A week in the Cozia and Buila-Vânturarița

After my hike in the Iezer-Păpușa was cut short by the rain I planned to return there, but the rain wouldn’t stop so I started looking around for alternatives – and settled for a hike in the Cozia and Buila-Vânturarița, after lengthy consultations with the 500th liker of my facebook page. So after two and a half months in and around Brașov I set off for Cârța, a lovely little village in between Brașov and Sibiu at the foot of the imposing Făgăraș mountains. Actually my host, Sorin, drove me there – he happened to have an appointment in Aiud that same day and Cârța was pretty much en route. So that saved me a lot of dragging and sweating.

I took a train to Tălmaciu on Friday and after that, the plan was to take a bus to Căciulata – but after twenty minutes of waiting the bus still hadn’t turned up. I had noticed a van in the parking lot with two men and three seats – I must have looked at it rather longingly because they soon asked where I was going, and upon my answer told me to throw my pack in the back and join them. So there I was, sitting in between Gheorghe and Gheorghe, moving rather more rapidly towards my destination than I would have by bus. Gheorghe I invited me to stay at his place should I need it, and told me about his self-sufficient household: he and his wife had a Dutch (Holsteiner) cow that produced 20 litres of milk every day; they made their own cheese; sugar and bread was all they needed to buy.

After a bite at Dada restaurant and a visit to the famous 14th-century Cozia Monastery, I crossed the Olt river and walked the two kilometres to my destination for the day: Turnu Monastery – my hosts in Cârța had informed me that I could stay there for free. I’d always wanted to sleep in a monastery so this was my chance. And I loved it. Upon my arrival I asked the first monk I saw whether I could stay the night; he was of a venerable age and had lived in the monastery for over thirty years. He was not in charge of the rooms so he invited me to sit next to him and wait for someone. So I sat down and we talked a little. A boy came to him for a blessing. After a while it became clear that we didn’t seem to be waiting for anyone in particular so I decided to take matters into my own hands again, and soon found the ‘geranium monk’ (he was watering and pruning the geraniums more or less full time) who directed me to a modest, cool room. I slept really well, although the night was shortish – the monks were still singing around 10pm and summoned to prayer again at 6am. I made my oatmeal on a huge blazing furnace with big steaming pots of soup and potatoes, and then I set off towards Cozia Peak.

Just looking for trail info? You’ll find it at the bottom of this post.

After a few kilometres, shortly after I had passed Stănișoara Monastery, I was greeted by three guys: ‘Are you the Dutch girl?’ I was rather puzzled as to how they knew I was Dutch, but I had talked to an older couple at the monastery and they had passed on this information. These three guys invited me to lunch and let me tag along for the rest of the day – and the next. After our arrival at Cabana Cozia I found out they spoke perfect English – while I had been speaking in Romanian with them all the time. They figured it would be good for my Romanian to keep it that way. The ascent to Cabana Cozia was mostly through forest – Cozia Peak only measures 1668m – but there were plenty of stunning views from rocky vantage points. I was the only fool to carry a tent – everyone else on the trail had wisely decided to book a room in the cabana. I could have too, but I just love the freedom that comes with staying in my tent. However, I soon had to take my refuge in the cabana after all – towards midnight the wind reached ridiculous speeds and my tent almost blew flat to the ground. Mihai, Dan and Eugen had said that if anything happened I should come stay in their room, so I phoned Mihai and he came to rescue me – for which I commend him because he’d had a fair few drinks but he still came to help me. They shoved their three beds together and made space for me – I soon decided to move to my mat on the ground instead though since one of my new friends was rolling around all the time. 😉

The next morning, we hiked back down to Mănăstirea Turnu via the red triangle trail, often slip-sliding down the trail. The previous night I had learned that Dan was a mountain guide in the Buila-Vânturarița – my next destination. Such luck! I told him about my intended itinerary and he plainly told me it was not a good one. He suggested a new route and said he could also join me on the trail. Which he did – in the end we all had lunch in Râmnicu Valcea, and after that Mihai drove me and Dan to his (Mihai’s) little cottage in the village of Cheia, the starting point of our route. Again: such luck! He had only bought the property recently and it was the loveliest place. Just what we needed. I left my tent and other surplus luggage behind and on Monday morning we were on our way to Cabana Cheia before 8am. We followed the gravel road along the Cheia stream for about 13km, then headed up into the forest, towards Brâna Caprelor, ‘the chamois path’, and through the Cheile Cheii, Cheia Gorge. The views were breathtaking – especially from the vertigo-inducing Vârful cu pin vantage point. The Cheia stream was gloriously wild and thundered down the rocks – those weeks of rain had been good for something after all.

And then we arrived at Cabana Cheia, tucked away in a glade at the foot of Stogșoare and Stogu Peaks and a rock called ‘the haystack’. Without a doubt, Cabana Cheia is the loveliest cabana in all of Romania. The Buila-Vânturarița, although an absolute gem, is little visited and the cabana is run in a much less official way than most – there is no menu, but the cabanier can cook for you if you like (in this case, the cabanier was Dan, who happens to be a very good cook and made me an amazing omelette every morning). There are a great many rooms – all the beds have different-coloured blankets which makes the rooms look very cosy. There are lots of books, there is a bathroom with an actual bath; there is hot water (if the stove gets heated); there is an outdoor kitchen and there are plenty of shelters. There even is a hammock – and a trampoline! I think we made pancakes (clătite) three times, under the watchful eye of le chef, Dan.

On Tuesday I set off early again to do the ridge circuit – on my own this time. I wasn’t entirely alone though – a wonderful couple from Bucharest had also arrived the previous evening and Dan had convinced them they should also do this circuit. They left a little earlier than me, but we ended up running into each other all the time and hiking long stretches together. Ursu, the cabana’s adventurous dog, had also joined them. The ridge hike was a delight. The Buila-Vânturarița ridge is calcareous and resembles the Piatra Craiului a bit – but isn’t all that difficult to tackle. There is plenty of clambering fun to be had though – around the bomba atomica and on the ridge itself. The Vânturarița and Buila Peaks are only 1885m and 1846m high, but the total ascent/descent still amounted to a respectable 1470m. The whole hike was 20km. The ridge has recently been re-marked with red stripes; the old red circles can still be seen every now and again. We returned on the red triangle route, which runs below the ridge. It was a bit difficult to find because the signpost in Curmatura Builei didn’t clearly indicate where we had to turn right onto the yellow circle trail and a shepherd initially misdirected us; and then we had to somehow find the red triangles – we did ultimately, thanks to my GPS, but it was a bit of a challenge – they had all faded considerably so the waymarking was subtle to say the least.

The next day I rested – eat, sleep, read, repeat – and on Thursday I left Cabana Cheia and Dan behind with a slightly heavy heart – I didn’t really feel like leaving. However, since I had a flight to catch there was some pressure for me to get going. So I made my way to Băile Olanești, and from there back to my surplus luggage in Cheia, where I spent another night to process things. The next morning I took a bus to Râmnicu Vâlcea and from there three wonderful girls, on their way to the Electric Castle festival near Cluj, picked me up and turned out to be excellent company. And now I’m back in Cârța, musing, listening to Tudor Gheorghe (thank you Dan for the introduction) and longingly staring at the Făgăraș every now and again – my next destination, hopefully.

I will definitely go back to the Buila when I’m done writing my guidebook. It’s made its way into my heart. I’m almost grateful for those seemingly endless weeks of rain – they caused me tears but they also caused me to change my plans. Without the rain, I wouldn’t have gone to the Buila when I did – I wouldn’t have met Mihai, Eugen and Dan; I wouldn’t have had Dan’s excellent advice, company, fried eggs and pancakes; I wouldn’t have discovered Mihai’s little den in Cheia. I feel like I’ve expanded. My breathing is slower, my voice is lower. I’ve grown firmer and softer at the same time. More receptive, more tenacious. I’m grateful, and looking forward to my next challenge. But first: home for ten days!

Why worry, there should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now

(Dire Straits, Why Worry)

Trail info

Cozia, Day One: red/blue stripe from Turnu Monastery to Cabana Cozia; small excursion to Cozia Peak | Distance: 6.5km | Time: 3hrs 30 mins | Total ascent: 1337m | Total descent: 153m
Cozia, Day Two: red triangle back to Turnu Monastery | Distance:  5.5km | Time: 2hrs 30mins | Total ascent: 54m | Total descent: 1246m
Buila, Day One: blue triangle from Cheia to Cabana Cheia | Distance: 17km | Time: 4hrs 20mins | Total ascent: 619m | Total descent: 201m
Buila, Day Two: red stripe over ridge, red triangle on return to Cabana Cheia | Distance: 20km | Time: 7hrs 10mins | Total ascent/descent: 1470m
Buila, Day Three: red stripe/cross to Băile Olanești | Distance: 20km | Time: 5hrs 10mins | Total ascent: 701m | Total descent: 1144m

Useful info about the Cozia here and about the Buila here. A map of the Cozia can be downloaded from the Cozia website, or you can buy the paper copy. There is no printed map of the Buila commercially available; there is a good map on the wall of Cabana Cheia. Otherwise, consult this online map (not perfect though).

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