Far flung Sapânta village has one of the most unique attractions in Romania, the ‘Merry Cemetery’. This church graveyard is famous for the colorfully painted wooden crosses carved with portraits and warm, humorous elegies about the deceased. The pictures and inscriptions, shown in art exhibitions across Europe, illustrate a wealth of traditional occupations: Shepherds tend their sheep, mothers cook for their families, barbers cut hair, and weavers bend over looms. You can find pictures of the cemetery here.
The cemetery attracts bus loads of Romanian and foreign tourists, while life in the village carries on as normal: old women sit and chat outside their cottages, colorful rugs are hung on clotheslines and beaten clean with wire swatters and the odd horse and cart trundle past.
Sapânta lies 12km northwest of Sighet, just 4km south of Ukraine (the car bridge crossing this border is now open to foreigners, making a day-trip to Ukraine a no-brainer – bring a passport, obviously, and be prepared to fill out a few forms). Buses run to Sapânta eight times a day from Sighet bus station.
Sapânta’s second most popular attraction sits 500m down a gravel road off the main road, a new wooden church claiming to be the tallest wooden structure in Europe (75m). It’s still under construction but already causing fervent debate, because of its controversial stone base. In the strictest sense, this pips the stone-free church in Surdesti by three meters, but the debate about the legitimacy of stone bases still rages and no one has declared a winner. Ask the resident nun to open the basement chapel.
The wooden church is signposted off the main Sighet/Negresti-Oas road, though it’s easier to just look up and follow the steeple.
Among the villagers rent rooms are the following:
Tel. +40 (0) 262 372 336
Per person 14 euros
Opposite the cemetery entrance, and has five double rooms. Breakfast not included.
Tel. +40 (0) 262 372 137
Doubles 19 euros
This green-tiled house is to the right of Pensiunea Stan. No English.
Tel. +40 (0) 262 372 228
Tent sites 3.50 euros
Cabins 12 euros
Pension rooms: 30-42 euros
It is 3km to the south of Sapânta, and has an excellent trout restaurant. Open June through August.