Bicaz Gorges and Lacu Rosu
About 24km west of Piata Neamt, there’s an unassuming turn-off to the village of Tarcau, which stretches out for 4km along a beautiful valley nestled between the Magura Tarcau and Câmpilor mountain peaks, along the little Tarcau River. Like many villages in the area, it has a very singular beauty and feels cut off from time. There’s a pretty church and not much more here than peace, quiet and bucolic scenery.
Bicaz (population 9,000) is 4km further west on the confluence of the Bicaz and Bistrita Rivers. Unfortunately, this is a sorry-looking town with little to offer. However, just north of here, along the road to Vatra Dornei is Bicaz Lake (Lacu Izvorul Muntelui, or ‘Mountain Spring Lake’), which winds north, covering over 30 sq km. There’s a hydroelectric dam (baraj) at the lake’s southern end, built in 1950, whose construction predictably caused several villages to be submerged. The villagers were relocated.
The road that slices through the Bicaz Gorges (Cheile Bicazului), 20km west of Bicaz, is among Romania’s most spectacular. The gorge twists and turns steeply uphill for 5km, cutting through sheer, 300m-high limestone rocks. At one point, the narrow mountain road runs uncomfortably beneath the overhanging rocks in a section known as the ‘neck of hell’ (Gâtul Iadului).
Tourists staggering around, mouths agape, have brought with them the requisite dozens of artisan stalls, stationed right where visitors park their cars. However, this is mostly forgivable as some of these locally made crafts are actually quite nice. This stretch of road is protected as part of the Hasmas-Bicaz Gorges National Park (Parcul National Hasmas-Cheile Bicazului).
A few kilometers west, you cross into Transylvania’s Harghita County and immediately hit the resort of Lacu Rosu (‘Red Lake’, or Gyilkos tó in Hungarian). The lake gets its famous mystique due to the strange forest of dead tree stumps that juts out of its murky waters at 45 degree angles. While this is considered to be one of Romania’s weirdest natural wonders, don’t get your expectations up too high (like I did) or you’ll be disappointed. It’s just a cool sight and a nice place to picnic. Don’t drive way out of your way to get here.
Legend has it that the ‘red lake’ or ‘killer lake’ was formed from the flowing blood of a group of hapless picnickers who had the misfortune to be sitting beneath the mountainside when it collapsed, crushing them to death. I’m not sure about the blood part, but a landslide did occur in 1838, which led to a natural damming of the Bicaz River, flooding the valley.
The thriving alpine resort you see now sprang up in the 1970s and is still a magnet for partiers and hikers from both Transylvania and Moldavia. There are plenty of hotels and villas, 24-hour stores, tourist markets and even a police station. The ever-resourceful Hungarians here have produced several useful, multilingual guides and maps of the surrounding mountains, replete with trails and lots of useful information. All this information and more is available at the information kiosk by the side of the lake.
A flat, scenic trail circles the lake, and other more demanding trails shoot up to the various peaks, all of which offer stunning views.
From the resort, the main road continues another 26km to Gheorgheni, via the Bucin mountain pass, another twisting snarl of beautiful mountain scenery.