Blooms, Caves, Waterfalls: The Fascinating World of the Western Carpathians

Western Carpathians in Bloom, Romania

The Western Carpathians of Romania are fascinating all year round. The mountain range protecting the Transylvanian Basin on the western side is particularly rich in natural landscapes. In my opinion, you can visit it yearly for an entire lifetime and you still wouldn’t get to see all it has to offer. The area is especially scenic in the months of Spring, when the snow is melting in the mountains, waterfalls are abundant, and petite, colorful flowers start to bloom. We were lucky enough to experience this captivating rebirth of nature firsthand, and now I’m here to tell the tale.

When you start planning your Spring trip through the Western Carpathians, you should know that you’ll be needing a car. Driving is the best way to get to these places, since most areas are not served by public transportation at all. I believe this itinerary can virtually be done in a single weekend, but I truly recommend prolonging your stay if you can, for a more in-depth experience. Furthermore, this article highlights a few must-sees in the northern part of the Apuseni Mountains, which will be followed by a second article later on about remarkable places in the southern area of the mountain range, so stay tuned for that. For now, check out a few highlights you should definitely visit in the Spring months in the Western Carpathians:

Vălul Miresei Waterfall in Răchițele

Kicking off our list is the most famous waterfall in Cluj County, called Vălul Miresei (which translates to Bride’s Veil), also known as Răchițele Falls (hinting to the village bearing the same name nearby). It lies at about 1,000 meters in the eastern part of the Vlădeasa Mountains, and is quite easily reachable via a newly-paved road. Once you reach the parking lot with the sign saying you can’t proceed further on with your car, leave your vehicle behind and continue your journey on foot. The well-beaten trail is visible all way through, because it’s basically a wide forest road which  some people feel privileged enough to cross in their cars, despite the warning signs. Nevertheless, you should respect the rules and nature’s laws and proceed on foot, because it’s only a 15-minute leisurely walk anyways.

Once you reach Vălul Miresei Falls, the first thing you might notice is the loud sound, coming from the abundant waters (especially in the Spring!). The waterfall basically consists of two separate steps and has an approximate height of 30 meters. In my opinion, it does resemble a veil, however I’ve read somewhere that its name comes from a different source as well, spanning from a local tale. Legend has it, that a bride once fell to her death from atop the rocks and the wedding guests all gathered in one place and started heavily crying – hence, the waterfall was born. In the winter months Vălul Miresei freezes over, making it a desirable destination among ice climbers.

Valul Miresei, Cascada Rachitele, Western Carpathians, Romania

Valul Miresei, Cascada Rachitele, Western Carpathians, Romania

 

Unguru Mare Cave

The Unguru Mare Cave can be found in the Pădurea Craiului Mountains, approximately 65 kilometers west of the previously-mentioned waterfall. It can be reached by car from the nearby town of Șuncuiuș and lies just beside the Crișul Repede River. It is a popular summer holiday spot among wild campers, fishermen and families with small children alike, who want to escape the hustle and bustle of big city life. The cave’s most impressive feature is its massive facade, with a height of 32 meters and a width of 22. It can be visited via hourly guided tours all year long and lasts around 40 minutes. Despite not having a dramatic interior, probably because it was inhabited for centuries, I think the cave is still worth a quick visit.

The cave’s name translates to “The Big Hungarian”. Legend has it, that the area belonged to the Unguru family. The head of the household split his property into two: the larger half with the bigger cave went to the oldest son, whilst the smaller portion with the smaller cave (there’s an Unguru Mic = small Cave nearby) went to the youngest. Another tale states that a Hungarian and a Romanian man started fighting and the Hungarian guy presumably hid in the cave and waited for the storm to pass. This version, however, has been debunked by a former guide of the Unguru Mare Cave.

Unguru Mare Visiting Hours: 9 AM to 5 PM – Summer | 10 AM to 5 PM – Winter

Entrance Fees: Adults – 4 ron | Children – 2 ron

Other places in the area worth visiting: Old Man’s Cave and Izbândiș Spring, along with Zichy Cave and Révi Falls

Unguru Mare, Padurea Craiului, Western Carpathians, Romania

Unguru Mare, Padurea Craiului, Western Carpathians, Romania

Unguru Mare, Padurea Craiului, Western Carpathians, Romania

 

Roșia Village – Lodging and Views

We decided to spend a night in a local guesthouse in a tranquil village, so we chose Pensiunea Roșia for the night, situated in Roșia, Bihor County. I am going to be honest here and say that I opted for this place for its stunning surroundings and gorgeous views. I mean, look at the photo below! The room was impeccable, the service was kind and I would recommend this place to anyone looking for a nice place to spend the night.

Rosia, Bihor, Western Carpathians, Romania

 

The Secular Oak Tree of Remetea

On our way towards the next cave, we stopped on the side of the road near the village of Remetea, because we saw a signpost. As it turns out, the tree we just passed is quite a rarity. The secular oak tree of Remetea is the last of its kind once part of a large forest of oak trees which could reach a lifespan of 5-600 years. This particular example is said to be approximately 400 years old, is 170 cm in diameter and 25 meters tall. The secular oak tree of the pedunculate oak species (Quercus robur) is one of the largest species in Romania, according to the signpost by the remarkable tree. The recently-planted forest nearby is also quite scenic.

Remetea Oak Tree, Bihor, Western Carpathians, Romania

 

Meziad Cave

Meziad is one of the most impressive grottoes in Transylvania, and was one of the most-visited caves in the entire country, before it was surpassed by the even more spectacular Bear’s Cave. It was among the first caverns in Romania to be arranged for tourist visits and boasts a total length of 4.5 kilometers on multiple levels, of which merely a small portion is open to visitors. Guided tours start every hour, explaining some of the most important moments of the cave’s historic explorations. The entire cave is well-lit and neatly-arranged, however it is not, unfortunately, wheelchair-accessible.

You can get quite close to the cave with your car, however after a while you’ll need to leave it behind you and continue on foot. The unpaved, pebbly road leading up to the cave is quite visible, so you can’t really get lost. Just continue your journey until you see the signposts and the 16 meter tall mouth of the cave towering up above you. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Meziad Opening Times: October, March, April: Wednesday – Sunday: 10 AM to 3 PM (hourly) | May, June: Daily between 10 AM and 5 PM | July, August: Monday – Tuesday: noon – 3 PM & Wednesday – Sunday: 10 AM to 5 PM | September: Monday – Tuesday: noon – 3 PM & Wednesday – Sunday: 10 AM to 4 PM

In the winter months, between November and February, opening times range between 10 AM and 3 PM, however you’ll need to call at least 48 hours in advance to arrange your visit. Contact numbers are: 0359 410 556 and 0744 426 272.

Entrance Fees: Adults – 20 ron | Children – 15 ron

Pestera Meziad Cave, Western Carpathians, Romania

Pestera Meziad Cave, Western Carpathians, Romania

Pestera Meziad Cave, Western Carpathians, Romania

Pestera Meziad Cave, Western Carpathians, Romania

Pestera Meziad Cave, Western Carpathians, Romania

Pestera Meziad Cave, Western Carpathians, Romania

 

Schmidl Waterfall in the Boga Valley

Moving onward, we sat our sights on the grossly underrated Boga Valley and its surroundings. When we reached the valley, we left our car at a point where the road got rough, fetched our backpacks and continued on foot. Our first destination was the easy-to-reach Schmidl Waterfall, situated at the end of the Oșelu Valley, a preferred spot among those practicing the extreme sport of canyoning. After passing the guesthouse named Krókusz Kulcsosház, we went further, on quite a wide pathway, to surpass the other holiday homes and guesthouses in the area. I don’t actually remember following any kind of marked path, we simply turned Google Maps on and let it guide us to the waterfall. From the guesthouse, the entire journey lasted around 15-20 minutes to the waterfall, one-way. Schmidl Falls is not huge with its 10 meter height, but it has 5 small steps zig-zagging between the massive rocks that are quite picturesque in my mind.

Schmidl Waterfall, Boga Valley, Western Carpathians, Romania

 

Bulbuci Waterfall off the Beaten Path

Next up we had another waterfall in our itinerary, which we had some trouble finding. Bulbuci Waterfall (which actually translates to Globeflower in English) can be found about 40 minutes upstream the small river with the same name, which is a tributary of the Boga River. Since the path is basically unmarked, we didn’t know which stream we should follow, so we tried to ask around. As it turned out, none of the vacationers had any idea of Bulbuci Falls, they only knew about Schmidl. We almost gave up when we ran into a group of tourists who had a Hungarian guide with them that finally pointed us toward the right direction.

He told us to simply follow the riverbank of the Bulbuci stream, there’s basically a path beside it that leads up right to the waterfall. He also said that the waterfall has 3 different sections and in Hungarian it is called Három Királyok, namely, Three Kings’ Falls, I am guessing a king for each section. Even though we took the man’s advice quite literally and tried to climb up right by the stream, we soon found a moderately-beaten path a bit further, which led us to the falls. The first stretch of the waterfall is the most picturesque and the tallest. You can see in the photo below how high it is next to me (approximately 20 meters or so):

Cascada Bulbuci Waterfall, Western Carpathians, Romania

Cascada Bulbuci Waterfall, Western Carpathians, Romania

The second portion is smaller, but somewhat wider, I believe. It is located right above the first part of the waterfall, you only have to tackle a hill to reach it. The third portion was farther uphill, and since we still wanted to see the crocus blooms at the Padiș Plateau, we decided to skip it. It’s worth noting that throughout the majority of the trip, the trail is bordered by massive amounts of wild buckrams (also known as wild garlic), which have white blooms and edible leaves (great in salads!).

Cascada Bulbuci Waterfall, Western Carpathians, Romania

Cascada Bulbuci Waterfall, Western Carpathians, Romania

 

Infinite Crocus Fields at Padiș

I honestly believe that I left the best for last! Since we are very passionate about flowers and plants, the main goal of this trip was to see the violet-colored crocuses in full bloom. We saw somebody on social media post a live video about the fact that the flowers have started blooming in the Padiș Plateau, so we immediately planned a trip for the upcoming weekend. Coming from the Boga valley, all you need to do is turn left at the intersection and follow road nr 763,  a paved road in mint condition, all the way to the plateau. Chances are, that you’ll see a handful of crocuses along the way by the side of the road, but prepare yourself to be amazed at the incredible sight once you reach the top!

The fields are endless, and the scenery is memorable, to say the least. Words cannot really describe it, so I won’t even try. Instead, I’ll leave you with a few tips on when to go to catch this stunning natural phenomena at its peak. Last year, the peak period fell on mid-April and our photos were taken on the 21st of April. Now, the fact of the matter is, that the blooming period depends 100% on the weather conditions, so these wonderful flowers might not blossom at the same time this year. Still, many proclaim that April is the perfect month to seem them up-close and personal, so that might be the perfect time to plan your trip. And now, here are the photos: (watch your step!)

Padis Crocus Fields, Apuseni Mountains, Western Carpathians

Padis Crocus Fields, Apuseni Mountains, Western Carpathians

Padis Crocus Fields, Apuseni Mountains, Western Carpathians

Padis Crocus Fields, Apuseni Mountains, Western Carpathians

Padis Crocus Fields, Apuseni Mountains, Western Carpathians

Padis Crocus Fields, Apuseni Mountains, Western Carpathians

Padis Crocus Fields, Apuseni Mountains, Western Carpathians

Padis Crocus Fields, Apuseni Mountains, Western Carpathians

 

My aim is to set up a proper plugin with an interactive Google Maps section that I can link to posts. Until then, here’s a screenshot of our trip’s itinerary to help you out. If you have any questions regarding these places or any other destinations nearby, feel free to ask!

Western Carpathians Spring Itinerary

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Western Carpathians in Bloom, Romania

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