Carpathian Mountains holiday, conservation & culture

“This is a group walking holiday of alpine pastures, Saxon villages and incredible wildlife teamed with comfortable accommodation, minimal travelling and excellent local food.”


Magura | Pestera | Visit to a bat cave | Wild bear watching | Traditional Saxon village visits | Piatra Craiului ridge | Libearty Bear Sanctuary | Vulcan | Bucegi Massif | Bran Castle | Brasov | Birdwatching | Horse-cart ride through the Barza Valley | Piatra Cruilui Mountains

Description of Carpathian Mountains holiday, conservation & culture

A Carpathian Mountains holiday is all about hiking, history, wilderness and wildlife. We cover the most eclectic mix during this week of wandering through Transylvania, best known for Dracula but most celebrated for dramatic landscapes of canyons, virgin forests and remote ancient villages.

Travelling in a small group with an expert local guide this trip is centre based, staying in a locally owned guesthouse in Magura at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, from where we take trips out by private bus or the traditional horse and cart. Also traditional in this region are the Kalibash villages of which Magura is one and Pestera another. We take a day trekking around these ancient settlements, which are poised on elevated ridges overlooking dramatic ravines and valleys.

Other mountainous treks include Piatra Craiului ridge with tranquil alpine meadows to soften our trek en route, and then the most dramatic of all – Omu, the highest peak of the Bucegi massif at 2,505m, although we do take a cable car up part of the way. More untouched traditions and landscapes await in the Barza Valley which we explore by foot and by horse and cart, with an option to seek out its most famous resident wildlife, brown bears, from a night time hide run by local people.

We also get a chance to study bears at the country’s famous Libearty Bear Sanctuary, home to over a hundred rescued bears, often used for tourism purposes in the past, dancing and being caged up for tourists. Ironic, given that this is a country where the untouched wilderness gives one a great sense of freedom and discovery. Thankfully, the country’s attitude to wildlife conservation is changing, so bring your binoculars for bird watching and a torch for night time tracking. Packing garlic for your visit to Bran castle, best known as the residence of Count Dracula, is optional!

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21 Sep 2019
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Our top tip:
It's worth investing in a decent all-weather walking boots and don't forget your insect repellent.
Trip type:
Small group, 4-15 adults (min. age 16), tour leader.
Activity level:
Moderate. The fitter you are the more you'll get out of it.
7 nights comfortable guesthouse.
Solo travellers welcome. Single rooms available for a surcharge.
7 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 6 dinners.
Accommodation, transport, listed activities, tour leader.
Holiday type

Small group holiday

Small group travel is not large group travel scaled down. It is modelled on independent travel – but with the advantage of a group leader to take care of the itinerary, accommodation and tickets, and dealing with the language. It’s easy to tick off the big sights independently – but finding those one-off experiences, local festivals, travelling markets and secret viewpoints is almost impossible for someone without the insider knowledge gained from years in the field. If you’re heading off on a gap year your, perhaps – but for those with a two-week holiday, a small group tour will save valuable planning time.

The leaders are not guides – they’re not there to shepherd you around. Instead, they’ll let you know which local restaurant serves great value food – without running the risk of travellers’ tummy. They’ll allow you to avoid hour-long queues at train stations and attractions.

We like to think of small group travel as the Goldilocks option. It is independent travel without the fuss, worry and bunk beds – and organised travel without the coaches. And it’s cheaper than a tailor made tour. It’s sits somewhere in the middle – and we think it’s just about right.

What are the main benefits?
Big experiences
Have big, life-enriching experiences that would be impossible to organise without lots of time and insider knowledge.

Make the most of your holiday time by letting someone else do the hard work and boring logistics!

Peace of mind
Small group tours take care of the security aspects – and provide a safety net should anything unexpected happen.
Who is it ideal for?
Travellers who are short of time
If you don’t have three months to spend exploring, small groups trips let you cover more ground in less time. Your days are not spent queuing for tickets or finding hotels – so you can squeeze more into your holiday.

Solo travellers who’d like company
Likeminded travel companions plus peace of mind for those travelling alone. Single supplements are usually available – providing privacy if you want it.

Less confident travellers
Stray from the tourist trail without worrying about getting lost, and meet local people without dealing with the language barrier.
“I won’t get any privacy!”
Couples and friends have private rooms, and you can choose to eat alone or not. Single supplements give solo travellers their own room.

“There won’t be any free time”
Free mornings or afternoons let you explore on your own, or just relax.

“The accommodation will be basic”
Trips are as high or low end as you like. Though off the beaten track destinations won’t have luxury hotels, this is all part of the adventure.

“I won’t like the other travellers!”
Tour operators try to create groups with a similar demographic – age, families, activity levels... Chances are, you’ll even make new friends.

“Will we be following an umbrella?”
Valerie Parkinson
Meet a group Leader
Name: Valerie Parkinson

Story: The first British woman to climb Manaslu, Valerie climbed Everest for her 50th birthday. She’s spent fourteen Christmas Days trekking to Everest Base Camp, and is involved insetting up Responsible Tourism initiatives in the Himalayas.
Roshan Fernando
Meet a local guide
Name: Roshan Fernando

Story: Roshan has led over 130 trips – he adores showing travellers around Sri Lanka. He won the company Leader Award in 2010, but his career highlight was working on their Tsunami Project – which earned him a responsible tourism award.

Responsible tourism

Carpathian Mountains holiday, conservation & culture

Carbon reduction

Your holiday will help support local people and conservation. We must also reduce CO2. Learn about the CO2 emissions of this holiday and how to reduce them.


Accommodation and Meals:
We spend the week in a comfortable, locally run guesthouse called Villa Hermani. The Villa uses LED lighting and solar panels in order to save energy, whilst their recycling policies are in line with Romanian environmental law. The majority of meals are included on this trip and they comprise of fresh, local produce and Romanian specialties like smoked meats, cabbage dishes and vegetable soups. On one evening the leader will accompany clients to dinner at a local restaurant in Brasov where we can enjoy regional cuisine; a good opportunity to support the community through local businesses.

Local Craft and Culture:
We get an insight into the rural, agricultural lifestyle of many in Romania when we walk through rural villages and countryside through the week. There will also be excellent opportunities to learn about some local crafts and traditions. Other highlights include Bran Castle, which was home to Vlad the Impaler in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We also have a guided tour of Brasov and the unique Kalibash villages of Magura and Pestera, where the houses are built along the mountain ridges with deep ravines in between. Through this, we hope to contribute to the local economy by paying for guides and entrance fees.

Association for Ecotourism in Romania:
Our local tour partners are founding members of the Association for Ecotourism in Romania (AER) and hold positions on the Director’s Board. The Association is involved in promotion and marketing of sustainable tourism activity and accreditation of ecotourism tours and green accommodation. In a place where ecotourism is still in its infancy, this group is significant in raising public awareness of responsible ways to travel and this is reflected in the nature of this trip.

In the Carpathian Mountains above the Transylvanian town of Zarnesti, we visit Libearty Bear Sanctuary. This is Europe’s largest bear sanctuary and is set in 70 hectares of oak and hazel forests. The sanctuary is home to nearly 100 bears which have been rescued from captivity, having suffered as dancing bears or in circuses. By visiting, we are supporting the work goes on here with monitoring, maintenance and providing educational facilities for school groups to learn about animal welfare.

We regulate our environmental impact by frequently using carbon free transport alternatives like hiking and traditional horse drawn cart. This trip is predominantly nature based and we are careful to enforce a ‘leave no trace’ policy- particularly when watching the bears and other wildlife. A local forester will accompany us to the bear hide and with ensure that our behaviour is in line with regulations set out by the forestry commission. In terms of community, our local partners are the only local employers in their village and we also support local cafes, pubs and shops wherever possible.

Group Size:
This small group tour has a maximum of 16 participants, meaning that we have a low impact on the environments and communities we visit and are able to ensure that we do not disrupt or lead to the displacement of local people. The small number also allows us to stay in unique, family-run hotels that cannot benefit from coach tours and other mass tourism due to their limited sizes.

UK Office:
It all starts at home so we have first worked at reducing our carbon footprint in our UK Offices. Through energy conservation measures and recycling policies, we are proud to be actively reducing the waste produced and our impact on the environment. We support various projects all over the world to try and give something back to the places we visit.

24 Reviews of Carpathian Mountains holiday, conservation & culture

4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed on 25 Aug 2019 by

It was excellent- excellent value for money, wonderful food and accommodation, great itinerary, wonderful varied walks, excellent guide, very good group size. All worked towards a fab holiday experience. Read full review

Reviewed on 21 Jul 2019 by

The most memorable part of the holiday was seeing the bears in the hide Read full review

Reviewed on 28 May 2019 by

Seeing the bears from the hide was memorable, especially Mum bear with her two babies Read full review

Reviewed on 21 May 2019 by

Just being in the wonderful location was memorable - seeing the snow covered mountains of Bucegi on one side and the Piatra Craiului on the other was wonderful. Apart from seeing the bears, the other (unexpected) highlight was the wonderful ride in the horse cart, through the meadows with the sun shining. Read full review

Reviewed on 01 Sep 2019 by

The most memorable and exciting part of the holiday was watching the bears from the bear hide. Read full review

Reviewed on 24 Sep 2018 by

Fabulous, it was our 1st group holiday and would definitely be happy to do similar again. Read full review

Reviewed on 05 Aug 2018 by

An excellent trip with places to hike and see, friendly and helpful people and fantastic hosts and guides. Read full review

Reviewed on 21 May 2018 by

The whole trip was memorable but I loved the walk in the snow and rain at the top of a mountain. Brilliant. Read full review

Reviewed on 03 Sep 2017 by

Walking in the Carpathian Mountains was stunning. Watching bear and wild boar at close quarters and visiting the bear sanctuary was definitely one of the highlights. Gaining an insight into the history of Romania by visiting castles, fortified churches and local towns was also fascinating. Read full review

Reviewed on 06 Jun 2017 by

The most memorable were the painted monasteries and the village of Viscri and Transylvania generally. Read full review

Reviewed on 07 Aug 2016 by

The most memorable part of my holiday was watching the brown bears from the bear hide. While we were there we saw around 10 different bears including a mother with her two cubs. Read full review

Reviewed on 26 Jun 2016 by

Thoroughly enjoyable holiday. My wife was somewhat apprehensive but came back having enjoyed a different (for us) invigorating holiday that was much much better than either of us expected. Read full review

Reviewed on 29 Jun 2015 by

The most memorable or exciting part of your holiday? Seeing wild bears! Read full review

Reviewed on 25 Jul 2011 by

Absolutely excellent, awesome experience, briliant hospitality from the local agent and excellent guiding. Very good accomodation that exceeded our expectations. Very friendly group of travellers that really gelled through the holiday. Will certainly be considering other holidays from this operator for the future. Our 16 year old daughter had a brilliant time too. Read full review

Reviewed on 12 Oct 2010 by

An excellent holiday, a good destination and range of activities. One of the best group holidays I have been on, everyone got on well from the start... I would say that the holiday was sensitive to the environment and local culture and gave a good insight into rural Romania. Read full review

Reviewed on 27 Jul 2009 by

Stunning views, great group, friendly locals. Read full review

Reviewed on 02 Sep 2008 by

I thought that overall this was an excellent holiday. It was made even more enjoyable by having such a lovely group of fellow travellers to share it with....We were very priveledged to see so many bears from the hide one evening. Read full review

Reviewed on 05 Jun 2008 by

Seeing the wild animals (bears, beaver etc) in their natural environment was the most memorable part. Read full review

Reviewed on 14 Oct 2007 by

We were very well looked after all week with plenty of notice regarding the next day’s plans. Wonderful hosts, informative and sensitive guides, a very cosy and comfortable hotel with real character. Had a wonderful week and will spread the word! Read full review

Reviewed on 08 Jul 2006 by

Every morning we opened the curtains to the most beautiful scene of the mountains and alpine meadows. The Romanian Carpathians are untouched and covered with wildlife and wild flowers. Our favorite thing was the visit to the Shepherd's camp. Read full review

Reviewed on 23 Sep 2006 by

The view from the top of the Piatra Craiului ridge was fantasic and so was all the wildlife that we saw,especially the bear. Just being in such an unspoilt countryside was magical... Dan was an excellent guide and he certainly made the holiday what it was. Read full review

Reviewed on 09 Sep 2006 by

I would recommend this holiday to anyone who enjoys spending time in remote areas and learning about local culture and wildlife. I would also thoroughly recommend the local guides, they are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Read full review

Reviewed on 09 Sep 2006 by

An obvious highlight was seeing a wild bear from a hide in the woods one evening... I got my first glimpse of the landscape of the Carpathian mountains - illuminated for a second by a huge flash of lightning. It felt like I'd arrived somewhere wild. Read full review

Reviewed on 30 Jul 2005 by

I enjoyed it all start to finish; Great accommodation, Good food, Lovely group of people, Fantastic country and scenery, Very good and knowledgeable local guide, Very relaxing and peaceful, Varied activities; I would recommend it to anyone. Read full review

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