This summer I plan to visit most of the traveling spots that my own country, Romania, has to offer. I was born here, I was raised here, but I realized that I have not seen even half of what my own gorgeous country has to offer. So I drew up a map with the places I found most interesting, and they amount to a whopping number – 61. Some of these must-see places I’ve already seen – but it was in a time when I was very young and I couldn’t enjoy them properly.
The first step in making this map/itinerary was figuring out which places I wanted to visit (obviously). Then, for ease and for a more efficient way of traveling, I tried grouping them based on their closeness to each other. That is why some of these articles will be just day trips, some weekend long trips, and some will probably take even more days.
Last weekend was the perfect time to start tackling locations off my list. It was one of the first real summer weekends, work had winded down and I jumped at the chance to get right into it: went on a road trip and shaved off 4 locations of my itinerary. Here’s one of hopefully many Romanian Wanderings articles I will write this summer: Romanian Wanderings: Sunday Daytrip.
IN A NUTSHELL
This was a pretty short day trip, at least from where I live – left at noon and got back at 8 pm that evening. So it’s your perfect Sunday drive. The four locations off my list for this weekend were:
Dintr-un Lemn(One Wood Monastery)
- Muzeul Trovanților (Trovants Museum)
- Horezu Monastery
- Cozia Monastery
You will notice that three of those places are monasteries. I promise you, this is not a pilgrimage and I don’t plan on going on one anytime soon. Old churches and monasteries in Romania are NOT just a place of worship and therefore you don’t need to be religious to enjoy what they are, and what they used to be. They are historical monuments due to their place in shaping Romania’s past, or they are architectural masterpieces, or they were at their time important cultural centers, or they are the resting place of important Romanian leaders. As it happens, Romania has A LOT of monasteries and churches that are famous for not necessarily religious reasons.
Mânăstirea Dintr-un Lemn (One Wood Monastery)
The first stop on the road was at Mânăstirea Dintr-un Lemn (One Wood Monastery). It’s a historical monument built in 1635 whose name derives from the legend that it was made from wood from a single oak tree. It’s located in the Dezrobesti village which is 30 km away from the nearest city, Ramnicu Valcea. The whole monastic establishment (meaning church, monastery and courtyard) is very beautiful and like most Romanian religious establishments invokes a sense of peace.
The legend behind it (if you believe that sort of thing) is as follows: a monk found an icon of the Virgin Mary in the hollow of a secular oak. He also says that he heard a voice that prompted him to build a church from that secular oak tree in that exact spot. The church was erected in honor of the found Icon of the Virgin Mary, an icon still preserved today in the monastery’s stone church. The icon is pretty large, 1.5 m high with 1 m wide. Based on this tradition, the monastic settlement here is named One Wood.
It’s place worth seeing, especially if you’re religious. And especially if you’re going to other places on this list, as it’s in your way. However, keep in mind that other than what I’ve wrote here and what you see in the photos below, there’s nothing really spectacular about it. It took me about 10-15 minutes to see everything. So making a trip just to see this particular monastery wouldn’t really be worth your while. Also, the last leg of the trip, about 5 km, is riddled with potholes and at places it has no asphalt all together.
Muzeul Trovanților (Trovants Museum)
The second stop was at this outside museum of weird looking rocks called trovants. As I eventually found out, it’s actually a natural geological reservation. It’s located in the village of Costesti, about 38 km away from the nearest city, Ramnicu Valcea. The area is under UNESCO patronage. Apparently there are several spots in the country where these rocks form and this is the second best location in the country. Fun fact: New Zealand also has similar looking rocks and they grow in spherical shapes.
Trovant, in Romanian means an ellipsoidal portion of a layer of sand or a friable sandstone cemented by water with limestone and other minerals. To put it simply, it’s a form of sand that in contact with water becomes cemented. The trovants are also remarkable due to their tendency to grow. Yes, ROCKS THAT GROW. Basically, the inside material of these rocks are much harder than the outside layer, and when they are touched by rain water, the grow from the inside to the outside due to the pressure that forms inside. They grow on average 4-5 cm in 1200 years. What’s pretty cool about this reservation is that it has huge rocks, each weighting a few tonnes. So if they grown 4-5 cm in a thousand years, you can imagine how old some of these rocks are.
The reservation is very small, so it will take you about 10-15 minutes to visit and take it all in. Again, not worth the trip just to see it, but it’s a nice stop on your way to Horezu Monastery for example. It’s just off the road, and the location is marked by a fence made of tires.
The third stop was at the Horezu Monastery, part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Located in Horezu, about 43km from Râmnicu Vâlcea, the monastery was founded in 1690 by Constantin Brâncoveanu, at the time Prince of Wallachia (side note: Romania was formed when after several unions spanning a few decades all major provinces – Wallachia, Transylvania, and Moldavia joined together to form a country). The Prince Constantin Brancoveanu was supposed to be buried here, per his wishes, but due to the politics of the time was buried at the New St. George Church in Bucharest, after many efforts.
The Horezu Monastery is built on top of a hill and it has the largest monastic establishment in the country. The name Horezu derives from the Romanian huhurez, a type of wood owl. At the time it was built, there was no surrounding villages or cities, and it is said that the silence was interrupted only by the cries of the wood owls in the area. The monastery and its surrounding establishment are quite beautiful, and it certainly gives you a sense of peace and tranquility. As with Cozia below, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once, especially if you’re Romanian. Not only due to its historical significance but also because of its architecture, sculpture and diverse paintings. Visit here takes about 30 minutes.
In addition, the Horezu area is quite famous in its craftsmanship of pottery products. So famous in fact that the craftsmanship of Horezu pottery is inscribed on UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists since 2012. The artisans produce a quite unique type of Romanian pottery in an arduous, by hand process.
Fourth and last stop was at Cozia Monastery, in Calimanesti, 20 km away from Ramnicu Valcea. It was erected by Mircea the Elder in 1388 and houses his tomb. Mircea the Elder was Voivode of Wallachia (voivode = governor, a term used in the middle ages in the slavic regions) from 1386 until his death, and he is considered one of our most important leaders, as he brought stability to Wallachia, an area perpetually historically politically volatile.
Built along the river Olt, Cozia Monastery is a valuable monument of medieval art and architecture in Romania. It was in its prime a strong cultural center having birthed the first Romanian poet, a Slavic Romanian Lexicon and several schools in the area, including one on its premises. Also, in its long history, the monastery took different roles, such as prison in 1879, a hospital at one point and a horse stable during the First World War. As such, it has a few manuscripts and old books exposed in the monastery’s little museum.
As with Horezu above, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once, especially if you’re Romanian. And while you’re here, you can also take a boat tour on the river Olt. I found out too late about it, but that would have been really cool to do.
I didn’t stop at all to eat at either of these places. As it happens I had a pretty big brunch before leaving and was quite well from that standpoint throughout the day. If you want to stop for a nice bite to eat, then probably Ramnicu Valcea is your best bet, as it’s a pretty large town – plenty of restaurants to choose from and it’s practically in the middle of these four locations. Also, in Calimanesti next to Cozia there are a few places to choose from.
I had a pretty nice Sunday afternoon visiting these four places. It was also an easy trip for me since I’ve been quite a lot in the area where these locations are. They are basically near or close to E81, an important and well travelled road in Romania. Also, growing up in Romania I had been before to Cozia and Horezu. They both are popular destinations for school trips in my area. But as I said before, can’t quite remember.
To give you a clearer picture: the only thing I remember from my trip to Horezu (mom swears I’ve seen them both in that trip) is how I took a tumble down a valley where the bus stopped for a picnic. And the almost perfect parallel scratches I got on my arms and got to keep for a long time
Did you enjoy me Romanian Wanderings: Sunday Daytrip article? Do you have questions, comments or concerns? Leave me a note below or contact me, I would love to hear from you!