Sitting at the intersection between central and southeastern Europe, Romania boasts a wide array of attractions that range from legendary cities to medieval castles as well as sprawling wilderness. While travellers can easily get lost enough in Romania's cities and quaint villages to last a lifetime, active visitors will want to head out into its rural attractions. With bold mountains, waterfalls dropping dramatically over sharp rocks, and kilometres of lake-studded valleys, Romania is a country for the adventurers.
Frequent travellers and waterfall aficionados alike have seen wide waterfalls, tall waterfalls and probably a few unique waterfalls, but no one has ever seen a waterfall like this. Located up in the Anina Mountains in Caras-Severin National Park, the fascinating Bigar Waterfall is the pride of Romania. Although considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls on earth, it still remains relatively unknown to travellers. The waterfall is fed from an underground river that spills out over a rounded rock and cascades down 200 metres dispersed in a superb film on the rock. The water connects in a small lake in the Minis Canyon that marks the beginning of the stream that runs through it. There are trails that lead to the waterfall through the canyon; however, unless visitors intend on ending their hike with a swim, it is best to take the trail that traces the canyon's ridge for the best view of the falls.
Located just beyond the village of Ponoarele, God's Bridge is the largest natural bridge in Romania and the highest in Europe. At 50 metres long and 22 metres high, the bridge was created when the cavernous ceiling of the cave that used to exist on the spot collapsed into itself. This collapse created layers of limestone packed tightly in over each other with the original cave entrance serving as the arch below. In a fascinating bit of local folklore, it was said that a devil lived in the cave until the village asked God to punish him and chase him away. God apparently hit the ceiling of the cave with his palm to collapse it, but the devil escaped. He now guards an entrance to Ponoarele Cave a couple kilometres away and occasionally drowns people in Zatonul Mare Lake. While the legend is fascinating, the view from the top of the bridge is absolutely breath-taking.
Located under the Apuseni Mountains lies the Scarisoara Cave, one of the largest ice caves within the Carpathian Mountain chain. This 3,000-year-old cave stands at 1,165 metres tall and extends in nearly a kilometre. Throughout the cave's length there are four chambers of varying size. While the Big Hall is the largest of the chambers, the Church is by far the most fascinating. The Church chamber features over 100 stalagmites and stalactites, some made from rocks, some from ice and a few that appear to be hybrids of the two. Tourists are free to wander the Church, the Big Hall and the entrance shaft, but all the other caverns are reserved for use by the Speological Institute of Cluj-Napoca. The glacial offerings found within the cave are unlike anything visitors have ever seen. However, while it is one of Romania's biggest attractions, visitors will need at least a little repelling experience or a tour guide to enter the first 48-metre deep shaft leading to the entrance.
The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina
In the hills outside of the medieval village of Bucovina lies a church unlike anything visitors have ever seen. Although just one piece of set, the painted monastery stand as one of the most picturesque landmarks in Romania. After climbing the steep stone stairs outside the city up to the monastery, visitors will find the lonely looking church. The building is small and while it is nothing special architecturally, it is covered with frescoes depicting prophets, saints, the life of Christ, angels and devils and heaven and hell. The frescoes date back to the 15th century when the church was first built, but today they are considered masterpieces of Byzantine Art. However, the original purpose of the pictures was not for beauty, but actually to inform. The church officials presented the story of the Bible as well as the stories of Orthodox saints in picture form on the building for all the illiterate villagers that could not learn them through reading. This original painted monastery was such a success in spreading the tales to the population that the church created other painted monasteries throughout the region. Some of the other best preserved buildings sit nearby at Mondovita, Probota, Patrauti, Suceava, and Voronet.
It seems that the Sphinx isn't only located in Egypt, but Romania has one of its very own. Also called the Sfinxul, the Sphinx is a magnificent natural rock formation located high up in Romania's Bucegi Mountains. The site offers an oddly shaped rock that looks like a roughly carved Sphinx, it even looks like it is missing its nose. Scientists and Romanian locals have offered up a number of explanations for its unique shape, some mystical while others are more firmly based in science. The scientific explanation is that the rock formation has been carved throughout the centuries through wind erosion. The Sphinx is located just a ten minute hike from more strange and famous rock formations called the Babele, or "Old Women."
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