Six hundred nuns live at Varatec Monastery, 7km south of the Agapia turn-off along 15C. The monastery was founded in 1785 and houses an icon museum and a small embroidery school.
The main church was whitewashed in 1841 and incorporates neoclassical elements in its design. Compared to other nearby monasteries, Varatec looks like a modern villa complete with a small botanic garden. The interior is lavishly decorated in paintings, frescos, silver and bronze impressions and an opulent chandelier.
You can hike to Varatec from Agapia (2 hours) and to Secu, Sihastria and Schitu Sihlei Monasteries along clearly marked trails. There are four daily buses to Varatec from Târgu Neamt.
The forest and woods surrounding these monasteries and stretching north to the village of Grosi are protected as the Vânatori-Neamt Forest Park. Its headquarters and information centre are in Varatec, on the main road to the monastery. The information centre is a good place to start before any drive or hike through the region; they have detailed maps of hiking trails and can alert you as to whether any side roads have been closed or blocked. The park is also home to Dragos Voda Bison Reserve, where several bison live in semi-captivity. There are also small reserves protecting old patches of oak and birch forest.
To comfortably access Varatec, Agapia and Sihla monasteries on foot, aim for a guesthouse on the road to Agapia, which offers a shortcut back-road leading to Varatec.
In the villages of Agapia and Varatec, dozens of attractive homes have cazare signs in their windows, and guesthouses abound.