If you have ever been to popular places such as Vienna or Budapest, you had the chance to admire Danube - the second largest river in Europe. Beautiful, right? Well, let me tell you a secret: there is no place along this river, more spectacular than the Danube Boilers in Romania! And today, I am going to show you why, with the help of some personal memories dating back to 2013...
Below you will see the map of Romania. The red dot singles out the approximate place where Danube enters our country. 134 km later, it is the end of the longest and one of the most beautiful gorges in Europe!
Danube flows along the southwestern border of Romania, digging a breathtaking path between Romanian and Serbian mountains. For about 9 kilometers, the mountains on the two sides are so close that the Danube narrows to a minimum of 150 meters. The power of the river is so strong in this area, that gives the impression of a boiler, therefore the names of Large and Small Boilers respectively (Romanian: Cazane).
Orsova is 200 km away from Timisoara (around 3 hours of driving). It is where the closest airport is located. You will know you are getting closer to Orsova when the road leaves the mountains and gets surrounded by immense surfaces of water. It is the perfect preparation for the beauties awaiting along the Danube Canyon!
The best way to explore the boilers is... from the middle of it! Orsova is a small port where you can rent a boat, leading you towards the Boilers through an unforgettable scenery - a beautiful mixture of water, mountains, forests and unique sights:
The statue of King Decebal – Europe’s biggest sculpture (55 meter high, 25 meter wide), built between 1994-2004, located on a rocky shore of the river; it is a marvellous tribute to one of the most important personalities of our history, the Dacian ruler who fought hard for the freedom of his land against the Roman Empire.
Mraconia Monastery – built on a former observation point; if you are lucky to find an English-speaking guide, he will for sure tell you nice stories about the development of the monastery.
Veterani Cave – accessible only from water, extremely rich in history and legends, being considered the former sanctuary of the Dacian god Zamolxis.
Tabula Traiana – a 2000-year old imposing monument, built on the Serbian bank to celebrate the conquering of Dacia, containing two dolphins and an eagle sculpted on a fixed plaque.
Ponicova Cave – the largest from the Danube Defile, spectacular due to the small creek, the natural bridge at the entrance and the bat colonies within.
The small and large boilers are delimited by Dubova Gulf around the village with the same name. Dubova is a perfect place to start short hiking trips to the mountains in this region - Ciucaru Mic (313 m) and Ciucaru Mare (318 m). Each of these two trails (around two hours back-and-forth) are easy short walks which lead towards astonishing belvedere points over the river and the Serbian mountains. Apart from adding two more summits to your conquer list, what could be more beautiful than looking down on a view like this?
A weekend is more than enough to explore the magnificent Danube Gorge: one day for a boat trip, another one to drive along the gorge. Plus a few hours each day, dedicated to just chilling by a pool with a beautiful view.
Chances are you will also find lodging somewhere along the river, again with an incredible perspective over everything nature has to offer in this astonishing region of Romania! The best options are in Orsova and Dubova - it should cost no more than 30 Euro per night for two persons.
Apart for the awesome scenery offered by Danube, this whole area stands out as the best place to understand the oldest times of Romania's history. Most of the sights metioned above trace back to those centuries when our country didn't yet exist. When a land called Dacia was strong enough to resist Europe's behemoth. When the Roman Empire spent decades to defeat the resilience of its Eastern neighbour.
So, if you are that kind of avid traveller like myself, willing to tick off as many unique places as possible from this world, then this is the perfect opportunity to take a walk down the history lane! You will make the most out of your trip in this area if you expand your stay with the following destinations:
The seat of Mehedinti County is one of the oldest cities in Romania, only 30 km away from Orsova. It displays some interesting Roman Vestiges, such as Trajan's Bridge (built between 103-105 A.D. for facilitating access towards Dacia), or the Castrum (the first stone settlement in Roman Dacia).
Severin Fortress, showcasing interesting objects originating from Middle Ages
Water Castle (the city simbol and the tallest building, worthy for the amazing views after sunset)
The Artesian Well (my personal favorite in Romania, impressive especially by night for its colorful display and its moving elements)
Somewhere hidden in between mountains, 22 km north of Orsova, lies Romania's oldest resort, famous for its thermal spas used back in the Roman Empire. Although altitude here is only 168 meters, the air quality is similar to the one above 2000 meters!
It used to be considered the most beautiful resort in Europe according to Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph (1848-1916) and his wife Sissi. One can actually spot the love of the royal family for Herculane, thanks to the baroque buildings and the impressive railway station - recognized as the most beautiful in Romania!
Efforts are made nowadays to restore the glory of this settlement, which is currently in a deplorable state unfortunately. If you only stay in Herculane, you will put a curse on me for recommending this outdated resort. You will have to avoid durt and mud, stare at buildings and think about authorities' lack of competence, not capable to take care of this true jewelry. And you're right, but hopefully something will be done in this respect sooner than ever...
On the other hand, Herculane area enjoys some of the most picturesque landscapes in the country! It is mainly thanks to the wilderness of the Cerna river - king of rafting in Romania, suitable for experienced paddlers or for cruises with expert guidance. Several mountain destinations are also available, the most interesting being the 1-hour ascent towards the White Cross. So believe me when I say this: potentially bad conditions are nothing compared to what Herculane has to offer!
This is the re-creation of a road trip we had back in 2013. We have visited Budapest in Hungary, then drove back to Romania; spent a night in Timisoara; two in Herculane; two more days in Orsova, and one in Drobeta Turnu Severin. Three cities, astonishing roads, a magnificent river, a hidden jewelry... Can it get more diverse than that?
All the places described above are more than fulfilling for a 1-week vacation. But from my perspective the Danube Boilers are by far the most impressive. It is where a majestic river separates mountains - a rare beauty you don't get to see every day. And it is another perfect reason to be proud of my golden Romania!
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