Untraveled paths in Buzau Mountains: snow walking, off-road tours and truffle hunting

Despite being one of the closest travel destinations to Bucharest, Buzau county is widely unknown by tourists as it has not been included in publicised tourist programs- up until now. Romania Business Insider will publish a series of articles about travel destinations in Buzau county. The articles are provided by Monteoru Renaissance, a local tourism development association which has recently launched an initiative to promote the region.

By Thorsten Kirschner

Breathtaking mountains and wild forests, unique natural phenomena, the cradle of Christianity in South-Eastern Europe, a future UNESCO geopark and one of Romania´s best wine regions. Who would have thought that we are talking about Buzau county, just one and a half hours away from Bucharest? For years ignored by the local authorities, tourism kept, though unjustified, a shadowy existence. The local guesthouses association and several local NGOs try to boost the local tourism development.

Buzau county is mainly a weekend destination from April to October. But winter creates an enchanting environment in the Subcarpathian Mountains. Despite missing ski-lifts and slopes, a lot of activities can be done: sledge riding, snow walking, off-road tours and – the latest tourism product – truffle hunting.

Four or five star hotels with complete tourism packages, you will not find in Buzau county. Sometime it may even be difficult to find a restaurant. Do not expect information signs.  Do not forget, you are not in Prahova valley! But three-hour traffic jam are not needed to go to these mountains. This is not a place for these snobby who go to the mountains just to eat and drink. This is the paradise for individualists, nature lovers, discoverers and sportsmen.

Buzau has a quite diverse and picturesque landscape, with sunny wine hills in the Middle and wild mountains in the North and Northwest of the county. Rural tourism is predominant. Most of the well-known guesthouses are fully booked in advance on Christmas and New Year´s Eve. The access to most of the bigger villages is – in case there won’t be an extreme winter- possible without major problems. For smaller streets and higher reaches of the Carpathians, it is recommended to use a -either with a four wheel drive or snow chains. Some smaller mountains villages can then only be reached by walking or by horse. Anyway, it is recommended to book a guided tour if you want to discover the real nature of Buzau county.

Below you will find a short overview of interesting tourist destinations and potential activities for winter tours and vacations:

The best developed tourism destination in Buzau county is Sarata Monteoru -nicknamed “Little Switzerland” due to its wind-protected position in the middle of hills covered with woods. Sarata Monteoru was once a famous spa with tourist coming from all over Europe but nowadays it is a long way from reaching its former glory. Crowded by tourists on summer weekends – who mostly come to swim in the salty waters like in the Dead Sea, Sarata Monteoru is off-season a silent place for recreation and walking in the spacious and hilly forests. Easy to access from Bucharest, Sarata Monteoru is a good place to stay and to discover the region. Wine tasting is possible in one of the numerous wineries of the Dealu Mare (“big hill”) region. A spectacular winter view to the Carpathian Mountains and the Wallachian Plain is possible from the stone church of Naeni, not far away from the open air sculpture camp made by children. Other worthwhile sightseeing objects are Ciolanu

Schitul Cetatuia

monastery and Ratesti monastry. An insider tip is Schitul Cetatuia (a small monastery), just some 30 minutes of walking through the forests from Ciolanu monastery. On the top of this hill, this place was originally chosen by King Carol to build the Peles castle. Locals say that it was God´s will to build a monastery instead.

30 kilometres away from Sarata Monteoru you can find the muddy volcanoes of Berca. Gas from 30.000 meters underground pushes water and clay to the surface. The area is full of small cones of mud which look like volcanoes. In freezing winters without snow the wild, the moon-like landscape is even much more spectacular. Follow the signs of “muddyland” instead of going where all the tourists go. There you will find much bigger volcanoes without any entrance fee.

Real nature and mountain lovers will enjoy the surroundings of Chiojdu and Gura Teghii where you really can find untraveled paths for off-road experience, snow-walking and sledge-riding. An extraordinary destination is the Eagle Lake (Lacul Vulturilor), a periglacial lake in the Siriu Mountains, located at 1,420 meter altitude. The legend says that eagles come here to draw strenghts. The area has an abundant flora and fauna, even wild horses can be seen. The Eagle Lake can only be reached with an off-road car and an experienced local guide.

Winter time is also a perfect period to discover regional products and cultural traditions. Local NGOs try to boost sustainable tourism by promoting culture traditions of the region.

One of the new offers for tourists is “Nunta la Buzau” (Buzau wedding). Tourist groups can book a show taking place in of the local guest houses to see a traditional wedding spectacle with music and dance. Another tourism offer is made of culinary tours to the region, including cooking classes for local food, wine tasting and wine making courses and – the latest tourism product – truffle hunting. Being on the same latitude as Piemont in Italy, it has been recently discovered that Buzau county and its forests are an excellent place for truffle hunting. The main period for truffle hunting is from autumn till spring, where special courses and trips are organised also originating from Bucharest.

In Buzau you can still find people explaining natural treasures of the forests and mountains, some of them only living from what they find in the nature. The discovery of untraveled paths in Buzau county is a truly different tourism experience. More information on Buzau County and offers of local tour operators you can find here.

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Thorsten Kirschner holds a master degree in International Business and Cultural Studies and has been working as international development and export consultant for more than ten years all over the world. He has been living in Romania since 2009 and is passionate about traveling. He is co-founder of Monteoru Renaissance, a tourism development association of Buzau county, and of Carpathian Tourism Cluster Romania, Romania´s first supra-regional tourism cluster.