“Visiting Maramures is an extraordinary experience, like walking into a fairy tale or stepping back into medieval Europe” (By Sarah Shuckburgh)
Maramures is located in the geographical heartland of Europe. The part of the county beyond the mountains hedgerow, known as “Historical Maramures”, is a land of wooden churches, mythological richness, impressive landscapes and very ancient customs. While looking ahead to develop, it has preserved the culture, traditions, and lifestyle of a medieval peasant past. With its picturesque countryside of small villages, rolling hills, pastures, and meadows full of wildflowers, Historical Maramures epitomizes all that the rural lifestyle encompasses: interaction with locals is totally refreshing, and visitors have a unique opportunity to step back in time and witness simpler lives. Historical Maramures is like a living museum that is at once within reach yet simultaneously beyond the grasp of the curious traveller.
This is particularly true for the area defined by Mara valley on the west, Cosau valley on the east, and GutaiMountains (characterized by the Rooster’s Peak – Creasta Cocosului – rock formations) on the south.
WWF Romania choose Maramures as a conservation priority area primarily because of its nature values consisting of: a dense hydrographical network belonging entirely to the upper Tisa river basin, the longest tributary of the Danube; forest habitats that are the preferred home of wild mammals like the brown bear, lynx, Carpathian deer, wild boar, fox, squirrel, wolf, deer, hare, marten as well as the specific biotope of many birds and biodiversity-rich grasslands.
WWF ROMANIA has developed an innovative funding mechanism to support nature conservation and a sustainable path of development in the Mara-Cosau-Creasta Cocosului area, in the heart of Historical Maramures. Through this mechanism a link has been established between tourism businesses and protected areas administrators so that the latter have the resources they need to implement conservation measures.
Thus, the area becomes a proper and official ecotourism destination. Gradual steps to achieve this are being made: developing an integrated network of quality tourism services and building a consistent brand identity. The logo created for the area is used as a tool, to help tourists identify those businesses that are operating in a responsible and environmentally-friendly way.
The Explore Maramures programme includes products and services from the ecotourism destination and contributes to the local conservation fund. Choosing to visit Maramures through this programme gives tourists the power and the opportunity to positively influence the way the area and local communities develop.
Be a local in Maramures!
- Go to a religion service in one of the beautiful wooden churches.
- Join the locals for making hay.
- Visit a peasant market to see the local trade in grain, chickens and pigs.
- Go picking berries, herbs and mushroom.
- Learn to prepare polenta, “balmos” or traditional sweets.
- Carve your own wooden spoon or sew a “zgardana” (necklace) of glass beads
Note: A percentage of the cost of the program go toward WWF’s conservation projects in Maramures.
Day 1: Baia Mare – Breb
Arrival in Baia Mare. Transfer to Breb (52 km) by minibus. Arrival at the guesthouse.
Free time. Lunch at the guesthouse.
In the afternoon, you are free to wander around Breb village, an authentic open-air museum. Enjoy the amazing, luxuriant surroundings and take in the beauty of the wild flowers. Take advantage of the quiet narrow pathways – where no more than a person can go through at a time – which go up and down through people’s yards and onto the pastures bordering the small village. The village has taken its current name of Breb in 1715. On the 20th of September it is mentioned as Viata Olahalis or Hodpataka, which could be translated as “the village of the creek with brebi”, where breb stands for “beaver”. The village still preserves important historical sites: the wooden church, built probably in 1531, significantly altered between the 18th and the 19th centuries, as well as the former Greek-Catholic confessional school.
Dinner at guesthouse.
Day 2: Creasta Cocosului – Gutai Mountains
Walk from the guesthouse to Creasta Cocosului (1394.7 m), the most beautiful peak in Gutai volcanic mountains. A red-cross marked pathway starts from Breb village, going through Taul Morarenilor and Taurile Chendroaiei before reaching, after about three and a half hours, Creasta Cocosului. Taurile Chendroaiei are two small lakes – remnants of a glacier lake – mirroring the spectacular Creasta Cocosului. Both are about 5 meters wide, and 10 and 15 meters long, respectively. Surrounding them, on the former surface of the glacier lake is the “tinov” – a raised surface of about 4 meters high – an active peat moor created in the bog area left by the drying glacier lake. The peat in this grassy marsh is considerably thick, up to 8 meters.
Creasta Cocosului – is one of the most spectacular andesite landforms, shaped as a rooster’s crest – as its name indicates in Romanian – and is part of the volcanic cone which erupted nine million years ago; it offers the best panorama of Tibles and Ignis Mountains, while providing a habitat for lynx and predatory birds, important at European level: the golden eagle and the lesser spotted eagle. Your guide will offer you some insights about how habitats are connected to protect big carnivore mammals in the area.
Have a packed lunch up on Creasta Cocosului.
The descent follows the “red ribbon” trail for about two hours, until reaching Pintea Viteazul Inn. Minibus transfer to Budesti, where your visit continues on a traditional wagon pulled by horses through Budesti and Sarbi.
Similarly to Breb, Budesti and Sarbi are villages where you will appreciate how the local communities value their wood. You will visit the wooden church of Josani, a UNESCO world heritage site and you will socialize with the locals in their traditional houses. The iconic architectural elements to focus on here are the famous wood-sculptured gates typical for Maramures.
The wooden church of Budesti-Josani (a UNESCO world heritage site since December 1999) is a place of worship displaying “cheotori” (wooden clasps) from 1643, considered a “magnificent” construction for its age and long time afterwards. The building, the biggest wooden church in historical Maramures, is impressive in size and artistic value, adorned with popular murals from 1762.
Sarbi village displays a great array of finely sculpted wooden gates. It is worth stopping to take a look at the traditional, water-actioned mechanical systems: the mill, batoza (the water-powered thresher), piua (a thumping device in which heavy wooden beams pummel hot, wet sheep wool into felt for coats, waistcoats and blankets), valtoarea (a washing machine which tumbles clothes in a churning pool), the palinca-making devices – examples of peasants’ ingenuity, still used today for cereal processing and washing woolen fabrics. In Sarbi village there are many highly-skilled craftsmen – hay and wood chips hat makers, who add a final touch to the traditional costumes in Maramures; sheepskin coats and breastplates makers; wood sculptors creating, among others, surprising horinca bottles, in which a spinning wheel or a wooden ladder seem to miraculously appear out of nowhere.
Dinner at guesthouse.
Day 3: Ride on the Mocanita train
Breakfast at 6 am. Departure to Viseu de Sus, at 7 am, on the minibus. Mocanita will depart the station at 9 am.
The steam train for tourists has been in circulation since 2000. The trains go up to Paltin station (21.6 km), at about two hours away from Viseu de Sus, reaching a very pleasant point for a layover. Sometimes known as the «Vaser Valley Railway» the forestry railway of Viseu de Sus is a unique example of technical cultural heritage. Travelling over a network of narrow-gauge track (of 760 mm gauge), you can still find wood-burning steam locomotives running alongside several diesels and railcars. The railway winds up the valley with many curves, over bridges and through wild romantic scenery of the Romanian Carpathian Mountains.
While in Paltin, you can spend some time in nature, have a picnic, take in the view from the platform installed on a rock nearby or make a short trip to the Second World War galleries. You can also follow a route (of about 45 minutes) created by WWF and the National Park of Maramures Mountains – a theme route during which you will find out more about the importance of the forest and the area’s biodiversity. You will be guided by a national park ranger.
Lunch at Paltin resort layover. Return to Viseu de Sus train station at 3 pm, the latest.
On your return to Breb, you will briefly stop in Sacel to visit the workshop of one of the most famous ceramics artisans in Maramures. Sacel ceramics is one of the oldest and most important type of traditional pottery in Romania.
Optional stop at Ieud – a 14th century-old town with a wooden church and an etnographic museum. The church is made of pine wood, and some researchers consider it the oldest wooden construction in Europe. “The Ieud Codex”, a document from 1391, was found in the church’s attic and is considered the first writing in Romanian.
Visit to Barsana – a little town with a wooden church and monastery, famous around the country and beyond. The Church of the Presentation of the Virgin was built in 1720 and was moved to its current location in 1806. According to the legend, the church has been moved so that the souls of those killed by plague could rest peacefully in the shadows of the worship place. Further down, on the left side of the road, you will see Toader Barsan’s workshop, a renowned wood craftsman at national and international level. His son, Ioan Barsan, has inherited his talent and skill and continues the tradition, along his father. By the southern exit from the village stands Barsana Monastery, probably one of the most visited places in Maramures. Go in and enjoy a unique feeling emanating from the surroundings. Most of the buildings here are open to visitors.
In the evening you will learn how to make homemade bread and traditional cakes – you will visit one of the village housewives who will show you how to batter the dough, and while it rises, you will help prepare a cake typical for Maramures. Dinner will blend in perfectly with your freshly baked, warm bread, while desert will leave you with the sweet aftertaste of Maramures.
Dinner at guesthouse.
Day 4: Be a local…in Maramures! Celebrate in the afternoon, along with the local artisans
Free time in the morning for various optional activities.
You can stay in Breb and enjoy the guesthouse’s peacefulness. Get a book and read under the shadows of the trees, on one of the wooden benches or on of the swings in the garden. Or just sit and relax listening to the sound of the stream passing just outside the backyard.
Or, during summer and autumn, join the locals heading for the pastures to mow the grass and gather the hay. You can learn how to cut the grass with a mower, how to gather it using a wooden fork, how to dry it and make haystacks.
If you’re visiting Maramures in the fall – join the locals for the plum harvest and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to help with making horinca (or palinca) (optional activity). Horinca is a staple product in Maramures and one of its best ambassadors. Maramures horinca is 100% natural, created using a traditional fermentation process, then distilled in copper cauldrons, on a wood fire. Distillation entails two phases – in order to obtain the 50% alcoholic strength and to refine and purify its final taste. Its preparation makes it special and sought after by everybody who gets a taste of it, making it a cultural brand par excellence. The locals care a lot about their traditional beverage, consistently saying no to whiskey or any other hard liquor. When you’re toasting with the host, make sure you drink up before putting your glass down. Otherwise, you might upset or bring them bad luck.
Do you like fresh cow’s milk? How about ewe-cheese and eggs? But do you know what route they take before ending up on your plate? If you’re curious, you can help your hosts by feeding the chicken, taking care of the cows and milking them or helping out with preparing cheese (optional activity).
You could even visit the village blacksmith (optional activity). With a bit of luck, you will see how he puts shoes on horses, following a centuries-old ritual. Take a look at how a horseshoe is made and how it’s put on. Horses are brought here about four times a year, and winter horseshoes are different from summer ones. The blacksmith also needs an assistant – making the horseshoes requires rhythmically beating the iron, switching between two hammers at the same time; putting the shoes on requires even more help for holding the horse and its legs. The mouldy horseshoe is fixed with special nails, pierced through the hoof wall. It is said that horse shoes are lucky charms, so if you ever find one by the side of the road, don’t leave it behind!
You can also choose to visit a weaver (optional activity). Women in Maramures have craftily used a loom to clothe their family, to decorate their homes and churches. Sewing needles and tired eyes during long winter nights have produced clothes and carpets, togs and cloths, bags, big or small, tablecloths and beddings. Each guesthouse had a “ruda” – the good room preserving the girls’ dowry, comprising of wool and hemp woven fabrics and everything else required by an orderly household. Fabrics vary in colour and pattern, according to their function and value. Carpets have geometrical patterns, with contrasting colours, while their edges are adorned with human figures and traditional scenes. Towels come in flashy colours, in powerful tones of red and black, with sizeable motifs, resembling those on carpets. Cloths are colored in two, up to four colors. Authentic fabrics are dyed in natural colours, extracted from plants and tree bark. Over the summer, women pick up flowers and leaves, roots and treebark and use them to dye the wool, weaving pagan and Christian symbols into wonderful carpets.
Enjoy the sitting (“sezatoarea”) in the afternoon. Local artisans will gather in the Marioara Guesthouse garden – you will learn to make beaded collars, traditional masks and hats – the clop, the traditional hat in Maramures; you will encounter craftsmen producing agricultural tools such as ashwood forks and racks, designed for gathering the hay and grass, as well as carpenters highly skilled in making crosses; you will learn how to weave baskets of different shapes and sizes, hand or back baskets to carry food or wood. We will show you how to make cloths and spin wool. But how could you leave Maramures without finding out more about its traditional costumes and even trying a typical shirt? You’ll be amazed to hear that an old-fashioned, handmade shirt can take a whole winter to be finished!
While enjoying all this, you will also relish a background of songs and dances performed by a group of teenagers (locally known as “coconi”).
*Sitting will be organized only for groups of minimum 8 persons.
Have dinner by the fire – Marioara will prepare a special menu!
Day 5: Ignis Plateau
This day is dedicated to natural protected areas and traditional agriculture on Ignis Plateau. Travel by minibus through Tatarului Gorge, then by foot along the sunny pastures and deep forests, while discovering how nature is benefitting people, providing them with local plant remedies for every ailment. You will also learn more about the pastoral history of the area, which still provides lush and biodiversity pastures. Your guide will include information about the conservation work done in collaboration with local shepherds, aimed at restoring abandoned fields.
Have lunch at a traditional sheep cot on the plateau. You will be able to join the shepherds in their day-to-day activities: you will learn to milk the sheep, prepare the ewe and green cheese – while the shepherds will offer you an insight into their lifestyles high in the mountains. Lunch will include polenta, ewe and green cheese, lamb sour soup and marble cake. In Maramures, preparing polenta is made in various ways; in the past, it could also substitute bread when wheat flour was hard to find. The balmos, made of sheep cheese, milk and polenta, is the shepherds’ specialty.
In the afternoon visit the wooden church in Manastirea Village (Giulesti), built on a former place of worship built in 1560 and brought down in 1782, during the reign of emperor Joseph the Second. The old little church includes a bell from 1679, hidden in a wooden bell-tower and rung using two ropes found in the narthex, as well as a funeral stone from 1712. Here, in the only church in the village, unlike in most historical, heritage churches in Maramures, two priests still hold Sunday and holiday services, one for the Greek-Catholic, the other, for the Orthodox locals.
Visit Desesti wooden church, a UNESCO world heritage site. In 1717, after the Tartar invasion, the legend says the church was burnt down. Just one stone was left and tradition had not allowed the villagers to build another church in that place. The location was not the most fortunate, as many had died there, trying to put out the fire. Locals have tried five times to choose a new site for the construction. The fifth time they rolled the stone and it remained vertical, they chose the new church location. Its patron is Saint Paraschiva.
Dinner at a traditional trout farm, where locals have ingeniously managed to use the advantages provided by natural resources to preserve traditions.
Day 6: Visiting the virgin forest of Strambu-Baiut
Ride the minibus to Strambu-Baiut, a former mining town. Today the mines are closed, but exiting the town you will be able to see how coal is made. However, the main purpose of the trip is visiting one of the few remaining virgin forests in Europe, where human intervention is almost absent and about 30,000 species still live in harmony. Your hike will start along the forest route leading to the WWF protected areas in Grosii Tiblesului Mountains. You will go through a theme track, learning about the forest’s uniqueness, its flora and fauna, the last giant trees in Maramures and responsible forest management basics.
Lunch at a local guesthouse.
Free time during the afternoon. Optional, you can choose to learn how to make traditional jams and syrups or how to preserve vegetables for winter. But first you must pick the fruits and vegetables. Depending on the season, you can make berry, apple or plum jams or syrups. You can also stew or pickle the vegetables.
Dinner at guesthouse.
Day 7: Sapanta and Sighetu Marmatiei
Visit two renowned towns in Maramures: Sapanta and Sighetu Marmatiei
The Merry Cemetery, an important touristic attraction, has made Sapanta famous. Legends say that the Dacians would receive death cheerily, as they believed in eternal life and saw their passing away only as a passage to another world. They didn’t see death as something tragic, but as a chance to meet Zamolxe, their supreme god. The cemetery dates back from the mid 1930s and was created by Stan Ion Patras, a popular sculptor, painter and poet. His creativity brought to light this monumental, well-known work of art. For more than 50 years, the artist has created hundreds of wooden crosses bearing humorous inscriptions. Each cross displays an epitaph evocating a significant fact from the dead person’s life. Patras died in 1977 and was buried in this cemetery, close to the church; he had designed his own cross before dying and his work is taken further by his apprentice, Dumitru Pop Tincu, who lives in his master’s house, which is also a museum. About 10 crosses are made every year.
Visit also Sapanta-Peri Monastery, with its patron, St. Archangel Michael, sober and imposing, rising at 78 m above the ground! Currently, this monastery is the highest wooden church in the world, being included in the Guinness World Records.
Lunch in a local restaurant.
During the afternoon, visit two of the most important attractions in Sighetu Marmatiei: the Maramures Village Museum (an open-air museum) and the Maramures Etnographic Museum. The former includes monuments in rural style architecture and aims to recreate a typical village, with households grouped according to the main historical areas in Maramures. At the Maramures Etnographic Museum, get a close look of objects used throughout history in basic activities around Maramures. The Etnographic museum also exhibits wooden and glass icons, traditional clothing, masks and costumes worn during the winter holidays, etc.
Transfer in the afternoon from Sighet to Baia Mare.
- 6 overnights with breakfast included, based on double occupancy at guesthouse in Breb, as well as board, hereafter described
- 4 dinners at Marioara Guesthouse – set menu (3 courses dinner, including horinca, afinata, house wine, jugs of tap water)
- suplement for 1 traditional dinner at Marioara Guesthouse
- suplement for 1 dinner at the trout farm, set menu (3 courses dinner based on fish, including jugs of tap water)
- 2 lunches at Marioara Guesthouse (3 courses lunch, including soup, main course, dessert, jugs of tap water)
- 1 packed lunch on day 3, on Creasta Cocosului (sandwich, 1 fruit, one bottle of mineral water 0,5 l)
- 1 cold lunch on day 4, at Paltin (barbeque lunch, one bottle of mineral water 0,5 l)
- 1 lunch at a traditional sheep cot
- 1 lunch on day 7, at a local guesthouse in Strambu-Baiut area (3 courses dinner, including jugs of tap water)
- 1 lunch at Casa Iurca in Sighetu Marmatiei (3 courses dinner, including jugs of tap water)
- English speaking local guide for 7 days during the stay in Maramures
- private transport by bus from day 1 to day 7, according with the above program
- return train ticket: Mocanita Viseu de Sus – Paltin
- small donation for churches in Breb, Budesti, Manastirea Village, Desesti, Sapanta-Peri
- visit to water-actioned mechanical systems in Sarbi
- visit to a local wood carver
- carriage ride in Budesti and Sarbi
- experiences: a day at a sheepfold, how to make homemade bread and traditional cakes
- extrance fee at Maramures Village Museum and Ethnographic Museum in Sighetu Marmatiei
- Maramures travel guide with useful information
Not included :
- Experiences: how to mow the grass and gather the hay, how to make horinca, visit of a blacksmith and a weaver, how to make traditional jams and syrups or how to preserve vegetables for winter
- Visit of the church in Ieud
- Medical insurance
- Traditional sitting including folk show on day 4
- Optional activities depend on the season (e.g. horinca distillation can only be made during the fall; Sheep Sambra takes place only at the beginning of May, etc), the weather and on other social and cultural events taking place in the area.
- The sitting will be organized for minimum 8 people. If the group is smaller, there will be organized visits to local artisans, for a fee.
- Depending on when you’re visiting Maramures, you can take part in other local social and cultural events: weddings, traditional dancing and singing festivals, church celebrations, artisan reunions, etc.
- The daily schedule can change according to the weather, to local social and cultural events, without any fundamental change to the program’s structure.
Tariff for optional excursions: please click here
WWF is a global organization with strong local impact, which in 2011 celebrated 50 years in the field of nature conservation.
The panda, which is the organization’s symbol, stands today for the movement to save endangered species and wildlife habitats across the globe.
In Romania, WWF works since 2006 to protect the wildlife found in the Carpathians and along the Danube: protected areas, forests, brown bears, the Danube Delta, and sturgeons. To this we can also add stimulating the transition to green economy and an environmental education program for young people.
For instance, in 2011 WWF-Romania developed the Save the virgin forests! campaign, with over 100,000 allies who have signed the petition to fully protect these forests. In 2012 a special law was issued which clearly defines the criteria for identification of virgin forests and grants the ones identified a status of strictly protected forests. In 2007, WWF created Earth Hour, a global event appreciated more and more each year, which is also celebrated in Romania since 2009.
WWF Romania is also present in Maramureș, area where the organization implements projects related to ecotourism, FSC certification of forests, the conservation of brown bear and its habitat or the preservation of high nature value farmland.
Our conservation work in Maramureș is also the main reason behind our partnership with Explore Travel. In 2013 we initiated our collaboration with the aim of building a sustainable tourism program for the area, that could contribute to the preservation of the valuable natural and cultural heritage of Maramureș.