No friends in the fairytale forest

No friends in the fairytale forest

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.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Ich finde euren Beitrag zum Nation­al­park Domogled-Valea Cernei in Rumäni­en sehr interess­ant. Nicht nur eure Geschicht­en zu der Reise, son­dern auch die dazuge­höri­gen Bilder finde ich sehr beeindruckend. Macht bitte unbedingt weit­er so! Beim Lesen eures Blogs bekom­mt man direkt Fern­weh.

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