Romania is one of Europe’s better ski and snowboard centers, though prices are rising quickly and word on the street is that cheaper ski vacations can be had in Austria. The word on Romania skiing has been out for years and, indeed, personal space is starting to become an issue in some areas, but this is for good reason. The Carpathian Mountains have scenery that rivals Switzerland’s and full-service resorts like Sinaia, Predeal and Poiana Brasov. Roughly, Sinaia offers excellent downhill skiing, Poiana Brasov is arguably the best resort, and Predeal is better suited for beginners. If you’re looking for longer distance ski treks, Fagaras Mountain is tops.
The ski season runs from about December to mid-March, with the best deals typically available at the extreme ends of the season. You can hire gear at most places (15-25 euros per day). Ski passes at the major resorts are sold on a point system; ten trips up a chairlift will run about 10-15 euros. Five and seven day ski courses are avaiable (70-100 euros adults; 50-70 euros for kids).
Like much of Romania, the equipment and services are not quite at Western European levels (though this gap is closing), but non-elitists should be perfectly satisfied. For some Romania ski chatter, check out the forum at Ski in Romania, which also lists snowfall information.
For information on great skiing expeditions outside the main resorts, check out Ski Touring in Fagaras Mountains run by the Romanian mountain guide Iulian Cozma.
The hiking in Romania’s mountains is spectacular, understandably making it the most popular sport in Romania. By and large, Transylvania and Moldavia are where the best journeys are waiting. A book can be (and probably has been) written about the Carpathians alone. The most popular areas are the Bucegi and Fagaras ranges, south and west of Brasov. Alternatively, there’s Retezat National Park, northwest of Targu Jiu; the Apuseni Mountains, southwest of Cluj-Napoca; around Paltinis, west of Sibiu; and the less-popular (read: not crowded) Rarau Mountains and Ceahlau Massif, both in Moldavia.
Trails are generally well marked, and cabanas, huts, and even hotels are littered throughout these areas allowing for multi-day treks. Furthermore, shorter, day-treks are profuse both in the Transylvanian mountains or between monasteries in Moldavia.
Both individual and guided group hikes are available. If you’re undecided or inexperienced, opt for a guided hike not only for your safety, but also because having a local guide will undoubtedly allow you to get more out of the experience. Some youth hostels (like the Retro Hostel in Cluj-Napoca) offer weekly, guided excursions. Two highly recommended hiking/trekking guides are Iulian Cozma and the folks at Active Travel.
Hiking maps of varying quality are available, but often elusive. Start in big city bookstores or the nearest tourist office (when available!). There are still some communist-era maps floating around, with the detail and quality that you might expect, still they’re better than nothing. Cartografica are great if you can find them, and Amco Press may have something that’s not completely useless.
With all those mountains cluttering up the place, it’ll come as no surprise to hear that rock climbing is another growing sport in Romania. One of the best places to start is in and around the Piatra Craiului National Park (no English on this site, but pretty pictures!). Also, the Bicaz Gorge offers spectacular challenges. Green Mountain Holidays near Cluj-Napoca organises hiking, climbing and other tours.
Romania has some excellent mountain-biking terrain (even some of the ‘roads’ will give you a run for your money!). There are biking clubs in Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu, Oradea and Targu Mures. You can also rent bikes at Active Travel in Brasov who also organize mountain biking tours. There are plateaus on the mountains at Sinaia and Busteni that’ll please the top-of-the-world types. Biking can be a great way to see Transylvania, Moldavia, Maramures and the Banat regions, but be warned biking is still growing in popularity and Romanian drivers unaccostomed to sharing the road much patience for bikers on paved roads and will cut you off, buzz you or absent-mindedly crowd you without a care in the world. In this case, the best defense is a paranoid defense.
Clubul de Cicloturism Napoca (their web site has been neglected, but some pages still work) in Cluj can offer advice for cycling in the region and organizes summer tours. Additionally, Transylvania Adventure, in Satu Mare, also offers good biking tours.
Romania has over 12,000 caves (pestera), with only a few open to tourism. The staggering Pestera Ghetarul de la Scarisoara ice cave in the Apuseni Mountains and the 3566m-long Pestera Muierii (‘Women’s Cave’) are very popular. The former will fry (or frost) your brainstem; the latter is much less impressive, but more accessible. Furthermore, there is popular Pestera Ursilor (‘Bear Cave’), northwest of Oradea.
Though some caves can be explored by just showing up or via arrangements with travel agencies, you’d probably better contact Romania’s main speleological organizations, which have practical details and advice and the occasional trip of their own! The Romanian Speleological Foundation (Romanian only) has its head office in Oradea and branches in Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca. The Emil Racovita Institute of Speleology has offices in Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca. GESS (tele. + 40 (0) 241-756 422) is an ecological group in Northern Dobrogea involved in marine and cave biology; a great bunch, they occasionally organize exploratory and diving trips to the famous Movile cave near Mangalia.
Most of Romania’s caves are not open to the public, usually because they are dangerous to explore and visitors would destroy the caves’ delicate ecosystems.
Five minutes in Romania and you’ll know how horse-dependent the country is, even now. Usually used for ploughing, pulling logs, transporting crops and overall transport, Romanians rarly use horses for leisure. Well, tourism straightened that situation out! The Carpathians have a network of trails leading to some of the country’s most beautiful and remote areas, all accessible by horseback. Riding Holidays in Transylvania, north of Brasov, are a top notch operation. There are horse tours that originate in Cluj-Napoca. Prices range from 50-100 euros per person per day depending on the tour, including lodging, equipment and meals.