Wild Photography Holidays - Photographic Adventure Travel: Romania – The Best of Transylvania and Maramures with James Rushforth

Sunrise

Romania – The Best of Transylvania and Maramures with James Rushforth

Highlights include…

  • Local festivals
  • Steam train and the Ukraine border
  • Romania’s Carpathian Mountains
  • Gypsy Coppersmiths
  • Cable cars into the mountains
  • Dracula’s Castle
  • Dramatic salt mine
  • Churches and fortresses
  • Medieval towns
  • Snowy rural landscapes
  • Potters, weavers and tanners
  • Metalworkers and glassblowers

Introduction

We invite you to take a step back in time and join us on our brand new photographic trip to one of Eastern Europes cultural treasures. Often referred to as the crossroads of Europe, Romania is characterised by medieval towns, spooky castles and cosy farmsteads, interspersed with agricultural hamlets seemingly stepped straight out of the middle ages. Throughout our journey we will capitalise on this rich Romanian ancestry as we witness the ‘water splashing of the Johns’, visit gypsy metalworkers and glassblowers, photograph Mocanita, an iconic narrow gauge steam train as she travels along the Ukrainian border, and explore wild, rarely frequented UNESCO designated landscapes. Fought over by the Ottomans, Hungarians, Austro-Hungarians, Russian and Polish Empires, this ‘Latin island’ amongst Slavic neighbours has a fascinating multi-cultural heritage with strong agrarian roots. Split by the rugged topography of the Carpathian mountains, Romanian villages were forced to be self sufficient. Potteries, weavers, tanneries and forges can still be found dotting the landscape creating a scene famously described by American travel writer Rick Steves as the place ‘where everyday life still feels like an open-air museum’.

Our journey begins in Sibiu, an ancient city located in central Romania and distinguished by fascinating German-Saxon architecture. Wild Photography Holidays will organise transfers from the local airport to the cosy hotel in the city centre, where the national festivities take place only a short distance away. Then over the next eleven days we will traverse the county from north to south, starting in Maramures, a region famous for its traditional farming techniques, wooden churches and innumerable haystacks assembled using techniques that have not changed for millennia. Working our way back south we will enjoy a cablecar accessed stopover in the Carpathian mountains and a night in a fortified church before arriving in Transylvania, a region that needs little introduction. Most notably the erroneous setting for Bram Stoker’s fictional count, castles, monasteries, churches and fortresses abound, all wonderfully backdropped by the distinctive Bucegi and Piatra Craiului mountains. Our adventure aptly concludes in the nation’s capital of Bucharest, its vibrant energy a stark contrast to the sleepy mountain villages we’ve encountered thus far. Wild Photography Holidays can facilitate transfers into the city centre for anyone wishing to stay longer before making their international flights home.

Photographic Tutor/Guide

James Rushforth is an accomplished photographer and three times published author. He has won several international photography competitions and worked with prestigious publishing houses, Rockfax, Cicerone Press and FotoVue.

Daily Itinerary

Days 1-2: Fly to Sibiu, Festivals & Glass Factory

Wild Photography Holidays will provide a transfer service for the ten minute journey between Sibiu International Airport to our perfectly situated hotel in the town centre. Guests who arrive early will have time to explore the legacy of the 12th century Saxon settlers before our first group meeting for introductions and a welcome dinner of traditional Romanian cuisine. The following morning we will attend a festival celebrating Saint John the Baptist; here young Romanians named ‘Ion’ (John) are dipped in the nearby river wearing their best traditional dress, before a reward of liquor and cake to help stave off the cold. This old custom gives a unique glimpse into local village life presenting an excellent opportunity to photograph authentic Romanian culture. Once the festivities have concluded we will visit a traditional glass blowing factory where guests will have the chance to capture the glass working process in its entirety through from sand refinement through to polishing the finished product.

Days 3-5: Turda Salt Mine & Maramures

This morning we leave Sibiu to make our way north stopping at Turda, where an otherworldly salt mine awaits us. Dating back to the middle ages and used as a bomb shelter during the world wars, this ancient bell mine was recently opened to tourists with an amusement duel constructed in its depths, featuring a ferris wheel, mini golf course and subterranean lake. This quite frankly bizarre spectacle is certainly unique and can be photographed from a series of galleries, gantries and viewing platforms created from the extraction of around 300 billion tons of salt.

Once back above ground we proceed north to Maramures close by the Ukranian border. For the next three nights.we will make our home in a beautiful traditional Romanian farmhouse. Well timed to coincide with the national holiday and the running of the Mocanita stream train we will travel along the Ukranian border in search of the perfect snowy landscape to capture this narrow gauge marvel of engineering passing through the Vaser valley. With festivities finished we will slow our pace, taking time to carefully explore the rolling hills, wooden churches and quaint mountain villages of this beautiful region, all are reminiscent of a time long since past.

Days 6-7: Biertan Fortified Churches, Gypsy Coppersmiths & Balea Lake

It is always hard to leave Maramures but there is still so much to see. After bidding our hosts farewell we begin our journey south travelling over several high mountain passes before entering into northern Transylvania. This mysterious region offers an enchanting melange of cultures. Communities of Saxons, Hungarians and Gypsies still mingle with local Romanians. En route we will stop to visit a family of Gypsy coppersmiths who are guardians of this very ancient method of metalworking, their secrets have been passed down through generations. Guests will have the chance to photograph the family at work, take portraits and get a fascinating glimpse into their daily lives.
Towards evening we will arrive in Biertan with time to capture the sun setting over a fortified church that dominates the hill at its centre. Designated as a UNESCO world heritage site the strategically positioned church was built as an alternative defensive structure by the German-Saxons to defend themselves against the Mongol invaders. We will stay in the ancient village for the night, giving us the opportunity to photograph this magical scene from a nearby hill as the sun rises the following morning.
After stopping to take in several frozen forests, their barren limbs highlighted by the nights hard frost, we will take a cablecar up to Balea lake. Nestled between some of Romania’s highest peaks there is an opportunity for adventurous photographers to stay in a nearby ice hotel, this is optional and will cost extra. For those who prefer a little more luxury the adjacent chalet offers warmth and fantastic views over the snow capped mountains.

Day 8-9: Transylvania Castles & Villages

Following a mountain sunrise we descend back down the cable car in search of the quintessential castles which have inspired the regions infamous folklore. We will visit Bran, a fortification of imposing countenance set against the backdrop of a dense forest and rocky cliffs. Viewed from below it is easy to see why this may have spawned inspiration for vampire anecdotes, it is easy to envisage Dracula holding court here. By contrast the nearby Peles castle swaps defensive configurations for flamboyant German architecture designed to impress visitors to the Royal Family’s summer residence.
Sprawled between these structures intended to intimidate and impress lie a network of tranquil mountain villages that are perfect for landscape photography. Wooden fences, barns and winding tracks provide the perfect photographic foreground for the surrounding Piatra Craiului and Bucegi white capped mountains found to the east and west. Winter snows often cover the ground here, quietening all sound and creating some beautifully minimalist scenes as hand woven fences meander through the now blanketed pastures.

Day 10: Mountain Cable Car & Bucharest

Today we make our last drive south towards the countries capitol. There will be an opportunity to explore a high mountain plateau above Busteni by taking a second cablecar up to an area of spectacular rock formations. The high vantage point allows us to look back along our route where we will reflect on our adventure before heading to the bright lights of Bucharest. We will stay close to the airport where enjoy a final celebratory dinner and image presentation.

Day 11: Homeward Flights

After breakfast we say our goodbyes before transferring to Bucharest Henri Coandă international airport for homeward flights. WPH services finish upon arrival at the airport. For those wishing to extend their stay in Romania, WPH can organise transfers into the city centre.

What’s Included

  • Airport Transfers
  • 10 night accommodation
  • Single room supplement included in the price
  • All meals
  • Transport & tuition
  • Cable cars

What’s not Included

  • Flights
  • Travel insurance
  • Anything not mentioned above

Accommodation

We will stay in beautiful boutique hotels or high quality traditional guesthouses located in close proximity to our chosen photography locations. All hotels have twin, double or single rooms with private bathroom facilities. Where possible we will use family run private guesthouses in our effort to keep our holidays sustainable and to aid the local populace in the more rural villages.

Food

Romanian food is hearty and delicious, often utilising organic ingredients and locally sourced produce. In the guesthouses the hosting family will prepare a set menu dinner, with both meat and vegetarian options, whilst the hotels offer an a la carte menu. A buffet style style continental breakfast will be served each morning at our accommodation, whilst lunch will generally be ‘Al Fresco’ or bought on the move to allow for maximum time in the field. Please ensure that any special dietary needs are mentioned on the booking form.

Alcohol

Alcohol in Romania is reasonably priced and accessible. The countries 6000 year old wine making heritage has seen a strong recent resurgence and there are more than 10 local grape varieties to try. In the villages you will also have the chance to sample the strong local liquor knows as ‘horinca’, try at your own peril!

Spending Money

The Romanian currency is RON (leu in singular, plural Lei). Cash can be easily obtained at the airport ATMs or in the city although not so easily in the smaller villages. There will be opportunities to buy presents and souvenirs in some of our locations. Credit cards are accepted in most shops, but for souvenirs bought from locals or craftsmen you should pay cash.

Language

The official language is Romanian, a language of Latin etymology. The name Romania, and its derivatives, come from the Latin word ‘Romanus’ (citizen of Rome), a legacy of the Roman Empire who took control of ancient Dacia (today Romania) in 106 A.D.

Romanian retains a significant number of old Latin idioms and also contains words gleaned from the surrounding Slavic languages, as well as from French, German, Greek and Turkish. English is widely spoken in the larger cities, as is French and German, a legacy of past and present migration.

Climate

Romania is situated half way between the Equator and the North Pole, with a largely temperate, 4 season climate. Winters can be cold, especially in the mountains (down to -20C) and abundant snowfalls may occur throughout the country, from December to mid March.