Category Archives: Rural break

MSR_Oltenia_tour

Oltenia tour and its hidden treasures

By | Destinations, Oltenia, Rural break, Traditions, Urban break | No Comments

In 2016, when Lonely Planet rated Transylvania as the first tourist destination in the world, we decided to defy the trends and invite you to a marvelous route in… Oltenia – the southern-west part of Wallachia.

traseu-oltenia

Day 1

Bucureşti – Piteşti – Slatina (around 3h with the car, 190 km)

  • Tour in the old city of Slatina with a dictionary of architectural styles in your hands (1h)
  • Short stop at Atletul Albanez (Albanian Athlete), the oldest merchant establishment in Romania (30 min)

Slatina – Craiova (45 min, 60 km)

  • Lunch at the Bulevard Restaurant (1h)
  • Tour at the Art Museum, to enter the world of Brancusi (1h)
  • Prefecturii Square, Old City center, Romanescu Park and getting lost on the streets (2h)

Craiova – Ponoarele (2 h, 130 km)

Day 2

  • Guided Tour at the Limestone natural wonders in Ponoarele (God’s Natural Bridge, The fields of clints, The Cave, The lakes Zatonul Mare, Zatonul Mic) (2h)
  • Visit at grandma Victorita – seeing a traditional household in Bratilovu (1h and 30 min)

Ponoarele – Sohodol Gorges (30 min, 25 km)

  • Lunch at Runcu – Casa din Pădure (1h)
  • Visit Sohodol Gorges and discover the legends about “the ring of the fair lady” and “dragon’s nostrils” (30 min)

Sohodol – Hobiţa (30 min, 22 km)

  • Visit the Memorial House of Brancusi (1 h)

Hobiţa – TgJiu (30 min, 25 km)

  • Visit Brancusi Sculptural Ensemble and Targu Jiu City Centre (1h)
  • Visit The Endless Column (30 min)

Tg Jiu – Cartiu (17 min, 13 km)

Day 3

Cartiu – Curtişoara (15 min, 12 km)

  • Visit the Museum of Popular Architecture from Gorj (1h 30 min)

Curtişoara – Crasna (20 min, 20 km)

  • Visit Crasna Hermitage (45 min)

Crasna – Novaci (15 min, 10 km)

Novaci – Măldăreşti (40 min, 30 km)

Horezu – Bucureşti (3h, 220 km)

MSR_Atletul_albanez

The route begins with Slatina, a place where the old didn’t have the chance to meet with the new.

50 of the buildings you can see in the old city centre are on the UNESCO Heritage list. Built between 1860 – 1938 they offer an almost complete image of the architectural styles that can be found all over Romania: Neo-Gothic, Neo-Romanian, modernist, Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Most of these architectural jewelries can be found on the streets: Poboran, Dinu Lipatti, Gradinitei and Fratii Buzesti. You cannot miss Radu Greceanu Highschool (1891), Slatina City Hall (1905), The Ethnographic Section of Olt County Museum, Caracostea House (1902), The Teachers’ House (1899) and the old headquarters of the National Bank of Romania from Slatina (1908).

At the beginning or at the end of the architectural tour you must stop on Dinu Lipatti Street 25 at the coffee shop Atletul Albanez – The Albanian Athlete. This is the oldest merchant establishment in Romania that survived through the communist era. The Memish Family of Albanian origin has been involved in the Balkan trade for over 300 years.

In 1912 a great-great-great grandfather who settled in Slatina won a contest of Greco-roman battles organized by the circus that came into town at that time. Out of respect for the city and its citizens, he donated the award of 300 napoleons to the city council and the council rewarded him by allowing him to open his shop: Albanian Athlete. Here you will taste braga – a drink made of fermented cereals, alvita – traditional candy and ice cream and you will feel the presence of all the people who enjoyed their time in this place throughout centuries.

MSR_Craiova_HotelMinerva

The tour continues with Craiova and its restored city centre. Here you will find a diversity of architectural styles: Renaissance, Baroque, classic, neoclassic, romantic, Neo-Romanian and buildings built by French, Italian, Romanian or German architects. We recommend you to see the Council Square, Old Town, Romanescu Park and get lost on the streets of the city.

On our list we also have Madona Dudu Church, a pilgrimage spot due to the miraculous icon of Mother Mary that – according to the legend – was found in a mulberry tree where the altar was built later on. Even beyond the spiritual beauty, we recommend the church for its cultural beauty and for the painting signed by Gheorghe Tatarescu.

MSR_Craiova_CasaBaniei

Baniei House is the oldest laic building in the city today, being built in 1699. Now it hosts the Ethnographic Museum and in the past it used to be the meeting point of Craiova assembly. Judging by the input of art historians, the building was rebuilt by Constantin Brancoveanu based on the model of a building by Barbu Craiovescu from XV century.

MSR_Craiova_CasaBaniei

Two beautiful buildings remember of a little Paris of Oltenia – Jean Mihail Pallace (now the Museum of Art Craiova) and Vorvorenilor Pallace (the official headquarter of Oltenia Church).

Entering the Art Museum and following Brancusi steps, we will discover one of the greatest legacies of Romanian and Oltenian art. The art works displayed here represent the first creative time of the artist, student at the School of Arts and Crafts of Craiova. Here we find The Kiss – built in stone in 1907, Vitellius – the oldest art work of Brancusi created in 1898 from gyps, Woman Torso – marble work from 1909, Vanity – from 1905, Head of a Boy – from 1906, Mademoiselle Pogany, Chair and Corset – from 1902.

From the museum, after we visit the city centre and the English Park, we continue strolling on Unirii Boulevard until Romanescu Park, a relaxing spot where we encounter landscapes of the past century.

MSR_Ponoarele_GodsBridge

We spend the first evening at Ponoarele, in the heart of Mehedinti Plateau. From Craiova to Ponoarele we have a good journey, seeing small and tidy households as we pass by. Walk slowly and look at the sky.

We start the new morning discovering the natural wonders of Ponoarele Limestone Complex:

  • God’s Bridge
  • Ponoarele Cave
  • Fields of Clints
  • Zătonul Mare and Zătonul Mic

God’s Bridge is the biggest natural bridge in Romania and the second as size in Europe (30m length, 12m width, 22m height). It is the only one of its kind opened for car traffic. The story says that the natural bridge formed due to the falling of the Ponoarele Cave ceiling. The legend on the other hand, tells the story of the Devil who lived there. The people from Ponoarele were praying to God to save them from the evil one. Hearing their prayers, God hit the ceiling of the Cave with his hand and it all fell over the entrance. But the Devil escaped, going out on the other side of the cave and grabbing with his claws the top of The Hill Cave, forming the clints fields. The Devil climbed then on a rock that is now called Devil’s Rock and he drained all the lakes.

MSR_Ponoarele_Clints

The Fields of Clints (Afrodita and Cleopatra) are formed by calcareous channels created by water erosion. The ditches are sometimes higher than 4-5 metres length and have a depth of 30 cm. They are similar to corridors cut in stone where you can find different vegetation forms like thyme or nettle.

Zatonul is the biggest lake formed on limestone from Romania but it is a temporary lake. Depending on the season and on the amount of rain, you can see the lake as something huge or as a small stream of water.

MSR_ponoarele_laculzaton

Ponoarele are galleries, wells where the water disappears in one place and appears again a few kilometers further on. All this area is full of ponoare – this is why there is an abundance of limestone phenomena.

We continue our visit at grandma Victorita, the grandmother of our friend, Adriana and the wife of Ion Suciu – both of them successors of shepherds who ran from Transylvania under the Austro-Hungarian rule in the XVIIIth century. There are many villages that have the Transylvanian heritage and Bratilov is one of them, together with Titerlesti, Novaci, Vaideeni, Baia de Fier, Corbi. Dumitru Suciu, the father in law of Victorita was part of the management committee of Shepherds’ Trade – association formed by shepherds to protect them and their rights. In the interwar times they used to organize gatherings and also publish a monthly magazine called “Sheepfold”. In the house of the Suciu spouses we find out about the shepherds traditions: black and white costumes from Jina, marquisette costumes from Gorj, carpets, bags weaved at loom and bats sculpted in sycamore tree by the Suciu men. If you are patient, we read stories and poetry written by great grandfather Suciu.

MSR_Bratilov_familiaSuciu

MSR_Bratilov_VictoritaSuciu

MSR_Bratilov_furcadetors

We say goodbye to the atmosphere created by grandparents and to the house full of memories and we go towards Sohodol Gorges. Quick, quick, we eat a delicious meal at a guesthouse and we enter the gorges – natural reservation with impressive landscapes that covers over 350 hectares. When we exit the canion, we notice a gate – a ring in the rock and the nostrils formed by Sohodol river in the bottom part. With a binocular we can notice the protected birds including the butterfly and the rock martin.

MSR_Hobita_Brancusi

MSR_Hobita_Brancusihouse

With our stomach calm and with our eyes delighted by natural landscapes we continue our journey to Hobita at the Memorial House of Constantin Brancusi. We found out about the artist in Craiova already and here we will imagine how he saw endless columns in the oaks from his neighbors’ garden, how he would sculpt, how he remembered the gate of his house and sculpted an identical one in his workshop from Paris.

In 1938, he finished the World War I monument in Târgu-Jiu where he had spent much of his childhood. Table of Silence, The Gate of the Kiss, and Endless Column commemorate the courage and sacrifice of Romanians who in 1916 defended Târgu Jiu from the forces of the Central Powers.

MSR_Thegateofthekiss_Brancusi

MSR_TheEndlessColumn_Brancusi

Analyzing the artist’s words and knowing the symbols of his other works of art, we realize that The Gate of the Kiss is an Arc of Triumph under which the heroes pass at peace into the other world. It seems that the main idea from The Kiss is simple: love as fusion between two separate entities brings back the original unity of life. Here it is about life after death.

The Table of Silence was carved in stone and represents symbolically the table before the battle of the Romanian soldiers. The chairs around the table are in the shape of an hour glass and measure the time, while the number of the chairs remembers of the Last Supper with the 12 disciples.

It talks about family reunion, meditation upon life and cherishing time.

At the end of Hero’s Pathway we have the park that waits for us with the Endless Column. It is a symbol of the endless sacrifice, embodying an axis mundi that aims to support the sky for the eternity.

Our night ends very close by at Cartianu Villa – the house built in 1769 by Enache Cartianu, a very rich governor who held 400 hectares in Cartiu village. His successors built near this place (now part of the Etnografic Museum of Tragu Jiu) the Cartianu Guesthouse, a local jewelry that respects traditional values.

MSR_Curtisoara

MSR_Curtisoara_detaliu

The third day starts with the road from Targu Jiu to Novaci. We recommend a stop at Curtisoara – Museum of Folkloric Architecture of Gorj and at Cornoiu’s Kula. The museum in open space hosts architectural monuments and folkloric techniques from Gorj. Other than the Cornoiu kula (XVII century) here we can also find reassembled buildings like Saint John the Baptist Church (1820), peasant constructions made out of wood (houses, cellars, roof tops, technical installations from XVII-XIX century) with typical furniture, costumes, sewing, ceramics, tools. The oldest house presented here was built over 200 years ago: the house of Udriste Priest from Olari village from 1802.

On our way we will stop at Crasna Hermitage, a place full of peacefulness and spirituality while we enter the house of a painter in love with ethnography and traditional symbols.

MSR_DacianaUngureanu

MSR_DacianaUngureanu_colectie

In an interview for jurnalul.ro, Daciana Ungureanu talks about the Ethnographic Collection Daciana Ungureanu and welcomes us into the story: “I have inherited from my family many objects that I keep dearly. Two of the dowry coffers that I keep are full of costumes from Gorj and Hungary, old lace and other textiles for the house. I have most of the pieces from my grandmother on my mother’s side and were worn by her. This means a lot for me. These are extremely fine pieces, most of them for celebration purposes and they are woven in amazing colors and details through diverse techniques and materials. I do not have enough words to describe them, you must see them.”

From Novaci, we follow a zigzag road beneath the mountain, towards Baia de Fier (Iron Bath), Polovragi, Vaideeni, Horezu. From there, we follow the signs that lead to Maldaresti Kulas. The kulas were built by Oltenia governors to protect themselves from the Turkish invader groups coming from the Danube. Due to their uniqueness, they were nominated to be part of the UNESCO heritage. The name comes from the greek word “kale” or “kule” which means “tower”. There were a lot of kulas in all Oltenia and in the west part of Muntenia but from a few hundreds of such houses, only 27 survived until today. More than half of them, not being given the chance to be transformed into museums, are in a precarious shape or already in ruins.

MSR_cule

Most of these buildings have thick walls of 80 cm. When the enemies were coming close, the servants were hiding the animals in cellars. The governors were running at the first floor and put a thick wood at the door to be sure the door would resist. If the first floor became unsafe, they were going up to the defense tower on a rope ladder. They were getting water from the cellar’s well, had food and waited for the threat to pass by.

Lunch will be served at Maldar Manor and the road to Bucharest goes through Ramnicu Valcea and Pitesti. If you wish to stop on the road, there are things to visit for another 2 days.

This is only a part of the route we planned for the Great Tour of Oltenia. If you want to join us, you can find the tours here. If you need details, contacts or other information, you find us here.

photos by Claudiu Netoiu, Mihaela Dinca, Florin Valcea

MySecretRomania_cula_Maldaresti

Kule. Romanian fortified houses

By | Destinations, Must read, Oltenia, Rural break, Weekly secret | No Comments

In Romanian architecture, kula means a type of fortified house, with a simple and compact aspect, with a square or rectangular plan, built on two or three floors. It had the main role of defense, but also of surveillance and living space.

The kule were built by southern Romania’s noblemen in order to defend themselves from the Turkish predator gangs coming from the Danube. Because of their uniqueness, the houses were proposed for the UNESCO world heritage list. The name “kula” comes from the Turkish word kale or kule, meaning tower. There were a lot of them in Oltenia (the southern part of our country), but, unfortunately, out of hundreds of such wealthy houses, only 27 survived (now listed as Romanian historical monuments). More than half of them, without the chance of turning into museums, are in very bad shapes or just ruins now.

Why do we know this word and where have we seen a kula?

  • From Greuceanu, a Romanian fairytale written by Petre Ispirescu. „Greuceanu went to the Green Forrest kula, opened the door with the Dragon’s finger and found there the sun and the moon. He took the sun in his right hand and the moon in his left, threw them up in the sky and everybody was happy.”
Kule. Romanian fortified houses

Ilustratie din basmul Greuceanu

  • from Aferim, Radu Jude’s Aferim! movie, winner of Berlin’s Silver Bear. Talking about the places he found for the movie sets, Jude says: „It was a bit hard to find them, because nowadays it is not simple to find places untouched by modern things like electricity, for example. Part of the set was in Dobrogea, Haleș Monastery near Buzău, cula Greceanu near Horezu, from Măldărești, forests near Bucharest. We kind of searched through all Țara Românească (Romanian Country, southern part of now Romania, where all the action is taking place)”
Kule. Romanian fortified houses

Scena din Aferim – cula Greceanu, Maldaresti

  • From the descriptions of the NeoRomanian style by Valentin Mandache: „One of the first classical NeoRomanian style buildings, which still exists in Bucharest, is the Doina restaurant building, designed in 1892 by Ion Mincu, a famous Romanian architect. Here we can clearly observe in the center of the building the kula prototype, with its fortified bastion like a main element of structural diagnostic and byzantine decorative components, peasant ethnographic motifs and Turkish decorative models.”
Kule. Romanian fortified houses

Bufetul de la Sosea – actualul Restaurant Doina

How do we visit these Romanian fortified houses?

Because the kula structure is so compact, our first reaction is to say „if I see one, I have seen them all”. What is really impressive, despite the present state of these buildings, is that they resisted through all these centuries and they can still tell their own stories.

  • A first way of seeing them is through museums. Among the most popular ones are those included in Curtișoara Gorj’s Traditional Museum Complex: kula Cornoiu and kula Tătărescu. Also, in Măldărești Muzeum from Vâlcea we have kula Greceanu, kula Duca and, also in Vâlcea, kula Bujoreanu from the Traditional Architecture Museum in Bujoreni.
MySecretRomania_cula_Duca

Kula Duca

MySecretRomania_cula_Duca

Kula Duca – the retreat door, used whenever the invaders came

Cula Greceanu

Kula Greceanu

Before hitting the road, read the story of the kula you are about to visit. You will find out that most of them have 80 cm thick walls, that when enemies were approaching, the servants would hide the animals in the basement. The noblemen were first hiding at the first floor and they used to put a big wooden stick to surely block the door. If the first floor would become insecure as well, they would climb up a rope, to the defense tower. They would pull out water from the basement well, they had food, they also pulled up the rope/ ladder and waited for the danger to pass. Back in 1700, danger didn’t mean a bomb, so the tower was safe enough.

  • Another way to visit these houses is to book a few nights in a kula. Near Măldărești Muzeum Complex there is Maldăr’s Mansion, a rebuilt kula, initiative of Vasilescu family, opened for the public since 2012. The thick walls, the original oak doors, the vintage furniture and the restaurant food will take you back in time. Although captain Maldăr’s legend has its origin on the kula Greceanu domain, here you can get the stories with all your senses. It appears that the captain was captured by the tartar ruler in one of the tartars invasions. He fell in love with the ruler’s daughter and she obtained its pardon. He came back with the beautiful daughter as his wife and with money. (the term Maldăr means pile in Romanian, and in this context, maldăr was used in „maldăr de bani” – pile of money, or „maldăr de dușmani” – pile of enemies).
MySecretRomania_cula_Zatreanu

Kula Zatreanu

Kula Zătreanu (also in Vâlcea) was also bought by a businessman who wants to make a mansion out of the XX century kula extensions (Boicescu Mansion) and a museum out of the kula which nobleman Radu Zătreanu built in 1754.

  • The third option is becoming an apprentice in one of the architecture and restoration workshops
    organized by Pierre Bortnowski (inheritor of cula Cornoiu) and Artis Organisation. In 2015 they worked on the shingle roof of the mansion, in 2014 they restored the wooden work, in 2013 they covered the house with new shingles.
cula cornoiu

Kula Cornoiu – photo Artis Peritia

  • The forth option is to ask the locals or owners to tell you about the houses. That is how we saw kula Zătreanu and kula Sultănica from Șuici, in Argeș.

harta_cule

Our big plan is an Oltenia tour, that will happen this year in June, which will include these marvels. Our smaller plan is a special trip, with and about kule. If you want „one-shot” trips, we will also have trips in Oltenia and Muntenia which will include seeing one of the Romanian fortified houses on the way. Find more about what are we planning for you on our Join us on trip! page.

***

Find out more about kule:

 

 

Nicolae Balcescu Mansion and history

By | Destinations, Muntenia, Rural break, Trips, Weekly secret | No Comments

The indicator to Bălcescu Mansion first appears somewhere after Dedulești, at the foothill of Meridionali Carpathians, when you are almost in Râmnicu Vâlcea. If you are travelling a lot to Transylvania and Oltenia, you cannot miss it every time you pass by, so you start growing a curiosity regarding the place.

conacul balcescu_my secret romania_1

Here, mansion means a house in the Romanian Brâncoveanu style (refers to houses built during 1688-1714, when Constantin Brâncoveanu was the ruler of Wallachia – Țara Românească – the southern part of now Romania), with gothic influences, built up a hill in the first half of the 19th century. The kula (fortified house built in 18th-19th centuries) near the gate, the counter forts, the big veranda windows, the two staircases which lead to the main entrance are enough for the architecture geeks to congratulate themselves for taking a detour and visiting this place.

Nicolae Balcescu’s home

The mansion belongs to the family of Nicolae Bălcescu – a Romanian Wallachian soldier, historian, journalist, and leader of the 1848 Wallachian Revolution. He was born in 1819 in Bucharest and died in exile, in Palermo, aged 33. His family was of low-ranking nobility back then, but looking at the house we would say they were rich.

He was a passionate scholar, furthering his history studies in France and Italy. His liberal views, together with those of his friends that studied in Western Europe, helped the 1848 revolution in Wallachia (back then Romania did not exist). He was, for just two days, both Minister and Secretary of State of the provisional government put in place by the revolutionaries.

You will not find everywhere a house that can take you back two centuries ago. Once you enter, time travelling starts. You step into the saloon, in the dinning room, in Bălcescu’s family bedroom, you come across the place Nicolae Bălcescu grew up with his mother and his four brothers. How they all used to fit in the last room’s small bed remains a mistery…

conacul balcescu_my secret romania_4

You step on the same floor he did, you watch the same beams he did. You admire the garden and the back green hill and you think how much he had to miss these images when he was denied access into our country and he had to die exiled, in Palermo (after the Ottoman Empire restrained the revolution in September 1848, Bălcescu was first arrested, then exiled by the Habsburg Empire).

conacul balcescu_my secret romania_3 conacul balcescu_my secret romania_6 conacul balcescu_my secret romania_5conacul balcescu_my secret romania_7 conacul balcescu_my secret romania_8

Unfortunately, time travelling doesn’t last for long. You can enjoy the Biedermayer furniture only in four rooms, the traditional carpets, ceramics by Corbi (a famous pottery center, which lost its craft in the last ten years) and by Curtea de Argeș. In the other rooms of the mansion we can see an exhibition dedicated to Nicolae Bălcescu, the kind that bores and amazes in the same time.

conacul balcescu_my secret romania_9

Amazes because it is the same for years, so you can see the great communist way of decorating: glass panels for maps and documents, with black letters carefully glued on them, wooden showcases used to present very important documents. It becomes boring because of the same reasons. The exhibition is not doing much for making the regular visitor, Romanian or foreigner, to get closer to Bălcescu’s figure and to understand a bit more about his role in the 1848 big changes.

He was a liberal militating for the introduction of the universal vote and for the peasant appropriation. The revolution didn’t achieve its targets at the moment, but in early 1859, at the close of a turbulent period, Wallachia and Moldavia entered a personal union, later formalized as the Romanian United Principalities, under Moldavian-born ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza (himself a former revolutionary). Cuza followed the revolutionaries goals and achieved numerous reforms that helped the peasants and the establishment of more modern times.

conacul balcescu_my secret romania_10

Fortunately, at the end of the exhibition tour you end up in the veranda and wonder if you could stay there for hours, with a book and a cup of tea and you would look for inspiration, as the artists who came here probably did. In 1948, Radu Mandrea, one of the Bălcescu family descendants, was forced to donate the domain to the State. A few years later, the communist regime found a big interest in Bălcescu’s figure and the place was transformed into a museum.

On a more happy note, there’s still the garden. With Bălcescu family’s church, moved out of the village, into the mansion domain, with Sevastița Bălcescu’s grave (Bălcescu’s mother), with a big yellow magnolia. The place gives a good vibe, so you might consider taking a blanket and some sandwiches along, for a small picnic.

conacul balcescu_my secret romania_16

conacul balcescu_my secret romania_13 conacul balcescu_my secret romania_15conacul balcescu_my secret romania_14 conacul balcescu_my secret romania_17 conacul balcescu_my secret romania_18
conacul balcescu_my secret romania_12

Good to know

  • When you enter the gate, there’s a strong ring letting the museum personnel know they have guests, so if you are a big group, you might want to go in all at once.
  • The entrance fee is less then 1 EUR per person; the fee for a guided tour is 1 EUR and the photo fee is also 1 EUR

Our big plan is an Oltenia tour, that will happen this year in June, which will include Nicolae Balcescu Mansion. Our smaller plan are special trips in Oltenia and Muntenia which will include seeing this jewelry on the way. Find more about what are we planning for you on our Join us on trip! page.