This year I wandered all around the country, but I have never seen such a splendid display of the sky as I enjoyed during my seasonal trips to Oltenia. I chose once more this fruitful region for my last travel account this month in order to celebrate a whimsical year across Romania.
The heart and soul of piedmont Oltenia in terms of craftsmanship, architecture and history is without a doubt the nestled city of Horezu. It can be easily be reached by car as it is in between the cities of Ramnicu Valcea and Targu Jiu. I particularly chose Horezu as it’s not only located at a reasonably close distance from Bucharest, but it also presents a wide range of attractions throughout the year. The little town and its surroundings are well worth a traveler’s while as there are many ingredients creating the perfect combination of culture, adventure and gastronomy, topped with a just a bit of magic.
Geography magic. A few kilometers before entering Horezu, on the left side of the main road a millennia old curiosity unravels right in front of your eyes: the growing stones. At first glance, the Natural Reserve of Trovanti Museum might seem an open-air art gallery as the neatly shaped rocks look as if sculpted by Master Brancusi himself. The concretions formed on the site of an ancient river delta and are superstitiously believed to grow after each rainfall (in picture below).
History magic. The year was 1516 and there were hard times in piedmont Oltenia where Nan, one of the royal cupbearers erected a culă, a distinctive type of Ottoman tower house, the architectural style most popular of those times. The sturdily built watchtower had a rectangular shape and small windows which were later adorned with firing slits by Nan’s son, Tudor Maldar, one of Mihai Viteazul’s army captains.
Placed right in the middle of a wide meadow for a clear visibility and sealed with a massive oak door, the fortress home of Maldar family prevailed against the Ottoman and Tatar sieges, the outlaw plundering and the boyar rivalry. Since 1830 there were no more attacks and cula Maldarestilor was inherited by one of the royal bakers’ wife, Maria Greceanu, thus changing its name forever. There it is, half a millennium later, still unfaltering above the hills of Oltenia: Cula Greceanu (in opening picture). Built at the beginning of 19th century, Cula Duca is part of Maldaresti Museum Complex alongside Cula Greceanu.
Cultural magic. Among other wonderful things, Horezu is best known locally and abroad as the core of traditional pottery. The artisan potters organize year round workshops welcoming travelers to take a seat behind the potter’s wheel and turn their creativity loose. The ancient decorating technique is also taught, including the significance of ancestral symbolism, chromatics and use of traditional instruments (the cow horn, the goose feather and the wild boar bristle brush). However, the rooster is the most valued figure in Horezu ceramics as it represents the soul resurrection and immortality (in picture). This symbol is appraised during Cocosul de Hurez pottery festival invariably celebrated in the first week of June.
Every artistic journey to Horezu always begins with a visit to the contemporary Popular Art Gallery which hosts impressive proofs of local and national pottery, wood carving and weaving artistry.
Architectural magic. Built in the late 17th century, Hurezi Monastery is one of the finest representations of the Brancovenesc style. Also called the Romanian Renaissance, this architectural style evolved during the reign of Constantin Brancoveanu, a wealthy Wallachian prince, as a harmonious synthesis between Byzantine, Ottoman, late Renaissance and Baroque architecture, blending the elegant and balanced shape with the intricate decorations. The monastery is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage (in picture).
A visit at Hurezi Monastery is well worth not only for the culturally rich meditation, but also for the lunch, which is a simple, yet impressive display of the heavenly cuisine mastered by the nuns in Hurezi Monastery. The meal is perfectly suitable for vegetarians and it is always relished in the monastery’s refectory.
Keen adventure. Buila-Vanturarita National Park and Transalpina road are by far the cyclist heaven for the aficionados, available before the snowfalls. As the Capatanii Mountains are located just a stone’s throw away from Horezu, there is a wide range of hiking trails options including one designated route available the entire year. What I believe to be the utmost holiday sensation is witnessing the archaic process of transhumance especially the moment of sheep and pack mules migrating to higher pastures in mid-May.
The activity calendar for Horezu area is usually crammed with a great deal of yearly goodies, thus one last teaser might work wonders to add a few more bullet points on your travel wish list for the year to come.
May the new year bring you traveling magic all over Romania!
By Alexandra Duta, guest writer