Part 3 of our top 100 Places to See in Romania features Maramures and Moldavia, the North and the East of the country. UNESCO Heritage Sites, national parks, historical monuments and memorials of the deadly ideologies of the 20th century are on our list of must-see attractions if you’re planning to explore Romania beyond the mainstream sites.
We start with Maramures, the land of the wooden churches where carving wood became art like nowhere else.
The symbol of historical Maramures, the wooden churches are an amazing synthesis of talent, wood craftsmanship, belief in God and community unity. Scattered across the county of Maramures, rising tall and fragile among the newer built houses, these centuries-old monuments survived invasions, war and occupation.
Eight of the almost 100 wooden churches that still exist in Maramures are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can find them in the villages of Barsana, Budesti, Desesti, Ieud, Plopis, Poienile Izei, Rogoz and Surdesti.
The most important and interesting historical and cultural attractions of Maramures.
The Memorial of Victims of Communism from Sighet is the mirror of the first decades of communism in Romania. A major extermination prison for the interwar democratic elites, the Memorial of Sighet offers a powerful moving incursion into the history of communism in Romania and its deadly consequences. A visit to this former prison is top of our list of things to do in Maramures.
Address: 4 Corneliu Coposu, Sighetu Marmatiei, Maramures County
For the visiting schedule, check www.memorialsighet.ro
Tucked-away on a narrow street from Sighetu Marmatiei, the Memorial House of Elie Wiesel is one of the places you must visit during your time in Maramures. The center of the massive Jewish deportations organized by the occupying Hungarian forces in 1944, the city of Sighet is on the tragical locations list of Holocaust in Romania.
The Memorial House of Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz, a prominent Holocaust activist and Nobel prize winner, offers a straightforward history lesson about the somber faith of the large Jewish community from Maramures during the Second World War.
Address: 1 Tudor Vladimirescu, Sighetu Marmatiei, Maramures County
For the visiting schedule, check http://muzeulmaramuresului.ro
Continue with a visit to the Jewish Cemetery, the biggest of this kind in Maramures, only a short walk from the Holocaust Memorial. Hundreds of funeral stones leaned by time and authorities’ indifference, offer a wide perspective on the size of the Jewish community just decades ago.
To visit the cemetery, call the number listed on the entrance door. Ask the caretaker of the cemetery to show you the Soap Monument, a funeral stone that hides a piece of soap brought from the extermination camp in Auschwitz.
Address: Izei Street, Sighetu Marmatiei, Maramures County
The most famous steam train in Romania, Mocanita is an original attraction from Maramures. Slowly moving on the last forestry railway in Europe, a narrow-gauge line in function since the time of the Habsburg Empire, Mocanita takes curious tourists deep down in the forests of Vaser Valley. It’s an exciting experience, a great start to your vacation in Maramures.
Photo source: Facebook Mocanita
Book your tickets in advance, especially in summer or on national holidays. More details on www.cffviseu.com
Address: 5 Cerbului, Viseu de Sus, Maramures County
The Merry Cemetery from Sapanta is one of the most famous images of Maramures. Its hand-carved and blue painted crosses are adorned with lyrics that sum up life and death in funny and ironical poems. It’s lively atmosphere and groups of visitors make you forget you’re standing in an actual cemetery.
Address: Sapanta, Maramures County
A traditional rural world dominated Maramures for centuries, one in which women took care of the house, worked the fields and made sure their families had food on the table and clothes to wear. The story of the strong and hard-working woman of Maramures is vividly represented in an old house from Dragomiresti where all the objects and tools tell the life story of women from Maramures, from birth until death.
Address: Dragomiresti, Maramures County
A visit to the Memorial House of Ilie Lazar from Giulesti completes the visit to the Memorial of Sighet. A local leader of the National Peasant Party, Ilie Lazar was a target for the communist regime that imprisoned the representatives of the past democratic system. He was a political prisoner between 1946 to 1964. He was surveilled by the secret communist police until his death in 1976.
It’s in this house from Giulesti that the representatives of Maramures gathered to depart to Alba Iulia to vote the union with Romania in 1918.
Address: Giulesti, Maramures County
The nostalgic image of the traditional village of Maramures before the new constructions changed forever its rural architecture, the Village Museum is organized as a miniature version of this archaic world. Old and simple wooden houses, a central wooden church, traditional installations and colorful houses of local minorities recreate the typical village of Maramures.
Address: 1 Muzeului, Sighetu Marmatiei, Maramures
For the visiting schedule, check http://muzeulmaramuresului.ro
This one of a kind museum is difficult to find, hidden in the forest that borders the national road outside Cernesti village. You’ll miss it unless you pay close attention to the side of the road, looking for a statue coming out of the tree line. Park your car there and walk the next two kilometers on a scenic forest road that takes you directly to this unusual site.
This open-air exhibition of contemporary sculptures looks and feels almost abandoned with some of the statues covered in tall grass and wildflowers. Most likely you’ll be the only one there, take your time and enjoy a unique experience in Maramures.
Address: Cernesti, Maramures County
Discover the must-see nature attractions of Maramures.
The second largest national park in Romania, the protected area of Rodnei Mountains has the highest altitudes in the Eastern Carpathians, 2,303 meters on Pietrosul Mare Peak. Breathtaking hiking trails go to its highest peaks, glacial lakes and caves.
Creasta Cocosului Peak is not the highest peak in Maramures, but it’s the most popular nature icon, seen from all the villages along the valley of the river Mara. Various itineraries go up and down, crossing Gutaiului Mountains, and the peak is only one of the beautiful landscapes you’ll find along the way.
Often overlooked, Moldavia is a destination that might just surprise you if you give it a chance.
The must-visit cities of each region.
The capital of the historical province of Moldavia, Iasi was once one of the most romantic cities in Romania. The decades of communist systematization have scared its architecture, but the city still conserves its famous Copou Park, so present in Romanian poetry and novels, its charming streets with old aristocratic mansions, its many centuries-old churches and overall its provincial atmosphere of peace.
The most important and interesting historical and cultural attractions of Moldavia.
The fortress of Neamt is one of the few medieval fortifications that still exist in Eastern Romania, surviving the Ottoman-ordered demolitions. A historical reminder of the extensive defensive measures taken by Stefan the Great, one of Romania’s highly praised medieval princes, the fortress of Neamt is a rare historical attraction in Moldavia.
Address: 1 Arcasului, Targu Neamt, Neamt County
Ruginoasa Palace is one of the few aristocratic residences from Moldavia still intact after the communist regime. Dating from the 19th century, this small palace was for a while the home of Alexandru Ioan Cuza, one of Romania’s key historical figures.
The story of the palace and its various owners is intriguing and often tragical. Forbidden love stories, adulteries and illegitimate children add to the official history of the monument.
Address: 34 Unirii, Ruginoasa, Iasi County
For the visiting schedule, check http://palatulculturii.ro
Close to Ruginoasa Palace, you will discover another historical monument, once one of the most impressive private residences in the region. The devastation of the Second World War and the even more destructive behavior of the communist regime left the old castle from Miclauseni almost in ruins.
You can still imagine its past glory if you take a closer look at the architectural details that survived the past decades of devastation and neglect.
Address: Miclauseni, Iasi County
Moldavia is famous for its wines and the wine-making history and tradition goes back for centuries. If wine-tasting is a favorite activity, you’re definitely in the right place. From major wineries to artisanal producers, you have enough choices to keep you on the go. We recommend Cotnari, close to Iasi, and the vineyards Ochean, Averesti and Girboiu in the counties of Vaslui and Vrancea.
Discover the must-see nature attractions of Moldavia.
The perfect alternative for both experienced and beginner hikers, Ceahlau National Park will treat you to some of the most panoramic views of the Carpathians. With a maximum altitude of 1,907 meters on Toaca Peak, dense forests, picturesque abysses and quaint geological formations, Ceahlau is the best place for a nature weekend if you’re based in Iasi or Piatra Neamt.
Add one or two extra days and combine the hike on Ceahlau with a tour in Bicaz Gorges-Hasmas National Park. Go off the beaten track and explore the adventurous trails of Bicajel Gorges, but don’t miss a stop at the unique natural dam Red Lake that appeared after an earthquake.
This is the largest dam in Romania and one of the biggest infrastructure projects of the communist regime, sadly built with the use of political prisoners from labor camps. Executed between 1950 and 1960, Bicaz Lake or Izvorul Muntelui Lake from Neamt County powers up a nearby 210 MW hydropower plant. A hike on Ceahlau Mountain offers a great view of the entire lake, but a drive around it is also spectacular.
Come back for the last part of our top 100 Places to See in Romania to uncover the best of Transylvania. If you think we missed any great destinations, let us know in the comments section below.
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