Trent Shelton swaps Chicago for a Transylvanian dreamscape


In September 2014, Trent Shelton came to Romania to explore, and has written a post for us about his discoveries in Magura. Trent is a passionate traveller who runs On the Road, an agency specializing in customized road trips in the United States.

With scenery like this, Magura is the Romania that I had always pictured in my mind.

With scenery like this, Magura is the Romania that I had always pictured in my mind.

The Romania you’ve always dreamed of

As I planned my next destination on my whirlwind trip in Romania, I started talking to a Dutch couple in their early 30s who were staying in the same Bucharest hostel. It was the typical conversation that you have with almost every traveler: “Where are you from?” “How long are you traveling for?” “Where are you going?” “Where have you been?” However, with this last question, both their voices became excited as they described where they just came from. They described it as one of their favorite places they had ever been which, when stated from experienced travelers, is something never to be taken with a grain of salt. They were, of course, talking about Magura.

I immediately got onto my laptop and booked my hostel in Magura for the next two nights, excited to see this beautiful place as described by the Dutch couple I had just met.

Getting to Magura

My quaint hostel for two nights in Magura

My quaint hostel for two nights in Magura

As it is with most places well worth the visit, getting to Magura is not accessible with public transport. Fortunately, hotels and hostels in the area make very reasonably priced transfers from either Brasov or Bran, located relatively close to the village. I made best use of my time and visited the Bran Castle en route to Magura, and the owner of my hostel picked me up just outside the castle. We then made the ascent up to Magura in his small car. The hard-core traveler could take the bus to Moieciu de Jos and make the uphill walk in about an hour and a half, but I decided to take the easy way up.

The drive up provided incredible views of the towns down in the valley between the dramatic Carpathian Mountains. The entire area was so green from the rainfall they’d been having in the recent weeks. Small homes were sparsely scattered around the lush mountains. This was the Romania I had come to see. At this moment, I knew I was in for a treat.

We finally arrived at the Villa Park hostel; we pulled in through a hand-made wooden gate where we could see two rustic buildings built by the owner with the help of friends in the area. The cows, pigs, and chickens made it a small farm. I was shown my room, and after settling in, I realized that I was sitting in sheer silence. In thirty minutes, the only things I heard were the gusts of wind and the occasional footsteps of the owner or his mother, a sweet older woman who lives in the small house right next to the two guest houses.

Later on, I went for a walk to explore the village and the surrounding area. As I continued on the gravel road winding through the countryside and into the village, I really felt like I had gone to back another time. Women tended their large gardens. Men cut the grass in the pastures with a scythe, a long curved blade attached to a wooden stick. Large haystacks were being stacked to feed the cows in the winter months. Bells attached to the sheep’s collars rang in the distance. These daily activities give you the sense that the majority of the people in Magura are still living off the land. They respect their land and use it for life, making it sustainable throughout the seasons year after year.

Walking through the village and hearing a friendly “Bună Ziua” from the locals I passed by, I couldn’t help but feel relaxed and take in the clean air, the slower paced lifestyle, and admire the surrounding peaks of the Carpathian Mountains.

Local man cutting his grass with a scythe.

Local man cutting his grass with a scythe.

Piatra Craiului National Park

Piatra Craiului is the perfect place to hike for just a day or an entire week.

Piatra Craiului is the perfect place to hike for just a day or an entire week.

A fantastic advantage of staying in Magura is the easy access it gives to the Piatra Craiului National Park, considered to be one of the most beautiful parts of the Carpathian Mountains. The national park features the longest and highest limestone ridge in Romania, as well as karst landscapes of deep gorges and glacial lakes.

Getting to the trailhead is easy; from Magura village, head north and follow the switchbacks down into the valley. At the bottom of the switchbacks, turn left to follow the small road leading into the karst gorges (the white and purple route), or straight in front of you across the road is the entrance of a different trail leading through the woods (the yellow and white route). The trails are all well marked but be sure to have a map. I took a picture of the map at my hostel to help guide my journey. You can also see trail maps and other information on the official Piatra Craiului National Park website.

I had time for just a one-day hike, so I decided to make a look by taking the yellow and white trail all the way to the Cabana Curmatura and then follow the white and purple trail back. The trail started as a steep and constant incline through the woods until I reached a plateau, where it opened up to beautiful views.

After about 3 hours of hiking, I arrived at the Cabana Curmatura. This cabin is one of many around the Carpathian Mountains which have rooms, space for tents, and also serve food. This system of cabins makes it easy for hikers to take overnight trips or even week-long trips. I had tea with a French couple who were hiking for seven days from the town of Zarnesti, located on the northern part of the Piatra Craiului National Park. Each day took them somewhere new, and they were able to carry just small backpacks. The cabins and the food served there are good prices, as well. My only regret is not knowing about these cabins before planning my time in Transylvania.

The Cabana Curmatura was the perfect place to stop and have a tea. They also offer rooms, space to camp, and even serve hot food.

The Cabana Curmatura was the perfect place to stop and have a tea. They also offer rooms, space to camp, and even serve hot food.

From the Cabana Curmatura, I followed the blue and white trail back to Magura. This trail led through a nice path through the woods on a steady slope down. It eventually met up with a gravel road, which I followed through the incredible karst gorges and caves. These gorges were formed over the course of thousands of years as water penetrated the rock, creating these vertical walls. It’s a rock climber’s heaven. In fact, I saw a group of climbers taking advantage of the 50 meter high gorge!

The blue and white path led me back to the switchbacks, which I then followed back up to Magura. After coming out of the national park and into Magura, I was impressed by the variety of landscapes I had seen in the day. Between the dramatic peaks near the Cabana Curmatura, the karst gorges, and the incredibly lush green countryside of Magura, it was a beautiful hike in all aspects of the word.

I could never get tired of these views in Magura!

I could never get tired of these views in Magura!

Lasting Memories

My hike finished with a windy road cutting through the karst gorges and caves of the Piatra Craiului National Park.

My hike finished with a windy road cutting through the karst gorges and caves of the Piatra Craiului National Park.

I woke up the next morning to read in the peace and quiet of the rustic wooden hostel. A short while after starting, I hear the hostel owner’s mother come in and put something on the stove. To my delight, it was fresh milk she had just gotten from the cow, and she was boiling it for the guests! No pasteurizing or bottling necessary. This put a cap on my short stay in Magura, and it was a fitting end to the visit.

Even though my time was short in Magura, it will always bring back great memories. I had never visited a place quite like this small village. It’s the place that will grab you and make you never want to leave. The lifestyle, the naturalness of it all, and the beauty of the surrounds, it’s something truly unique. It truly is the Romania that you’ve always dreamed of. If you’re looking for a place away from it all, be sure to add Magura to your list of places to visit.

Have a look at Trent’s travel blog here.

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5 thoughts on “Trent Shelton swaps Chicago for a Transylvanian dreamscape

    • the big crops are grown down on the plains and in the big valleys – as you say, it’s too steep and mountainous in Magura for more than small vegetable patches (and they’re usually on steep slopes) as well as the famed wildflower meadows; the animals go up to the alpine pastures in summer to let the wildflowers grow to make hay for winter. It’s an efficient and simple system…

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      • Thank you. Do people grow a significant portion of the vegetables they consume themselves ? Looks like your village has everything, unrivalled views with that feeling of space, amazing nature, interesting history in villages around you, a reasonable size and historic town of Brasov very close and still a pretty traditional lifestyle not too much affected by the omnipresent culture of endless holidaying and entertainment with cheap saunas and loud BBQs for day trippers from the city. Where does the water in your village come from traditionally, good wells or springs?

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      • Al – yes, people in Magura all have a vegetable patch, growing basic veg like potatoes, carrots, turnips, beetroot, beans (what I think are called string beans in the US), some herbs like lovage, onions, maybe spinach. Nothing very exotic or different.

        The village is well blessed – the only thing we don’t have on the ridges and hills is water – being limestone it all sinks to the valley streams, so we get our water from the reservoir on the hill – rainwater on tap. Some people have springs on their land, lucky things – they’re not at the mercy of the weather like we are.

        The weekender culture is certainly here – people love coming here from Brasov and Bucharest to barbecue meat and drink beer and make noise, but lots of others come to walk and hike and enjoy the wilderness without spoiling it. Finding the balance – that’s always the trick, eh?

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