I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this article. I’m sure you are familiar with days when you simply have no idea what to write about. All of a sudden I remembered something I read in the National Geographic Magazine many years ago. It was about Mount Everest. In the mid 1920’s George Mallory, a British mountaineer, when asked why he wanted to climb Everest, replied: Because it’s there! Something similar happened to me and my friends a few years ago in a small mountain village, Buila Vânturariţa.
We were ready to start our trekking tour when an old lady from the village approached me and asked: Where are you going?
I said: To Cheia Chalet, on the other side of the mountain.
She looked at me and asked: With your car? A bit confused, I said: No, on foot.
Her surprise was bigger than I thought and she replied: But why?
I couldn’t help smiling and thought about Mallory. I said: Because we want to visit this beautiful mountain, and the best way to do it is on foot.
Having said this, I gladly invite you to take a trip in these beautiful mountains with me.
Buila Vânturariţa is part of the Căpăţânii range and is the smallest national park in Romania.You can get there by going to Piteşti and Râmnicu Vâlcea. From Râmnicu Vâlcea you drive about 30 km in the direction of Horezu, but you will soon turn right to Costeşti and then, Pietreni.
Buila is famous for its limestone ridge that stretches for 14 km, its beautiful monasteries such as Pahomie and Pătrunsa, and the spectacular Cheii Gorges. Buila is also called Oltenia de sub munte (Oltenia beneath the mountain). Here, perhaps more than in other parts of Romania, the locals have a deep respect for orthodoxy and everything related to the divinity. One can easily observe this from the abundance of monasteries that can be found in the forests. Another important aspect is the local preference for objects made of wood, a custom that has been well preserved to this day.
I recently came back from a tour in Buila with three guests: great people, great company, and great fun to be with.
Whenever I come to Buila Vânturariţa, I usually choose a route that offers a deeper view of the massif. It is one of the most spectacular routes because it offers views of the ridge, hiking in the forests and hills, visits to the monasteries, and last but not least, the warm welcome from the local people and from the Cheia Chalet and Mr. Dumbraveanu’s famous bean soup.
Basically, our weekend looked like this: Pietreni – Scărişoara Meadow – Cacova Mountain – Buila Refuge – Fata Piscului meadow – Cheia Chalet. (Estimated time about 8 hours).
Then: Cheia Chalet – Cheii Gorges – Codric Chalet- Pahomie Monastery – Pătrunsa Monastery – Scărişoara Meadow – Pietreni (Estimated time about 9 hours).
Our two-day adventure started in Pietreni, a small but very beautiful mountain village. For those who wish to see traditional mountain villages, quiet and picturesque, Pietreni, Costeşti and Bărbăteşti are perfect choices.
Pietreni is situated at the foot of the mountains, with small and narrow paths and beautiful orchards full of fruit trees. The route we chose for the first day would finally take us to the other side of the mountain, to Cheia Chalet. I recommend that you visit Pietreni and the villages around it, especially in spring and autumn. The colours are very strong and intense, and you will see the mountain in all its splendour.
From Pietreni we hiked on Vâlea Morii (Valley of the Mill) up to Scărişoara Meadow. There is a small shelter there where you can have a rest and also fill your bottles with fresh water. It seems that the locals are very religious people. In Buila you will find many shelters like this one, with a small cross, a small receptacle for water, and a few words written on the walls which reflect the popular beliefs and fear of the divinity.
From Scărişoara we had a very nice and clear view of the hills that we would soon be climbing for the next few hours. After that, a path that leads through the forest and then, after an easier climb, would take us to a nearby sheep farm.
One thing I liked very much was the trail covered with a carpet of brown leaves. I couldn’t help taking a handful of leaves and inhaling their rich odour. It gives you a sense of connection with the mountain.
Away in the distance, we can clearly see the Parâng mountains, still covered with snow. I can easily imagine what ski-touring would be like now. We found a very good spot for observing Parăng and the mountains around it, so at one point we decided to have a rest. We climbed a nearby rock and relaxed there for half an hour. All around us there were deep forests and green hills, like in a very beautiful spring painting.
The next highlight of our journey in Buila is the Curmatura Builei refuge. But in order to get there you must pass through Hornurile Popii (the Parson’s Chimneys), also called by the locals Bucinişuri or Hududauri. Every time I get to this point I ask my guests to make a choice: left or right. The path that goes left is more spectacular – it winds down through the walls that look like a canyon and takes you down to a nearby sheep farm and the Buila refuge. The view from here is breathtaking. We lay on the grass for about half an hour, enjoying dry fruits, tea and chocolate.
Behind the refuge we took note of the path that takes you up on the ridge, another route we planned for July or August. Hornurile Popii look great from here. We took some photos and flirted with the idea of spending more time here at a later time – maybe in autumn and with a tent.
The refuge is very well kept by the locals, and so it makes a great place to take shelter in good or bad weather. It has 2 rooms that can easily accommodate 10-12 people – you will need, however, to bring your own sleeping bags and food.
From the refuge we descended for about ten minutes to a small spring and filled our bottles with water. To our surprise, we still found a lot of snow on the ground. Despite the hot weather, it seems that there are areas where the snow will remain until late May. For the next three hours we hiked through snow up to our knees, even though the temperature was about 25 degrees Celsius!
There were areas where we couldn’t find the marked trail, so instead we decided to do something more interactive and just followed our instincts. We knew that we had to cross three meadows from which we would have beautiful views of the ridge: Poiana de Piatra (Stone Meadow), Poiana Fata Piscului (Peak’s Meadow), and Poiana Frumoasă (Beautiful Meadow).
We reached Curmătura Comarnice at eight o’clock and then we put on our headlamps until we got to Cheia Chalet. In the forest we followed the marked trail, but at some point we lost it because of the fallen trees and snow which made orientation very difficult.
Based on what we knew, we listened carefully to the river and guided ourselves by the sound until we got to the chalet.
Cheia Chalet is located in the forest near Cheii Gorges, surrounded by imposing cliffs full of climbing routes. It has around 30 beds and clean rooms. The owner, Mr. Dumbrăveanu, is very friendly to tourists and always eager to do his best for everyone. He was waiting for us with hot tea, beer, and hot soup. What could be better than being treated like royalty? We went to bed at midnight, after sharing stories and laughs with Mr. Dumbrăveanu..
In the morning we had the usual tea, coffee and jam, and then we prepared for the next challenge: Cheii Gorges. Cheii Gorges are a great place to take pictures and a paradise for those who want a bit of adventure. The only way to get across them is on a suspended path from which you have awesome views of the surrounding mountains. The scenery is breathtaking. After we passed the gorges, we came down through the forest and went to see the first monastery on the way, Pahomie. This monastery is famous for having been built under a very large rock and giving the place a special charm.
There is the possibility to fill your bottles with water nearby at Izvorul Frumos (The Beautiful Spring).
From Pahomie we hiked for another hour to the next monastery, Pătrunsa.
Pătrunsa is definitely my favourite and it became my guest’s favourite also. It is situated in a very charming place, surrounded by hills criss-crossed by small paths. It always reminds me of the Shire, from “The Lord of the Rings.” Usually the monks who live there will invite you for a meal, so do not hesitate to accept their invitation as their food is very good.
From Pătrunsa monastery to the villages of Pietreni or Bărbăteşti (which is close to the latter), you will have about two hours of easy hiking. The path will weave through the forest and along the way, you will surely meet many locals with their trekking poles, going to the monastery for an easy hike. Charmed by the scenery and by the quietness that surrounded us, we stopped many times for shooting photos and to eat some chocolate.
We arrived back in Pietreni at 7 :30 pm, tired but happy. We had many adventures in these two days, we were in snow up to our knees, we hiked through the forest into the night, we traversed narrow and suspended paths, and at the end of the day we felt that everything was definitely worth it. And what’s very important is that we developed a friendship that will certainly bring us together again for another adventure.
I invite you all to go and visit Buila Vânturariţa National Park. All you need is a pair of mountain boots, some good friends, and a very big memory card for your camera!
The rest will follow!