Bukovina and Maramures create the entire northern part of Romania, an area which is more than interesting to explore. The same as Maramures but with a different identity, Bukovina also impresses with the beauty of the mountains, the century-long traditions and the tasty cuisine. What stands it apart is the strong medieval legacy, with the region finding its glory back in the 15th century as part of Stefan cel Mare's Moldavia. The historical area is nowadays split in two between Romania and Ukraine, and this article looks to cover the uniqueness and beauty of the Romanian territory.
Suceava is the capital of the region, and its airport directly connects Bukovina with a few European cities. Another option would be to add up a nice 2-day city break in Iasi (see here), where the airport is bigger than the one in Suceava.
Either way, in order to cover the whole Bukovina you will definitely need a car or a personal driver service. So for instance if you travel with your personal car and enter Romania from north or west, I would for sure organize a longer trip in Maramures and Bukovina. The Tihuta pass connecting the two regions is absolutely amazing, and at the same time is considered one of the most dangerous in Europe (probably because it displays some of the most spectacular mountain scenery of Romania, thus distracting the eyes of the driver...)
Photo Source: www.odat.ro
The legend says that Stefan cel Mare, the most important ruler of Moldavia (1457-1504) has built a monastery after each of the many battles he won. Most of them still stand tall today, are located in Bukovina and represent true masterpieces of the medieval architecture from the 15th - 16th centuries. Eight Painted Monasteries are the symbols of Bukovina and collectively listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. The most interesting to visit are the following four, and despite seeming pretty similar, they all have something different to offer:
Sucevita – the best preserved outside painting from the whole group
Moldovita – “one of the most important moments of the ancient Romanian art”, according to many international experts in mural painting
Voronet – “the Sistine Chapel of the Orient”, worldwide famous for the uniqueness of the blue color from its outside paintings
Humor – unique for its positioning up on a hill and for bringing new elements in the architecture of the 16th century
Also, Putna is considered the most important creation of Stephen the Great, who is buried here together with his family. The legend says that Prince Stephen decided the exact position by launching an arrow from the top of the hill nearby.
Former capital of the Moldavian territory between 1388-1565, Suceava is today the main city of Bukovina. Apart from being the perfect starting point for exploring the beauties of Bukovina, Suceava also has its own landmarks: the remains of the Princely Court (an impressive fortification built in the 14th century, which has never been conquered in a war), the Ethnographic Museum (the best place to understand Bukovina’s old customs and traditions) or Mirauti and St George’s Churches (the oldest in the region).
Vatra Dornei is the first gateway in Bukovina when coming by car from Transylvania via Tihuta Pass mentioned above. The resort is looked for thanks to the thermal spas, the mild climate, the astonishing landscapes and the best ski slopes in Bukovina. The Central Park (the little forest within the city) is famous for its squirrels, and a 1-hour stroll in the park offers a green oasis of fresh air and relaxation.
Rarau and Giumalau are the two Carpathian massifs standing tall in Bukovina, and they are most conveniently to be reached from Vatra Dornei by foot or by car. For example, the Giumalau Peak (1857 m) can be reached from Vatra Dornei city center in about 5 hours - driving for 10 km towards Rusca Village, and then on the mountain route that will reveal amazing views over the surrounding Carpathian mountains and valleys. An imposing 9-meter high cross has been built on the tallest peak in Bukovina by 1908, in the memory of the unknown soldiers originating from the region.
Photo source: www.vatra-dornei.info
Rarau can also be discovered thanks to one of the most spectacular roads in Romania. TransRarau has been recently added to the road map of Romania, a 28-km mountain road which easily rivals in beauty with the more famous Transfagarasan and Transalpina.
Photo source: www.bzt.ro
It is also called the Treasure Road as it facilitates access to the main landmark of the massif, starting from Rarau Hut at the middle of the road. The Lady's Stones (Pietrele Doamnei) are two amazing, 70-meter tall towers, equally beautiful and famous due to their legend: a treasure was buried underneath them in a hidden cave by the wife of a former Moldavian prince who tried to protect it from the attacks of the Ottoman Empire (1541).
The Rarau Peak (1651 m) is also a few minutes walk from Pietrele Doamnei, one of the most accessible peaks in Romania, to be reached for great panoramic views over the Rarau and Giumalau mountains.
Cacica is one of the most visited places in Bucovina, thanks to the wide variety of activities that it has to offer. First there's the salt mine open to public since the middle of the 19th century, encompassing a unique underground salt museum thousands of meters deep, a salt lake which can be crossed by boat, a chapel, a festivities room and a gym. A nice recreational complex has also been arranged close to the mine, containing a SPA center, a swimming pool and a pub.
The Museum of Painted Eggs in Moldovita is also one of the most looked for destination. It is hosted by an internationally awarded artist and it is the best place in Romania to understand the complexity of this tradition we here have for Easter.
Bucovina's overview wouldn't be complete without a look at its fabulous gastronomy. Food in Bukovina is merely as important as the legacy of monasteries and the wilderness of landscapes. A vacation here should always include at least a meal at someone's home who will gladly receive guests, set the table and enchant them with their homemade recipes. The most famous in Romania is the dessert called "papanasi" - a dessert of Austro-Hungarian origin, perfected in Bukovina by local cooks. It is a fried pastry looking like a sphere, usually served in two pieces with a donut on top and filled with cheese and any kind of jam. It is to be found in almost any traditional Romanian restaurant, but the best version is cooked in Bukovina.
Mucenici - a delicious dessert cooked every year on the 9th of March, a day which marks the feast of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste and the beginning of agricultural year in Romania
Pasca - the Easter bread filled with cheese and raisins, served as a dessert for the rich meal on the first day of Easter
Making you hungry is my least intention now but I live you some other extraordinary stories from the Moldavian kitchen, which you cand find here, here, here or here. Plus an extensive collection of recipes to be found in both Romanian and Ukrainian sides of Bukovina.
Despite being a little more difficult to plan, I would definitely recommend traveling by car in order to cover the whole Bukovina with more ease. Plus, this is why I am here for you - to try to make things easier
So, what I would do if I came from Europe is grab my car, enter Romania via Hungary, cross or stay in Maramures and organize my trip in Bukovina something like this:
Day 1: Tihuta Pass & Vatra Dornei; accommodation in or around Vatra Dornei;
Day 2: Back-and-forth trip to the Giumalau Peak;
Day 3: Transrarau, Pietrele Doamnei, Rarau Peak, Humor Monastery; accommodation in Gura Humorului or at the monasteries;
Day 4: The Monastery Road (Voronet, Moldovita, Sucevita, Putna) & The Painted Eggs Museum;
Day 5: Cacica - the salt mine and the recreational complex
Day 6: Suceava visit and departure (back to Maramures and Hungary, or further to a city-break in Iasi).
As for lodging, you can always search for deals in hotels or pensions, for around 25-30 Euro per night for two persons. What I would strongly suggest, however, is to give it a try to rural tourism, in order to spend some days in the genuine Bukovinian way, and to sleep in a monastery for one of the most unique experience on Earth. Prices are much lower, but that's not even important. It pales by comparison to the feeling of having access to the hospitality, the joy of life, the diligence of these people who do their best to preserve traditions, to keep Bukovina the little piece of heaven that it is!
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