Wildflowers and Painted Monasteries of Romania

29th June – 6th July 2024

Join us for our first venture to Romania, a country rich in stories, culture and nature. Romanian history and consequently the architecture and art, was dictated by its vulnerable position on the edge of invading powers. Over centuries the way of life has been shaped by intruders and settlers, from ancient Romans and Greeks to Saxons and Ottoman Turks. The result is a colourful and diverse society, all set within an outstanding and unspoilt landscape.

We will start in Bucovina, the former principality of Moldavia. The Prince of Moldavia, Stephen the Great spent much of his reign defending his kingdom against constant attacks from the Ottoman Empire, one result of his resilience was the founding of many fortified monasteries and churches set in the foothills of the Eastern Carpathians. Adorned with fabulously painted stories in rich colour and detail, both inside and out, to educate the troops and villages alike.

We will cross the Carpathians into the former Principality of Transylvania, to see several of the many 12th century Saxon villages and churches, again heavily fortified against the threat in the East. We will pass through dramatic mountain landscapes, brightly coloured flower meadows, sparkling lakes and thick forests. We will stop in pretty villages, window sills bursting with flowers and working horses still in the fields. We will stay in lodges, eat delicious homecooked meals, picnic in wildflower meadows and see local craftspeople at work.

The wild flora of southern Transylvania is famed for its unspoilt meadows that adorn this hilly landscape. The flora is a truly wild mix of Western and Central European, Mediterranean, steppe and mountain species. These are wildflower meadows like little elsewhere, they are rich both diversity and scope and maintained due to the continuation of traditional agricultural practise and patterns of rural life. There are over 1200 flowering species found in this area, including numerous orchids, a huge diversity of grass and parasitic plants associated with them, wild sages, mints relatives, brooms, 30 or more clover species, all of which make for fantastically good hay for the farm animals, but also incredible wild honey (it’s basically bottled biodiversity). These grasslands represent a lineage of traditional managed ecosystem that dates back to Saxon period. There are also incredible wet meadow habitats found in the valley basins that are particularly rich in flora.

Where such diversity in flowers appear, so do the rest of wildlife. The wildflowers are food and habitat to many insects, from butterflies to bees and many more. Where the insects come so do the birds and these areas are home to such wonders as the lesser-spotted eagle and the iconic Corncrake.

 

 

Itinerary

Saturday 29th June
Our flight will land late morning and we will drive to Dej for a light lunch at a great bistro overlooking the medieval church. We will then make our way up into the mountains to Lac Colibita, surrounded by dense forests and craggy peaks. We will drop off our bags at Pension Lac Colibita and then head out for our first walk, up to Pripoare Meadow to immerse ourselves in the wildflowers with a spectacular view over the lake (2.4 miles c. 2.5 hrs). Doru, our Romanian guide will give us an introduction to the history of the area. We will return to our hotel early evening where we will experience a true home cooked Romanian supper.

Sunday 30th June
On our way to the Dornisoara Valley we will stop briefly in the village of Poiana Stampei to choose food for our picnic. We will explore the Tinovul Mare Reserve, a secular forest, peat bog and full of endemic plants (0.8 miles c.1 hr). We will then take our coach for the short trip into the Turcu Valley and walk up to the Smizi Meadow where we will picnic among the wildflowers (2.5 miles c. 1 hr).

We will return to our hotel, where there is the option of a boat tour of the lake, or you can have a rest before supper. We will go into the local village to a place famed for traditional homestyle cooking.

Monday 1st July
We will leave Colibita and drive a couple of hours to Moldovita for a day of outstanding painted monasteries with Sorin Fodor, a local expert. All are UNESCO sites. Our first stop will be Moldovita Monastery, founded in 1532 within a fortified enclosure. The exterior walls are lavishly frescoed, the highlight here is the southern wall depicting the siege of Constantinople in AD 626. We will continue on to Voronet Monastery, known as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the East’. Built under Stephen the Great in 1488, it is a perfect example of Moldavan architecture. The frescoes are famed for the rare use of ‘Voronet Blue’. We will have lunch in the village nearby.

Our next visit will be to the tiny gem of a church, Humor Monastery. A mix of Byzantine and Gothic, with some local influences thrown in. We shall end with the last of the painted churches to be built and possibly the most spectacular, Sucevita Monastery. The complex is heavily fortified, indicating the deadly threat of the Ottoman Empire. The exterior frescoes cycles are the most elaborate and perfectly preserved, while the interior paintings are rich in both detail and colour. We will drive the short distance to our next hotel, Popas Turistic Bucovina where we will also have dinner.

Tuesday 2nd July
There will be a slightly later start as we set off for a day of wildflowers. We shall first stop to buy food for our picnic before popping into a little museum of painted eggs. The region of Bucovina is famed for intricately painted Easter eggs, every colour and line a symbol, particular to each village. We will then walk up to the Valcanu Ridge and on to the Paltinu Meadow where we will have our picnic (1.5 miles c. 1.5 hrs). We will walk back down to the Valcanu valley (1.5 miles c. 1 hr) where our coach will take us back to the hotel, where we will stay for supper.

Wednesday 3rd July
We will leave Sucevita and drive through the Palma Pass and Trei Movile Pass, stopping to take in the spectacular views. Once in the Timen Valley we will walk to the Floarea Meadow and onto the Ardeloaia Ridge (3 miles c. 2.15 hrs). where we will have lunch in a beautiful lodge.

We will continue down into the Sadova Valley to meet our coach (1.2 miles c. 50 mins). We will drive on to Fundul Moldovei to our hotel, La Moara Pension where we will have an excellent homecooked dinner.

Thursday 4th July
The morning will be spent travelling, but through wonderful landscapes and frequent stops to take in the surroundings and stretch legs. We shall drive through the Golden Bistrita Valley, the Szekler land and the majestic Carpathian Mountains.

We will stop in the village of Praid where we will taste Szekler cuisine before driving on to Sighisoara, ‘the Pearl of Transylvania’. Named a UNESCO site as it is one of the most perfectly preserved medieval towns in Europe, Sighisoara was built in the 13th century as a fortified citadel by the Saxons of Transylvania. It is also known for the birth place of Vlad the Impaler, Dracula. After checking in to our hotel, there will be some free time for a rest before we explore the citadel. Dinner will be at the Terrace Restaurant at our hotel.

Friday 5th July
We will set off quite early for a day of medieval villages and fortified churches. We will stop briefly to look at the exterior architecture of the fortified church of Mesendorf before walking up Foisor Hill and across to the Viscri valley. (4.6 miles c. 3 hrs). We will meet our coach for the short ride to the village. Here we will see the house of King Charles and the Viscri Fortified Church. We will have lunch at a little place in the village.

After lunch we will drive to visit the Rupea Fortress, built by the Saxons of Transylvania in the 14th century. It perches dramatically on a high peak still surrounded by the original walls. We will return to Sighisoara early afternoon so there will be time for some final shopping or further exploring of the Citadel. Dinner will be in the medieval centre.

Saturday 6th July
After an early breakfast our coach will take us to the airport for the flight home.

 

Further Details

Tuition – The trip will be led by Charlie Winton and Alys Fowler. Alys is a gardener and an award-winning journalist. She trained in horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the New York Botanical Gardens and it is through her love of plants and ecology that she came to writing. She has written for numerous publications including the National Geographic, Observer, Guardian, Time Out and Gardens Illustrated. She has lectured at Tate Britain and the Royal Academy. Alys is currently writing a book about bogs. We will be joined by Doru Munteanu, our Romanian guide.

Hotels – We will spend two nights in the Pension Lac Colibita, a lodge style hotel with a terrace overlooking the lake. All rooms have a balcony and we will have the hotel to ourselves. In Sucevita we will stay two nights at Popas Turistic Bucovina, a small resort set in the woods. In Fundul Moldovei we will spend one night at La Moara Pension, a lovely small hotel with its own garden in the countryside. We will have the hotel to ourselves. Our last two nights will be in the Hotel Sighisoara in the heart of the ancient Citadel.

Ability – Please be aware that an essential part of this trip is walking up the trails to the wildflower meadows. I have included in the itinerary the length and estimated time for each walk and it will be a gentle incline up to the meadows. The average ascent will be 200 – 300m. There are a couple of walks that you can miss out, but most of them form part of the journey as we will be dropped off and collected at different points. The highest altitude we reach will be 1100m.

Dinners – All dinners except for one are included in the fees, some will be set menus while for others there will be a limited choice. Alcohol and coffee will be extra. Due to the remote nature of some of the locations we will often be eating at the hotel.

Flights – We do not book the flights thus allowing you to travel to suit your budget, use airmiles, travel between different airports or on different dates. However, we recommend buying the following flights with Ryanair:

Saturday 29th June London Stansted 7.10 – 11.55 Cluj FR2485
Saturday 6th July Cluj 12.35 – 13.00 London Stansted FR2484

Transport – We will travel in a private coach with air-conditioning. Please note that due to the nature of the trip there will be a lot of travelling, about 2 hours on average a day. The journey between hotels is about 2 hours, with the longest drive on Thursday morning being 4 hours, however we will stop often to see the views.

Cost – The fees are £2350 which includes accommodation and breakfast, all lunches, all dinners except one (not including alcohol or coffee), transfers for the recommended flight, transport when connected with teaching, entrance fees, tuition, reading lists and local advice. The single occupancy supplement is £190 for all hotels except La Moara. Not included are the flights, one supper, travel insurance. The group will not exceed 16 people.

To register

Please complete the online registration form, having read our terms and conditions and pay a deposit of £600 per person via bank transfer.

If you have any queries please email charlie@arthistoryabroad or call 01379 871800 (302)

NB you must buy your own train tickets.

Registration Form

https://www.arthistoryabroad.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/Terms-and-Conditions-Adults-2024.pdf