In Part 1 of this months destination feature, Mihai and Paul of Apuseni Experience give us an inside view of the magical, little seen world of the Apuseni Mountains in Romania, and the many hiking, biking, ski touring and caving adventures to be had there…
Skip to Part 2: Exploring the Julian Alps and Soca River Valley, SloveniaIn Western Romania lies a little known mountain plateau: the Apuseni Mountains, the mountains at the sunset. Also known as the Western Carpathians, the Apuseni Mountains is a world unto itself, largely cut off from the rest of Romania, and perhaps best explored by hiking, biking , ski touring, and caving from hamlet to hamlet. (click links for example itineraries)This is a world of deep forests and large silky meadows, impressive gorges and canyons, legendary waterfalls and fascinating caves, which plays generous host to an abundant variety of animals and plants. Not very high (the highest peak is Bihorul Peak 1849 m) but with breathtaking karstic landscapes, and traditional livelihoods still played out in the valleys, the Apuseni Mountains are unique in Romania and, in many respects, in Europe.
Big predators, such as brown bears and wolves are still roaming the Carpathian Mountains. While exploring the Apuseni Mountains by foot, snow shoe or ski, one should not be surprised to hear the wolves howling late in the freezing winter night under the full moon, or meet the mother bear with her calves in spring, looking for fresh food. There are also lynx and wild cats as well as chamois and capercaillies, but they are extremely shy and therefore meeting them is simply a privilege. Lets not also forget the various bats colonies that inhabit the many expansive caves, many of which are nature reserves themselves. Several micro climates and the complex geographic structure of the mountains also created ideal conditions for a unique flora. There are a wide variety of plants, numerous endemics and many extremely rare species.
In the Apuseni Mountains nature and people have been living in a perfect symbiosis for centuries. Regarded as the most representative mountain population of Romania, the Motzi people give character to the area, through their traditional way of life, specific architecture, local customs and stories as old as the mountains. Meeting the “Motzi” during a hiking or ski touring trip means not only a voyage back in time but also a return to the roots, to ancestral traditions, in an unspoiled environment, harsh and welcoming at the same time. Probably the most popular highlight, and a source of pride for the local people, are the more than 5000 caves, many of which are still unexplored completely. Limestone jewelleries and aragonite beauties, cave bears, skeletons and footprints of Neanderthal humans, underground glaciers and colonies of bats this is the priceless dowry of the Apuseni Mountains underground world. Millions of years of climate change, tectonic activity and sea level shifts have created a complex geological mosaic of conglomerate, crystalline, volcanic rocks and limestone, of huge interest to the geologists amongst us.Getting there: The Apuseni Mountains lie in the western part of Romania. Most trips start and end in Oradea, which is one of the main entrances to the mountains, coming from west. Oradea is a 3 hour drive from Budapest, one of the closest major arrival and departure points. Apuseni Experience is an Ecotourism and Adventure Tourism Programme developed by a group of young enthusiasts, who made a way of life from their common passion for these unique mountains. Be it caving, hiking, trekking, biking trips, alpine touring ski, snow-shoe hiking, cultural programs, nature photography or flora and fauna observation, they offer standard and tailor made options for all seasons, all ages and levels of experience.They were established in 2006 as a way of building upon an EU Life Programme funded project which ended in 2001. The aim of the project was to create a value in protecting the natural heritage of Apuseni Mountains and, in this respect, touristic infrastructure was developed through this project. Until 2006 the programme was run by the Centre for Protected Areas and Sustainable Development a non-profit organization started locally. At least 10% of companys revenues are pledged to local and external initiatives of conservation and promotion of natural and cultural heritage of the Apuseni Mountains.