The Carpathian Mountains form a sweeping and majestic arc that rises in Slovakia and passes east along the Polish border before turning south into Ukraine and finally Romania. This is a relatively young mountain chain, an eastern extension of the Alps which rose around 60 million years ago and is still rising to this day. It is in Transylvania however, the forest-clad central Romanian province steeped in legend and folklore, that the Carpathians are at their widest and most majestic. This is a region famed for the supernatural, but for the naturalist such legends are but an interesting distraction from the wealth of wildlife to be found here. Fortunately, werewolves are difficult to locate these days, but Wolves and Brown Bears still roam the forests in good numbers, birds and butterflies are abundant, and the flora contains a profusion of species endemic to the region.
For centuries the people living within the elbow of the Romanian Carpathians have existed in harmony with a rich variety of birds and animals. The continuation of their ancient, low-intensity farming methods has allowed the wildlife to flourish and provides an insight into how our own landscape would have looked in days gone by. Add to this abundance of wildlife the soaring peaks of the Carpathians and one of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe and you have all the ingredients for an unforgettable holiday!
Our tour begins with a flight to Bucharest from where we drive for three hours out of the flat plains that surround the capital and into the cool, forest-clad mountains of the Carpathians. We will base ourselves for the week in the attractive mountain village of Magura, set within flower-filled meadows and commanding spectacular views of the surrounding forest-clad hills and jagged peaks of the Piatra Craiului National Park. From here we will head out each day to explore the beautiful mountains and valleys of Transylvania and to enjoy the birds, mammals and landscapes on a series of natural history walks.
Our exact itinerary will depend on the weather conditions and the advice of our local guide. We will, however, spend time exploring the forests, peaks and limestone gorges of the nearby Piatra Craiului National Park. This spectacular park is dominated by a jagged, 25-kilometre limestone ridge, widely regarded as one of Romania’s most beautiful sights, which reaches a height of 2,244 metres. Brown Bears, Wolf and even Lynx still roam the forests whilst, to date, 110 species of bird and 1,108 species of higher plant have been recorded, including two endemics. The lower slopes are sliced by a series of limestone gorges, such as the Zarnesti Gorge, home to Wallcreepers, Black Redstarts and wheeling flocks of Alpine Swifts. The forests are also the haunt of Black, Grey-headed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Sombre Tit, plus the majestic but elusive Ural Owl. There is also much to keep the botanist and lepidopterist interested including 41 species of orchid, Carpathian Bellflower and Alpine Lady’s Mantle, plus such butterflies as Scarce Swallowtail, Clouded Apollo and Meadow Fritillary.
On another day we will join a local naturalist in order to learn how to track the larger mammals by finding and identifying their prints, spoor and the other easily missed signs of the large carnivores that still patrol these hills. We hope to find Wolf and Brown Bear tracks and learn how to tell the former from the more common dog prints. Then, as the sun lowers, we will make our way to a specially constructed hide deep in the forest to watch the animals themselves. Wolves and Lynx are rarely seen, but the Brown Bears frequently descend from the hills in the evening and, whilst nothing is certain in the world of wildlife watching, we have a good chance of seeing one or more of these magnificent creatures. Indeed, Romania still holds the largest population of Brown Bears on the continent and, whilst they are not faring so well in other regions of Europe, in the Carpathians they are flourishing!
There is so much more to enjoy in this spectacular region. Butterflies are abundant, and there are numerous other birds and plants to find that are not mentioned above. It is, however, impossible to visit Transylvania and completely ignore the folklore and stories that abound here. We will, therefore, take a short break from the wildlife to visit nearby Castle Bran, the ‘alleged’s haunt of Vlad the Impaler, on whom the Dracula stories are based. Finally, for those who wish, we can arrange an excursion into the nearby medieval town of Brasov before we must sadly retrace our steps back to Bucharest to catch our flight home.
Mr & Mrs H.
Itinerary excellent giving plenty of variety and interest and knowledgeable leaders gave us plenty of information on many aspects. They were always very helpful. Wonderful to be served lunch picnic style by such cheerful people, Simone and helpers. Even offering to come a little earlier after the first day for me the diabetic.
Mr & Mrs E.
Our guides were very knowledgeable about all aspects of flora and fauna, which we found very helpful as we are both novices in birdwatching and wildlife spotting. We very much enjoyed the picnic lunches which were brought to us during our daily treks. The guest house was in a very quiet and scenic location which is ideal for us.
Superb leadership from Andy Harding. Excellent level of staffing - e.g. minibus driver, local guide Dan Marin and facilitator Simona.
The location of the accommodation in Magura was absolutely superb. A highlight of the trip. Views, flower meadows - brilliant. For me this was a perfectly balanced holiday, not too energetic and lots to see and look at. Dan, the local guide, was excellent on everything, including local culture. A brilliant holiday, loved it!!
Relaxed and informative walks. Bear watching - very good. Lunch breaks, food and drinks - excellent.
Enthusiastic and knowledgeable leader (Andy). Also good managing people so the group worked well. We really liked the hotel and its location with great local walks/views.
Excellent leader Andy Harding - knowledgeable and able to communicate the knowledge. Excellent with people and the group. Location of guest-house excellent - in mountains, walks from door possible before breakfast or after dinner, not in town. Lovely setting among hay meadows.
Andy is a brilliant, avuncular and caring leader. He generates enthusiasm and deals sensitively with all clients. We much enjoyed his company. Dan Marin is an outstanding guide (and linguist). Simona and mother are treasures. What a lovely, promising hotel. Family atmosphere, village atmosphere.
A truly fantastic week! It really was my type of holiday, not too much travelling each day and many leisurely hours of walking. Simona and her mum were so lovely and the lunches truly delicious, the best ever. Dan was extremely knowledgeable and informative about anything and everything, we could not have wished for a better local leader. He and Rob made a great team.
This is my first ever wildlife holiday. I particularly appreciated the leadership and communication style of Alan Outen - his undoubted experience as a tour leader and his expertise as a naturalist. I found these attributes so helpful and they enabled me to gain greater insight and appreciate the various wildlife encountered. I found Alan approachable. I also appreciated his anecdotes and sense of humour, which developed a good rapport and ambience with the group. Alan's attributes enhanced the Naturetrek holiday for me.
The leaders/wildlife experts, both Alan and Dan, were excellent - Alan with his in-depth knowledge and concern that we should all enjoy the holiday. Dan added local knowledge, in both wildlife and the history and customs of the country, which added greatly to our appreciation of the country. As a vegetarian I thought that my needs were catered for very well, both in the guesthouse and other restuarants we visited. Simona's lunchtime spreads were also very good and always waiting for us.
I enjoyed this tour - both the wildlife aspect and the local culture element! Rob Murray and Dan Marin were excellent guides.
Isle of Man
This was my first wildlife trip with Naturetrek. The whole experience was very good.
This holiday was particularly rewarding. The main reasons for this were the very high quality and approachability of the tour leader and of the local guides. Simona in particular understood the needs of the group and worked very hard to make the trip a success. The excellent guest house accommodation was in a superb location. There was a high standard of catering at the guesthouse and excellent daily picnic lunches. There was also outstanding day to day organisation of visits to interesting places. The other people in the group were sociable, enthusiastic and knowledgeable on wildlife matters.
The situation of the guesthouse was idyllic. We were looked after wonderfully. Our leaders were extremely efficient and knowledgeable. All in all, I had a lovely time and came away with a very positive feeling about Romania, its people and its wildlife.
The guest house was very good with a scenic situation. All in all the holiday was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed it.