valley. Mr Pop is in a Folk band and was touring with a theatre company and so we were looked after by his sister, Voichita and Haiduc, his dog.
On our first day of walking we took a fairly leisurely stroll that took us in a circular route from one village to the next. First was Breb, which is one of the villages that William Blacker talks about in his book Along The Enchanted Way. ?After Breb we left any idea of paths behind us and headed up the hill and across to Budesti.
Because the Maramureseans don’t put up fences or hedges around their fields then paths can be quite temporary affairs. Yes, you might sometimes follow relatively permanent tracks that have seen a horse and cart along them, but you can also find yourself walking along a way that barely seems to have existed until you chose it a few moments before.
This serendipitous wandering just about always leads us to our destination, eventually. The one exception was when we realized that the tracks we were following belonged to the manure cart and so we ended up not only in the wrong place but surrounded by smelly piles of shit as well. Fortunately, there are a lot of people around working in the fields and Ramona soon had instructions for a new route for us to follow.
From Budesti to Sarbi there isn’t much of a chance to go cross country and so even Ramona was forced to walk us along the road. ?Having failed to hitch a ride with a horse and cart we were keen to leave the tarmac and so we popped into the village hatmaker’s house in Sarbi. Ramona wanted to say hello to his wife – the hatmaker died very suddenly last year and she was looking out for her a bit, I think. ?His son came out with her and gave us some suitably vague instructions to get back to Hoteni.
View Holiday in Maramures, 2010 in a larger map
The map above shows the two walks that we did while we were in Hoteni and includes some photos from them.
If you are interested in a tour of Maramures then I can heartily recommend Ramona and her My Romania tour company. She’s an independent tour company that will run both set and tailor-made tours.