Apuseni has always been a top destination for me in Romania. If not in Europe. I have always preferred mountains and, despite being some of the lowest in the Carpathians, I think it is the best place to fall in love with nature: ravishing landscapes, amazing destinations, caves, waterfalls, easy or difficult routes, fairs and old traditions - charm at its best! I cannot remember another area with such a wide variety of things to do, and this article aims to briefly explain the complex beauty of the Apuseni Mountains.
The best way to explore the area is by car, and Apuseni are pretty close to the Hungarian border, via Oradea. They are also reachable by plane via the International Airport in Cluj-Napoca, which is around 50 km away from the main entrance in Apuseni.
CAVES. Apuseni house no less than 1500 caves, and visiting a few of them is quite an experience:
Bears' Cave - the most visited tourist attraction in Apuseni. Accidentally discovered by 1975, it has been later revealed that 140 bears were stuck inside due to the fall of a huge rock on the entrance, making them eat themselves one by one. Apart for the exciting stalactites and stalagmites which almost united and created wax-lookalike statuettes, bear skulls, bones and paw scratches are to be seen all over the place.
Scarisoara - hiding the second biggest underground glacier in Europe. It is to be found at the end of the Ordancusa Gorge, a fabulous road to drive or walk on, guarded by extremely high rocky walls on both sides. Temperature inside is around 0 degree Celsius all over the summer, and access is made through 220 metal stairs into a 48-meter pothole. This unique entrance together with the spectacular ice block inside make it one of the most visited sights in Romania.
Meziad - one of the first caves open to public, mostly interesting for the impressive heights, spectacular chalk formations and the bat species living inside. Next to the cave, local authorities have designed a tiroliana, while a few meters further there's a massive 400-year old oak tree, the last one from a former forrest.
WATERFALLS. Water rapidly falling on high walls - what can be more impressive than that? One of the most beautiful waterfall in Romania lies here in Apuseni, but gazing at each of the following is something to sought after:
Bridal Veil - a 30-meter cliff divided in two stairs, with the upper one ensuring such a water dispersion that gives the impression of a women wearing veil. Legend says that, long time ago, a bride had fallen on these rocks and the tears of her husband and friends formed this astonishing waterfall.
Pisoaia - a 18-meter tall waterfall, throwing water on steep chalk rocks and surrounded by beautiful beech trees;
Varciorog - 15-meter high water fall at the edge of Piatra Graitoare Peak, officially recognized for its beauty by being a protected national landscape;
Bohodei - at the middle of a 6-hour mountain route, 1 hour later from the parking place, recommended for experienced hikers, it is the highest in Apuseni - 80 meters;
MOUNTAIN ROUTES. The main hiking opportunities are to be found in Padis - a karst plateau deep within the mountains, the region in Europe with the biggest concentration of tourist attractions. Basically all routes mentioned on this website are more than fulfilling for any hiker, but my favorite is this destination:
Cetatile Ponorului - "the Everest of Romanian speology", one of Europe's largest karst complex. Speologists from all over the world gather to study this curious formation - an open cave looking like a citadel, guarded by extremely tall rock walls, formed around an underground river which comes at surface from time to time. Crossing the cave might be dangerous without proper equipment, but there are also other beautiful areas to explore for less experienced hikers. Duration - 6 hours;
Other interesting places to explore:
Vladeasa Peak (1836 m) - the first peak I have conquered as a child with my parents. There are several routes to choose from, with the most popular starting from Bridal Veil Waterfall. Every step, every tree and every mountain in the background offer the most picturesque landscapes, but nothing can compare with the feeling of accomplishment I always get when reaching the summit... Duration - 1 day (waterfall - peak and back), with opportunities to spend the night deep within the mountains at Vladeasa Hut, the perfect starting point for other amazing routes to try;
Groapa Ruginoasa - "Romania's Grand Canyon", a 100-meter deep abyss still expanding and offering a fabulous, rocky landscape nowhere else to be seen in the country (the so-called "wound of earth"). Duration - 1 hour;
Cheile Rametului - one of the most looked for routes in Apuseni, starting from Ramet Hut, first between some houses, then through the water!!! suspended over the gorge and leaning on cables towards the abandoned Cheia village. It is less dangerous than it sounds, but adequate shoes and clothes are required. Duration - 4 hours
And, last but not least, a few amazing day trips start from Stana de Vale, 90 km away from Oradea, among which the most interesting destinations from my perspective being Lesu Lake, Bohodei Saddle or Saritoarea Iedutului.
Day 1: Arrive from Cluj-Napoca, Ramet Gorge, Pisoaia Waterfall; accommodation in Arieseni (~30 Euro per night for two persons);
Day 2: Scarisoara Cave, Meziad Cave, Groapa Ruginoasa, Varciorog Waterfall; accommodation in Arieseni;
Day 3: Bears' Cave, Padis, Cetatile Ponorului; accommodation in Padis (~20 Euro per night);
Day 4: Bridal Veil Waterfall, Vladeasa Peak; accommodation in Rachitele (~20 Euro) or Vladeasa Hut (15 Euro);
Day 5: Vladeasa Hut surroundings / other destinations from Stana de Vale; accommodation in Vladeasa Hut or Stana de Vale (~30 Euro);
Days 6 & 7: Stana de Vale (Bohodei Saddle and Waterfall, Saritoarea Iedutului, Lesu Lake)
Lodging opportunities are numerous and extremely convenient. You can always set up your tent somewhere up in the mountains, or you can easily use the above mentioned locations for decent conditions and typical rural life in Apuseni region!
These are just a few important things to do in Apuseni Mountains - the massif in the Carpathians which offers a complete experience. Of course there is more, for instance if you happen to be here around July 20, you don't have to miss The Maiden Fair of Mount Gaina - the most popular tradition in the region. Or, in winter, you can follow some mountain trails on skis. And, in general, it is the perfect place in Romania to try rural tourism, to taste local traditions and to combine adventure with relaxation periods.
Here you have an idea of a perfect 7-day vacation, and if you have any other preferences or questions, I am as always more than happy to help!
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