There are places you never forget even if you travel for a lifetime. Gradistea Muncelului-Cioclovina Nature Park is one of them. Isolated and wild, with scattered villages and pastoral traditions, with ancient and mysterious ruins, this nature park is in all possible ways far from the beaten track.
Located in Transylvania, in Alba County, Gradistea Muncelului-Cioclovina Nature Park is easiest reached from Costesti or Sarmizegetusa Regia, two of the ancient Dacian sites included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. These are also excellent departing points for your hikes in the Sureanu Mountains, the backbone of this scenic protected area.
Many legends revolve around Sureanu Mountains, for many the holy land of the Dacians. Even today, Sarmizegetusa Regia, the best-conserved and most famous of all their sites, inspires stories about the bravery and spirituality of the Dacian tribes. In fact, one of the most beautiful hikes starts here and continues following the red cross trail to Godeanu Peak where, allegedly, the great priest, Zalmoxis lived thousands of years ago. What we know for sure is that the area of the Sureanu Mountains was inhabited since the Paleolithic.
Whether you believe in legends or not, hiking in Sureanu Mountains is one of the most incredible experiences of this kind in Romania as it offers more than you can possibly imagine: vast alpine meadows, underwater rivers that appear and disappear creating breathtaking landscapes, caves, gorges, waterfalls, plus its unparalleled views of Parang and Retezat Mountains.
With an average altitude of around 1,650-1,700 meters, and a maximum of 2,103 meters on Patru Peak, Sureanu Mountains have few abrupt slopes and the only difficult part is the length of the trails that often reach 10 hours or more.
When it comes to biodiversity, this 38,000 hectares of protected area is still so isolated that more research is needed to index all its fauna and flora species. Large bat colonies live in the caves from the park, and rare species of plants, lizards, vipers, and butterflies populate the meadows while bears, wolves, lynx, deer, and boars roam the dense forests.
Its must-see nature attractions include the caves Cioclovina, Bolii, Sura Mica, Crivadiei Gorges, and the spectacular Lunca Ponorului or Fundatura Ponorului, a meadow of an unreal beauty, grazed by cows and crossed by the river Ponor on its way to the undergrounds. Add the ruins of the ancient Dacian sites from Sarmizegetusa Regia, Costesti, Blidaru, Piatra Rosie and Fetele Albe, and you’ll be in an authentic wonderland.
Your hikes in Sureanu Mountains are a great opportunity to meditate as there are few chances to see any other hikers. Scattered small houses, often abandoned, and sheepfolds are the only sign of human presence in sight, although you’ll probably hear the dogs barking long before you see the shepherds. Raising livestock and basic farming are the main occupations of the few locals, often in their old age, who live completely isolated in this scenic land from Gradistea Muncelului-Cioclovina Nature Park.
If nature can and should make us feel happy, humble, and grateful, then this is one of the very few unspoiled places where you can have all of that for yourself. Just remember to leave nothing behind but your footsteps.
Plan at least three days for your time here. Don’t leave without a map and a compass, some hiking signs are missing.
There are limited accommodation options, plan your route according to where you want to stay for the night.
Cross from Sureanu to Cindrel Mountains via Oasa Lake, on the mountain road Transalpina.
Discover the hiking routes from the Carpathians with this great guidebook The Mountains of Romania.