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.”

Highlights

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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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.
Accomm:
7 nights comfortable guesthouse.
Solos:
Solo travellers welcome. Single rooms available for a surcharge.
Meals:
7 breakfasts, 6 lunches, 6 dinners.
Included:
Accommodation, transport, listed activities, tour leader.
Vouchers
Accepted

Responsible tourism

As the pioneers of responsible tourism, we screen every trip so you can travel knowing your holiday will help support conservation and local people.

Environment
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.

Conservation:
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.

Activity:
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.
Community

The Impacts of this Trip

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.

Climate

15 Reviews of Carpathian Mountains holiday, conservation & culture

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Reviewed on 25 Aug 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The beautiful scenery, the total peace and the great company!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Wear comfortable footwear and bring poles if any concerns with downhills.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes, hopefully all of these.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


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

Reviewed on 21 Jul 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Seeing the bears in the hide

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be prepared for bad weather on the walks - we were very lucky but it could have been wet & slippery - take good footwear

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Very good

Reviewed on 28 May 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Seeing the bears from the hide, especially Mum bear with her two babies

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make sure you break your walking boots in before you go

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


All of the above

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


10 out of 10. Did so much, saw so much and amazingly beautiful scenery. The lodge, owner, staff and especially our guide Thomas were superb.

Reviewed on 21 May 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Just being in the wonderful location - waking up in the hotel (having arrived in the dark) and seeing the snow covered mountains of Bucegi on one side and the Piatra Craiului on the other was wonderful. For this reason the first day's walk around the local area was very memorable. Apart from seeing the bears, the other (unexpected) highlight was the wonderful ride in the horse cart, through the meadows with the sun shining.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be prepared for all weathers! We went in early May and had lovely warm sunshine on some days, but also heavy snow on another day! (The snow was actually quite fun, but I did need to borrow gloves). But the hotel may be able to lend some equipment, eg walking poles, if you need it. There is a good drying room for boots and cagoules.

We changed money before we left home and were glad we did so, simply because we didn't have to think about it while away. But you won't need much before the trip to Brasov (where you can change money anyway). We stopped at a local village shop on the first day, to buy a drink and a snack. Our leader (Thomas - who was wonderful by the way) offered to lend money to any who needed it. We settled up with the hotel (drinks and the bear trip, plus tips) in Romanian Lei on the last night, but they will also take pounds or euros or a mixture. You have to pay cash though.

We also chose to stay on in Bucharest for the Saturday night and were delighted we did so - a really interesting town. Take the 783 bus from the airport after everyone has been dropped off there.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes to all three. Apart from those employed looking after us, we enjoyed hospitality from the monks and from the people in the church in Vulcan, who I hope also benefited from our visit. As far as possible walks were done direct from the hotel or involved a small minibus transfer. The hotels are clearly very involved in conservation (and not just bears).

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


We had a fantastic time. This was our first "led" holiday, and it was very restful not having to worry about what to do each day, where to go, or what to eat. The planned trips were excellent and our leader Thomas was great. The food in the hotel was very good, and we found we got on really well with all the others on the trip. We really enjoyed the walks and getting to know this wonderful, wild, part of Europe.

Reviewed on 30 Sep 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The bears but it was all excellent.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make sure you are fit and choose a holiday that is suitable for you.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes. All the food was locally sourced. We did use minibuses but it would have been impossible to do otherwise.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?



Reviewed on 01 Sep 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Watching the bears from the bear hide.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Expect some fairly strenuous days if travelling in the heat of August.
Expect simple accommodation (no fancy toiletries and a very basic mattress on the bed). Be prepared to hear dogs barking on and off all night; take earplugs to help you sleep.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


I felt that the holiday definitely benefitted local people and businesses, e.g. by flying with the national airline, staying in a modest locally-owned guesthouse,
using local guides, and drinking the local beer!

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Very good indeed. The food was excellent, and vegetarians well catered for. Katarina is a wonderful host and Sebastian an excellent local guide.

Reviewed on 24 Sep 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


All great but Bear hide!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make sure clear on all dietary issues, so if not keen on rabbit or fish or pasta you are fully catered for. I had know issue as a veggie but others who had not mentioned certain dislikes did.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


I think holiday benefited local people, including staff at hotel and small local business we used. Not sure about environmental impact but I felt that it supported local conservation efforts eg bear hide and reduce centre

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


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

Reviewed on 05 Aug 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The visit to Dracula's Castle, the cable car rides and the hike along the canyon

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make sure you have hiking boots, because there is a lot of hill walking.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Everyone used their own common sense not to litter the country side, which was kept really clean and we were given advice regarding sanitation.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


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

Reviewed on 21 May 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


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

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Come prepared to walk in all conditions.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes. Particularly with the bears.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Brilliant

Reviewed on 03 Sep 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


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. Due to very little backlight, the stars were amazing.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


If you want to have a holiday with lots of shops to visit and a wide range of entertainment then this holiday is not for you. The hotel was in a remote part of the national park with no shops, cafes or organized entertainment near by.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Very much so. Our trip on the horse and cart to the starting point of one of our walks was not only great fun but also helped the local people earn income. Our
meals were made locally from fresh produce. The hotel also encouraged us to be mindful not to waste water and encouraged us to use different ways to help
reduce the impact on the environment. Visiting the bear sanctuary provided income to support the care and well-being of the bears there, most of whom had
been cruelly treated.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


An excellent holiday. The owners and staff in the hotel were extremely caring and helpful. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the local area and there
was a good balance of easy to more challenging walks, wild life, and cultural visits.

Reviewed on 06 Jun 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The painted monasteries and the village of Viscri and Transylvania generally

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be prepared for a few long travel days but these were well balanced

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent insight into Romania

Reviewed on 07 Aug 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


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. Katrina, the hotel owner who accompanied us on the trip, had excellent knowledge about the bears and was able to identify most of them.

My second memorable part was the scenery, so breathe taking, beautiful.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Don't be put off by the length of the longer 20km walk. It's easy going and covers a range of beautiful scenery, from walking along a limestone river gorge, through a forest and out into alpine pasture. Udo, (the local guide) gives you plenty of rest breaks and leads at a leisurely stroll. Before you realise it you'll be back home in the village. One of our group didn't go and later regretted it.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


All food is locally grown, much of it by the hotel owners and the hotel benefits the village by drawing in tourists and employing locals. As this is a walking holiday the main thing we left in the countryside were our footprints which had little impact on the environment. We also traveled by horse and cart but when we needed to travel further we went by minibus. During our stay we went to Libearty, Bear Sanctuary which had been set up to give a home to bears that have been rescued . We heard about how the bears there had been rescued from many years in captivity as dancing bears or in circuses

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent!!
Udo, the guide, was very knowledgeable about the area and a good walk leader. The hotel, Villa Hermani, was in an idyllic setting with breath taking views and Katrina (owner) made us very welcome. She went out of her way to cater for those with dietary problems getting in foods suitable for them. The food was simple but healthy and very tasty. The walks gave a showcase of the Carpathian mountains.
The only suggestion we could make is the Romanian restaurant visited we felt was too modern and did not have a traditional feel.

Reviewed on 26 Jun 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Bear watching, the tour guide who was absolutely great, slightly madcap but it all added to the experience, the people, the food, and the accommodation

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Some of the walks were challenging. My wife and are reasonably fit 55 and 63 year old but not regular 10K+ walkers. We did all the walks but I can see some people not being able too. Don't be misled by the easy label if you are not a regular walker.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes our holiday did all of those things

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


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.

Reviewed on 29 Jun 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Seeing wild bears

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be prepared for all weathers - one day blazing sunshine, next torrential downpours and mud everywhere.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes - apart from the organised trip to the bear sanctuary, the guest house, walks etc were all sympathetic to the natural environment

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


9.5 out of 10

Reviewed on 25 Jul 2011 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Seeing wildlife i.e. Bears and Beavers. Seeing and experiencing local people, culture and hospitality.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Travel with the Tarom flights recommended not independently by Wizzair as Banesa airport is a cattle market. The programme you will have received 5 times before you arrive, i.e. brochure, booking, confirmation, paying, final, final final isn't actually the programme for the holiday, but the actual local programme is equivalent, as good or better, but slightly different.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


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.

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