The Piatra Craiului Mountains are a mountain range in the Southern Carpathians in Romania. In Romanian “Piatra Craiului” means “Rock of the King”.
The Piatra Craiului mountains form a narrow and saw-like ridge, which is about 25 km (16 mi) long. The highest elevation in the massif is the “Vârful La Om” at 2,238 metres (7,343 ft).
The ridge is regarded as one of the most beautiful sites in the Carpathians. The two-day north–south ridge trail is both challenging and rewarding. Starting at either Plaiul Foii in the north-west or Curmătura in the north-east, walkers climb up to the ridge before following a somewhat precarious path along the narrow spine. The descent at the southern end leads into a karsts landscape of deep gorges and pitted slopes where water penetrating the rock has carved a series of caves.
The massif is bordered in the west by the Dâmbovița Valley which separates it from the Păpuşa massif; in the north-west the river Bârsa and Curmătura Foii separates it from the Făgăraș Mountains and in the east the “Rucăr-Bran Passage” delimits it from the Bucegi and Leaotă mountains. The southern border is the confluence of the valleys of Dâmbovița and Dâmbovicioara rivers, in the “Podul Damboviței” depression.
The whole range is included in the national park Parcul Național Piatra Craiului (Piatra Craiului National Park).
The first protection of this area started in 1938 when 4.4 km2 (2 sq mi) were declared as a “Nature Reserve”. The Law 5/2000 enlarged this area to 148 km2 (57 sq mi). In 2003 the external limits and internal zoning were created. Since 1999 a park administration has existed and since 2005 a management plan has been in place.
Flora and fauna
In the national park area about 300 fungi species, 220 lichen species, 100 different mosses, 1100 species of superior plants (a third of the number of all plant species found in Romania), 50 Carpathians endemic species and also two endemic species for Piatra Craiului can be found.
There are also two endemic species of spiders, 270 butterfly species, amphibians and reptiles, 110 bird species (50 listed in the Bern Convention and 6 in the Bonn Convention), 17 bat species, chamois and other large herbivores and also many large carnivores (wolves, brown bears, lynx) living in the national park.
Zărneşti is the most important town for visiting the national park. It is also an ideal starting point for approaches in the northern part of the massif. This town lies at a distance of 28 km (17 mi) from the city of Braşov, by road, bus or railway. From Zărnești, an 11 km (7 mi) long road makes the connection with the comfortable chalet “Plaiul Foii”, which is a good starting point for climbing the ridge.
Also, from Zărnești a forest road starts from the south-western part of the town, leading through the Zărnești Gorges (Prăpăstiile) and further up to the ridge.
In Zărnești the office of the administration of the National Park can be found. A new visitor center has been built 1 km (1 mi) west of the town.
The traditional villages Măgura, Peştera, Ciocanu, and Şirnea are interesting starting points for the routes on the eastern slope and for getting in touch with the traditional Romanian way of life.
All tracks are marked very well with different color codings. Recently (2011) a lot of signs have been renewed. Some tracks high on the mountains are very steep. Steel cables are attached to the walls. One track is even called “Lanturi” meaning “chains”. 7 cables can be found here. The old chains have been replaced by steel cables which usually are in reasonable to good condition.
The valleys to the north (Zarnesti and Plaiul Foii ) and east of Piatra Craiului (Dambovicioara) are in weekends more crowded than the valley in the west from Podul Dambovitei to Satic and lake Pecineagu. During the week it is quiet everywhere.
A brand new very steep road starts from Dambovicioara going up to Ciocanu and Sirna eventually reaching the main road to Brasov. It has been build with European funds and should contribute to tourism in the region. It offers a very beautiful view on the Piatra Craiului.
There are bears in this national park. Do not camp in the wild especially in spring when the bears have cubs.
When approaching sheep flogs call for the shepherd as soon as possible to prevent being attacked by Carpathian Shepherd Dogs guarding the herd. Always carry a stick for protection and some stones in the pocket. Shepherd know their dogs and usually react quickly. Better is to circumvent the flog.
Especially in spring wild pigs will attack when accompanied by small ones and suddenly encountered. Be careful on open fields. Get into a tree when being attacked. By the way: normally they will get away when people are approaching. As do bears. Making some noise when walking could be a good idea. Do not walk in the forest during the night.
Be aware for thunderstorms on the ridge. Lightning strikes often here and there are not many ways to descent. The shelters on the Piatra Craiului ridge are said to be save when trapped on the ridge in lightning. One shelter is near the summit “la Om” on the ridge.
Take enough water from the few springs at the foot of the mountain before ascending. No water can be found on the ridge and the way is long. Ask locals for locations of springs. On some trails they can hardly be found.
Casa Konigstein (Piatra Craiului in Sachsen) is situated in the village of Sirnea (Part of Fundata) on a 1,5 hectare domain, overlooking Piatra Craiului and Bucegi. The chalet has 4 separate bedrooms and can easily accommodate 8-10 people. It has a fully equipped kitchen, 2 separate bathrooms, a large fireplace and a huge attic. The chalet is ideal for nature lovers, hikers and bikers, yoga and meditation practitioners and people who enjoy exploring the unspoiled nature and cultural heritage of Transylvania and the Carpathian mountains. For more information on the chalet, please go to www.transylvanianyogaretreat.com
About the author
Peter Jansen is a Dutch national working and living both in Romania and France with his wife and 2 daughters. His wife’s family is from the area and he fell in love with the pureness and authenticity of the place and its people. They decided to build the chalet in 2002, and it took them almost 4 years to finish it due to the changing weather conditions in the mountains. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
(p – this article is an advertorial)