We came, saw — and were disappointed. That was partly ours, partly the fault of others. What went wrong during our visit to the Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park in Romania? Read the story in this blog post.
Vivi and Steffen: as gullible as pensioners on a coffee trip
“Wow, only 135 Euro for 4 nights for 2 persons in a 4‑star accommodation! No meals included, but still REALLY good! Book it now!“ If we had known what to expect, we would certainly not have been so happy. Our expectations were those, which one normally has when thinking of a 4* accommodation: Everything well maintained and clean, friendly and helpful staff. The 8.0 on booking.com should have made us a little suspicious. But no, we are as gullible as pensioners on a coffee trip: the only convincing argument of this accommodation: 4 stars on booking.com as well as in the logo! Who would suspect evil?
When we arrived the hard reality hit us: The receptionist is not interested in us. She leads us unkindly to our room and wants to dedicate herself as quickly as possible to her modern picture book Instagram. We let her go.
The first inventory in the room: A broken lamp, the bed linen with New York design stinks, there is only one power socket, no table lamp, no towel rail, no hair dryer (we don’t need one, but just to mention it), a badly constructed door etc. etc. etc..
The outside area makes a green, but shabby impression: The big garden invites for a stay — at first sight. Hollywood swing, fountain, trees, flowers, a roofed seating area. Unfortunately the surrounding is very unattractive: lots of huts, all built in a different style and period — some unfinished buildings are filled with garbage. The swimming pool is more like a disinfection bath (after jumping in once we didn’t have any bacteria on us for a week). The bar is closed, the restaurant is closed, the spa area is closed — everything seems to have been closed for quite some time. The other guests (why are they here!??) do not greet us back — surely because they are also so dissatisfied…
To beat everything: The Wifi only works directly in front of the reception. We have to carry table and chairs every day and sit there very uncomfortably. No troubleshooting, nor carrying assistance or any apology from the staff.
The result: a very lovelessly led facility, which would urgently need a general overhaul. It earns 2 instead of 4 stars from us (don’t book Pension El Plazza!).
Yes, the Germans can complain very well 😉 But we don’t want to hide it from you anyway, because the accommodation is one aspect of why the stay was suboptimal for us.
No hosts, no campsite, no wild camping, no friends
But why did we book this accommodation at all? That was due to the fact, that there are no active Couchsurfing‑, BeWelcome- or Warmshower-Hosts in Baile Herculane, the scene of action. A camping site is also out of the question for us during hikes, as we like to know that our things are safely locked. And wild camping is taboo in national parks anyway. And of course we stick to it! That we didn’t have a host is especially a pity for us, because we did not get in touch with local people and therefore did not learn much about Romania, the culture, politics and the way of life at first hand. Unfortunately no hosts, no campground, no wild camping, no friends for us. Dear Romanians, we would have liked to meet you! Too bad!
I envisioned a mossy fairytale forest with majestic mammoth trees
Why did I in the first place want to come here? The Domogled — Valea Cernei National Park attracts me so much because I campaigned for the primeval forests in the Romanian Carpathians as part of the “SaveParadiseForests” campaign at the nature conservation foundation EuroNatur. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to experience these magnificent forests myself in the 6 months I was working there. Therefore the goal was to visit it on our cycling tour along the Balkan Green Belt! I imagined a mossy fairytale forest with majestic mammoth trees, the sounds of rustling leaves, the splashing of clear streams, the narrow width of the wooded valleys, the air saturated with the smell of the soft deciduous soil. I had a great anticipation. Bad mood and bad planning led to the fact that we could only guess what a paradise forest feels like. However, the next pictures give some impressions.
The light breaks so beautifully in the beech forest. We are enchanted!
Wow, that’s a colossal one! I love big and old trees such as this beech! Free hug for you!
There were also some animals to admire. Here a very nice flying specimen copy.
The stick with his sage.
Here we could admire the narrow width of the wooded valleys.
Picture inscription: “Yellow stuff” — that’s at least how Steffen sees these mushrooms — or sponges?
We should have hitchhiked deeper into the national park
In the over 60.000 hectare long national park there is a lot to marvel at. We could only take two hiking routes and cycle only 15km on the tarred road 67D in the Cerna Valley in our time here. The mountain ranges “Domogled”, “Mehedinți” and “Godeanu” rise up to 2200 height meters and form fascinating rock formations. But unfortunately we didn’t get to the most beautiful places with our bikes. We took relatively unspectacular hiking routes (we didn’t meet a soul). Only with bicycles and very little motivation to use those, one is really lost here. We should have hitchhiked deeper into the national park… Our mistake! So we will have to come back again to see the real highlights — especially the primary forest! But here are some impressions of our two hikes.
For our first hike we went with our bikes to the visitor center. The center was very well signposted and was further within the national park approx. 4 km away from our accommodation. After a few hills we arrived. Passing a wooden footbridge we went into the relatively modern exhibition.
Beside a replica stalactite cave and a tree trunk forest there are also some explanation boards.
Viviane was particularly taken with the interactive, multilingual touch infopanel.
On the lower floor there is also a topographical mini-edition of the national park with markings of the summits.
Unfortunately, the guide could not speak any English. But she sold us a hiking map – one of the worst I have ever seen. For 10 lei (about 2,50 Euro).
Hänsel and Gretel got lost in the forest
We decided to make a hike to a waterfall. Despite map and markings we managed to take the wrong turn after only 5 meters on the right way. After an approx. 300m steep mountain climb (it felt like 3km) we found a cute farmhouse and the old lady (surely over 80) showed me that we had to return the whole way. Frustrated we made a lunch break on the spot.
There we took a picture with the surroundings and the hay cones.
So back to the beginning and after a short search we were finally on our way — at every third tree a red eye looked at us with a gloating grin (the marking). Really embarrassing! But due to the primeval (forest) atmosphere our getting lost was quickly forgotten.
The splash splash accompanied us on our way uphill — unfortunately the promised waterfall was dried out.
The stick and the guided.
Suddenly Steffen jumped like a cat with an arched back and all fours stretched apart over a few roots. The reason:
This European long-nosed viper — belonging to the Red List of endangered species (no, this is nothing criminal — just sad) — but this one fortunately full and lazy. A bite wouldn’t have been so pleasant as the viper likes to spread its poisonous cocktail.
During the whole hike we were surrounded by music — a DJ was specially commissioned for the entertainment of the forest dwellers. No, joke aside: In the Cerna valley there is a bathing paradise and the music can be heard within a radius of 5 km in all surrounding valleys. Here the locals from all the neighbouring communities romp around day in, day out, and hundreds of cars pile up along the 67D. Real national park feeling…
We made our second hike starting from our front door. After a super exhausting ascent we were happy when we could hike downhill again. Then we were rewarded with a few highlights.
This is not just any garbage heap on fire — no, it’s the steam grotto (in Romanian Grota cu aburi). From the 14m long grotto strange noises rise. The warm steam smells like sulphur. Later we read that the protected moss species Philonotis schliephacke lives here. To each his own…
And the best picture at the end: A panorama with a view over the Cerna valley… Breathtaking, isn’t it?
In Baile Herculane we enjoyed a hot sulphur bath and cooling down in the Cerna.
Naked statues and ornate grids
Baile Herculane has a history dating back almost to Jesus’ birth! The Romans have already relaxed in the sulphur puddles. The many sulphur waters and healing springs are apparently good for various health problems. Therefore Baile Herculane is also a health resort.
The late baroque buildings have a special charm with their naked statues and ornate grids. Too bad that most of them are dilapidated — instead, there are many concrete buildings at the entrance of the national park. If you like contrasts, you’ve come to the right place!
But the biggest contrast is that parts of the ancient wilderness, which has never been disturbed by humans before, are now coming to life. Sadly, that are not fascinated hikers who want to explore the protected rarities of flora and fauna. Quite the opposite! The National Park Administration is a sly old dog and exploits hundreds of thousands of Euros every year through illegally logged wood. Everybody Mafia here! I had already contact with these bad machinations during my time with EuroNatur. In May 2018, the national park director even claimed: “The forest itself wants to be logged”. If you also find this unacceptable, check out the SaveParadiseForests website, get informed, subscribe to the newsletter and donate. There are currently national lawsuits pending against the Romanian government.
A side note in addition: In our hiking map forest tracks were marked — especially in the upper Cerna valley there seem to be more forest tracks than hiking tracks. This clearly shows the priorities of the administration.
During our short bike tour on the last day we happened to blunder into a thunderstorm. Therefore we were also not able to check out the second waterfall (the biggest in Romania)… Too bad!
Nevertheless, we had fun in the rain due to our perfect rain jackets…
Waiting for the delayed train — also at our trip from Drobeta Turnu Severin.
The ride was not comfortable, because Steffen had to hold the bikes. But we survived it.
And we certainly wouldn’t have seen the train station building in Baile Herculane if we had arrived by bike. A beautiful building.
The train is 55 minutes late — not!
What happened to us when we wanting to leave Baile Herculane could not have happened in spite of the criticism for the DB in Germany: As we waited for the train, about 10 minutes before departure it was announced that the train would be 55 (!) minutes late! The majority of the waiting people left the track to go somewhere for a coffee. Understandable. But that was too complicated for us and we stayed seated. After less than 20 minutes the train arrived! We think many missed the train and had to wait for the next train — 8 hours! Crazy!
All in all we nevertheless enjoyed the four days in Domogled. Yet, we will have to come back in future — and it only can get better (in contrast to the second or third sequel of many films). Perhaps we will come back with an electric or hydrogen car? Who knows…
PS: From now on we will always post a Wanted Poster of each nationa park (thank you Wikipedia ;).
- National Park: since 1990
- IUCN Category II National Park: since 2006
- Area: 612 km²
- Special features: waterfall, warm caves, thermal springs, primeval forests
- Landscapes: Karst landscape
- Plants: 1100 species, including grass iris, troll flower (strictly protected) and butcher’s broom (protected)
- Animal species: 1463 butterfly species, bats, various bird species, European grayling and other fish species, yellow- and red-bellied toads and other amphibians, the European long-nosed viper and other reptiles, lynx, brown bear and Co.