Maramures or the ‘land of wood’ is an original travel destination from Romania you should visit at least once in your lifetime. Located in the extreme north of the country, on the border with Ukraine, this region is most famous for its authentic wooden architecture, vividly reflected in its wooden churches, massive wooden gates, traditional houses and installations.
The ‘land of wood’ is a great place to visit if you enjoy an active vacation as walking, cycling and hiking are the best ways to visit Maramures. You’ll find plenty of things to do and new experiences to try every single day, from discovering centuries-old wooden churches to learning how to make crafts from local artisans.
The best time to visit Maramures is April to late October, but winter has a special charm of its own as well, especially if you like to ski.
Without further ado, here’s our list of the best things to do in Maramures or the ‘land of wood’.
This is the best way to visit Maramures, walking on the local routes villagers used for generations. Far away from the busy roads, across forests, fields and haystack pastures, you’ll experience a great feeling of serenity few other leisure activities can offer.
You can wonder of, asking locals for the most beautiful shortcuts between their villages, or you can follow one of the many marked routes from the 88 km Greenway Maramures network that connects seven villages, seven protected areas and two NATURA 2000 sites.
You can always replace walking by cycling, renting a bike from your local guest house. There are six marked cycling trails, of different intensity: the Rooster’s Crest Trail (7.5 km difficult), the Rooster’s Crest – Budesti Trail (22 km difficult), Rosia Trail (15.7 km medium and difficult), Cosau Trail (15 km easy and medium), the Rails’ Trail (20.8 km easy and medium) and Ignis – Mara Trail (25 km difficult).
If walking, cycling and hiking are not enough of an adventure, you’ll be happy to know that you can also go paragliding while you visit Maramures.
If you’re fascinated by this original church architecture style, don’t miss a tour of these unique landmarks. They’re the best representations of how locals’ knowledge and experience in carving wood made it possible for these small village churches to withstand for centuries.
You’ll find the eight wooden churches from the UNESCO World Heritage List in Barsana, Budesti, Desesti, Ieud, Plopis, Poienile Izei, Rogoz and Surdesti.
While planning to visit Maramures, don’t forget to include trips to local artisans who bring to the present old crafts techniques.
In the village of Sarbi, you’ll find a themed itinerary that connects the artisans Vasile Borodi, Victoria Duma, Petru Pralea and Gheorghe Opris. In Barsana, you can visit the workshop of the wood artisan Toader Barsan, while in Botiza you can admire carpets and embroideries in the small museum of artisan Victoria Berbecaru.
The list of artisans doesn’t end here. Walking from village to village, you’ll find more talented locals that carry on creating beautiful and authentic artisan products with only their hands and traditional tools.
Also, in Sarbi, in the center of the village, you’ll see an open-air exhibition of traditional installations powered by water, including a traditional whirlpool.
The traditional wooden houses of Maramures are, unfortunately, on a fast track to becoming exotic testimonies of the past. Fewer and fewer, these beautiful and simple houses were originally made from oak and fir tree wood with tall roofs covered with shingles.
The interior organization of the space – a porch, a small hallway known as tinda, a room for daily family use and a guest room used to display the hand-worked dowry of the girls – is the image of the simple lifestyle locals lived until just a few decades ago.
Like the houses, the wooden gates – elaborate and imposing – were once the symbol of their owners’ social status and of the sculptor’s talent. You’ll see more of these as they’ve made quite a comeback in the last years.
A big part of your experience in Maramures will be based on where you choose to stay. We always recommend the local small guest houses where the hosts take their time to prepare delicious home-cooked meals with ingredients from their own gardens, and where you, the tourist, are treated like a friend.
Mara Guest House is the perfect option if you’re planning to stay in Desesti, one of the most beautiful villages in Maramures. On the shore of Mara River, with a large garden, and the best home-cooked food from organic local ingredients, this guest house is our favorite in the region.
First mentioned in 1325, Sighetu Marmatiei was for a very long time the only town in Maramures. It’s still a small town, easy to walk around, and we recommend you save an entire day to visit the Village Museum, the Memorial of Victims of Communism organized in the former prison and the Memorial House Elie Weisel.
If you start the day early enough, you can combine your day trip to Sighetu Marmatiei with the visit to the Merry Cemetery, next on our list.
Like all Romanian traditional cuisine, the local dishes from Maramures are a mouth-watering delight. Moderation is, however, the keyword as some recipes are a bit too much if you’re on a light diet.
The most famous local dishes are meat and cheese based. Try the local sausages and meat specialties like toba, caltabos or slanina, the chicken soup, the local stew from a mix of meats served with polenta and, of course, balmos, a nutrient meal from corn and sour cream.
Don’t forget to spice your meal with a shot of horinca, the strong and local version of a plum brandy. Don’t even try to refuse it, your hosts we’ll feel offended as this home-made drink is one of their most famous specialties.
Founded in 1935 by Stan Ioan Patras, only a few kilometers from Ukraine, the Merry Cemetery from Sapanta became a world-unique attraction.
This is the place where death is portrayed in shades of blue and funny words about the life of the dead. It’s the ancestral peasant philosophy of viewing death, not like a tragedy, but merely as the normal end of life on earth.
Besides its many cultural and historical attractions, Maramures also has plenty of nature attractions. If you’d like to add a few hikes to your travel plans, you chose the right place. You have many options, from long and high-altitude routes to easy hikes for the entire family.
If you’re in search of a challenge, go hiking in Rodnei Mountains National Park, the second largest national park in Romania. With altitudes above 2,300 meters and iconic glacial lakes, this is the highest part from the Oriental Carpathians.
A great alternative for those in search of less strenuous hikes is Maramuresului Mountains Nature Park. With lower altitudes, under 2,000 meters, this protected area has over 170 km of marked trails, including three cycling routes.
For easier hikes, explore Gutaiului Mountains and hike to their tallest peak, Creasta Cocosului. Here, you can pick one of the 37 climbing trails if you’d like to add a bit more adrenaline to your vacation.
The steam train Mocanita will take you on a wonderful journey for about 60 km on the last forestry railway station in Europe, deep in the forests of Vaser Valley. The steam train, used since 1932 for transporting timber, runs on a narrow-gauge track of 760 mm, making the experience truly unique and adventurous.
Romania is the last European country where the forestry railways survived after the Second World War. In 1989,15 routes of this type still existed, but, except Mocanita, they were all closed down in the last decade of the 20th century.
More details and the schedule of Mocanita on www.cffviseu.com
We hope our guide to the best things to do in the ‘land of wood’ will help you make the best of your time in this beautiful destination. To visit Maramures is one of the best vacation options in Romania, whether you want an outdoor adventure or a more cultural journey.