Hiking in the Buila-Vanturarita Mountains

It’s June, and summer is here! Hurray! Among my favourite mountains in Romania is the Buila-Vanturarita National Park. So when I saw my friend Alexandra Puscasu from bloguldecalatorii.ro was planning to go there, I dropped her a line to see if I could join in. Like me, she prefers to hike alone or just with her boyfriend most of the time, but during our joint venture at my book launch last year we had agreed we should hike together sometime. And so we did! Hiking in the Buila-Vanturarita is an absolute treat, especially at this time of year. Have a look!

The forest

Alexandra and Adi pick me up in Ramnicu Valcea at 7:40 in the morning, after a short night for me and an even shorter one for them, since they’re hailing from Bucharest. We take the scenic route to the village of Costesti, with great views of the Buila-Vanturarita ridge. We drive up as close to the mountains as we can, and then head up into the cool forest. It’s going to be a hot day, so any shade is welcome, especially on this long and at times rather steep ascent! The waymarks are old and faded and we’re chatting most of the time, which occasionally causes us to miss a turn. Well, blame the waymarks. This section of the red stripe trail is probably not used as much as the ridge section, but if you use a gpx file and/or keep your eyes open it shouldn’t be hard to follow. There are lots of mushrooms in the forest and some streams – great if you don’t want to carry too much water!

The ridge

The moment we hit the ridge after a 500m ascent, we burst out in squeals of delight. We had some idea of what it would be like, but the lavishness we find beats all expectations. Nature has gone all out: we step onto a lush carpet of fragrant grass speckled with a rainbow of flowers: white, yellow, purple, blue… The sky is a glorious bright blue; cumulus clouds and whispy cirrus clouds drift in the pleasant breeze. None of us have had a substantional breakfast, so we nestle ourselves into the grass at the bottom of a beautifully decorated wooden cross, and nibble on our snacks contentedly.

We move on towards Curmatura Builei. We pass some cows, and a man picking red pine buds to make syrup from. He confirms something we’ve heard earlier: there are no sheep, hence no dogs at Curmatura Builei! That makes us feel even more at ease. Curmatura Builei (a saddle) is a very striking place: it’s marked by three large rock formations with tilted grassy plateaus on top. We descend through a chimney in between two of those; looking back, these awesome rocks look not unlike Trei Cime in Italy (although admittedly a lot smaller in size).

From the saddle, we climb up through some coniferous trees towards Buila Peak. We pass through a boulder field that looks like a giant baby has thrown a tantrum. I’m no geologist, but these rounded limestone rocks full of holes suggest that these mountains may be very, very old. (And it is indeed – you can find some geological info on the park’s website, in Romanian.) One of the many great things about the Buila-Vanturarita is that it is both rugged and pastoral at the same time: due to its limited altitude (the highest peak is 1885m) and favourable microclimate, vegetation of all sorts thrives here. And not just vegetation: something brown flits across my field of vision and stops me in my tracks. A chamois! No, two! They don’t seem to feel at all threatened by us, linger on the ridge for a bit longer and then disappear behind a peak. The splendour of nature never fails to amaze me.

We have another little break at Buila Peak (1849m), where we meet a large group – Alexandra is immediately recognized as the author of Romania’s most popular hiking blog. We take some pictures on the peak with the Capatani Mountains in the background, then get ready for the descent to the meadows below the ridge.

The meadows

And that descent isn’t easy: we want to find an unmarked trail from Saua Stevioara to Dosul Builei. We follow the instructions we’ve gotten as closely as we can, but still manage to get stuck in the jnepenii: dwarf pine. We have to put up quite a struggle (not entirely without swearing), but after about an hour of pushing and shoving and stepping on swinging branches we come out at the bottom, relatively unscathed, but covered in pollen. Fortunately, there’s a spring nearby – where we wash off the ‘dirt’, but also gratefully fill up our near-empty water bottles.

From here, the going is easy. We make our way back towards Costesti through the idyllic meadows at the bottom of the ridge – only spoiled by a multitude of flies. The clouds have huddled together and the forest branches out in between the meadows, so that we can walk in much-appreciated shade. We praise ourselves for picking the day with the best possible weather: over 10 hours of sunshine and no rain! We have to retrace our steps for part of the descent back to Costesti, but it takes us over the lushest part of the ridge one more time, so we do not mind at all. What a treat!

The churches

Back at the car, we splash around in the stream to wash away any aches and dirt, and agree that water is the biggest miracle on earth. On our way back to Costesti we visit three of the many ancient churches in the area – Valcea quite possibly has the highest church density in all of Romania! They’re pretty, but nothing can beat the beauty of a mountain. Besides, you have to tear down a mountain before you can build a church, or any building – to which the nearby limestone quarry testifies.

A very warm welcome

Since it’s too late for me to catch a train or bus back to Sibiu, I decide to find a room in Costesti. A Belgian lady who lives there (but isn’t at home) has previously recommended Casa Cucu to me, so that’s where we go first – and it’s a hit! My hosts are the loveliest people in the world; the guesthouse breathes love and tradition. Bebe and Didona persuade Alexandra and Adi to stay for five minutes and have some cake. Which I can’t eat, but Didona brings me a bowl of homegrown strawberrries.

Despite the late hour and my dietary restrictions, they rustle up a great meal for me: a huge platter of mamaliga (polenta), an equally huge bowl of freshly cut fries; ciorba de pui (chicken soup), chiftelute (meatballs), and the best sarmale (cabbage rolls) I’ve ever had. I couldn’t wish for a better ending to my trip, and roll into bed with a full stomach and a full heart. The next morning, I get an equally copious breakfast, sign the copy of my guidebook that my hosts have received from Doamna Marlene (the Belgian lay, who has bought twenty copies of my book), get a bag of strawberries for the road and get driven to the bus stop. The journey back isn’t exactly smooth, but this trip has been well worth it!

Trail info

RouteTroita Izvorul Constructilor – Vf Piatra – Vf Albu – Curmatura Builei – Vf Buila – Saua Stevioara – Dosul Builei – Troita Izvorul Constructilor
Distance± 17.5km
Altitude gain/loss± 1300m
Time7hrs 30mins
Waymarksred stripe trail Follow the red stripe trail until Saua Stevioara; unmarked section to Dosul Builei;
red triangle trail Follow the red triangle through the meadows and all the way back.

Map

More Buila

A week in the Cozia and Buila-Vanturarita

The Mountains of Romania, Janneke Klop, Cicerone Press
Buy my guidebook!

Are you planning to go hiking in Romania? You might want to buy my guidebook, ‘The Mountains of Romania‘! It offers 27 multi-stage treks and 10 day hikes all over Romania. It contains an extensive description of each hike, lots of practical info, overview maps, an accommodation appendix, a language guide, and comes with free gpx files. There is an e-book version as well! This is a project that I put my heart and soul in; I’d be so chuffed if you bought it! If you buy it directly from the publisher I get 10% royalties.

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