Growing up in a mountain town, high peaks hold a special place in my heart. That’s why for years I have been ignoring one of the most beautiful parts of Romania, and one of the oldest: Macin Mountains. However, since I first discovered how mesmerizing this part of the world can be, I’ve become religious about making a trip to Macin at least once a year. Almost three years later, I can say that my mission is achieved.
This spring, for Romania’s May 1st national holiday, we made our 5th trip to Macin mountains in three years. You’d think we’d be bored by this place by now, but as tiny as this area might be with its pigmy peaks, there’s so much beauty to feast upon, I seriously can’t wait to return… and I’ve just left the place a couple of days ago. I haven’t found a place like this anywhere else in Romania. It has it all: good temperatures, breathtaking views, peaks, forests, wildflowers (orchids) and it’s great for bird watching, photography and wildlife experiences. For me, it’s one of the wildest parts of Romania, and every time it feels like I’m going on a sort of “Alice in Wonderland” trip. These tiny mountains look so boring and lifeless from far away, that you’re completely stunned once you make your first steps and find out there’s an entirely different world out there.
Camping in Greci
Part of our tradition of going to Macin is camping. So once again, this year, we set camp at Turtle Camp, in Greci. We usually like to camp in secluded areas, but we felt so welcomed and comfortable in this camping, we decided to return for the second time. If you’re planning to hike through Macin mountains and looking for a place to stay, I recommend you spend at least one night here. The people are very friendly - they will give you advice on the best routes to take on the mountain. Plus, they have rabbits and chickens you can play with, hot water, available grill for your barbecue needs and Wi-Fi.
There are other camping sites around. It’s best you check the website of the national Macin Park to identify the closest ones to your hikes.
Now, let me tell you a bit about Greci. This is one of the biggest villages at the base of Macin mountains and… in all fairness, having been here so many times, we’re kind of in love with the place. We’re at a point where we daydream about how it would be like actually living here year-round.
The sights around Greci are mesmerizing. Macin’s highest peak, Tutuiatu, watches over the village on one side, always providing breathtaking views. On the other side, you have Dobrogea’s beautiful fields and hills, which both in spring and summer, go through colorful transformations as the rape, wheat and sunflower fields, take turns catching the eye with shades of green, yellow and gold. And then you have the old Danube river, with the Macin section right across the field, only a couple of minutes by car from Greci or the actual Danube Delta, just around the corner. Oh, and let’s not forget the sea, which is only an hour and something away. Doesn’t this place sound like heaven?
There are some grocery stores in the village, but don’t expect to find too much product variety. There’s also a local market where you can buy local cheese, vegetables, and fruit. It’s also one of the nicest looking local markets I’ve seen throughout Romania’s rural area. In the center, you can also find a bakery shop with sweets produced in-house. We still haven’t found a restaurant in the area where you could eat. So better be prepared. You can also shop most of your groceries in the city of Macin, where you can find a supermarket.
If you have the time, make sure you visit the Park’s museum. We went there last year and it blew us away. I had never imagined a visit to a national park museum would be so entertaining or educational.
Two humans and a cat
This year in Macin, we added a second challenge: we took our cat with us - camping and hiking. It wasn’t our cat’s first time hiking. However, it has been so long since his first trip that we did not know what to expect. Things went as you’d imagine when taking a cat out in nature. First, he was shy and a bit fearful. Then he became curious. Eventually, he would start to navigate his surroundings. Once he was comfortable enough he would walk behind us… always stopping to sniff that, to play with that, to investigate some sound or movement in the grass. Other times, he would just stop to smell the flowers.
It was no easy deal and on hindsight, we should have taken that into account when we planned our hiking trips. We were there for 2 days and we planned a hiking trip for each day. First was Cozluk Valley, a trail that we missed in previous years. The second one was a trip from Greci towards Culmea Pricopanului, the Suluk Mare peak. Neither was specifically difficult, but when you have a 6kg cat with you, time flies and miles don’t. It took us about twice as much time to cover both trails and with double the exhaustion. In all fairness and much to our surprise, our cat did walk by himself, with his four paws, a quarter of each trail. The rest of the time, I carried him in the backpack, him studying everything around him with a fun gaze on his face.
Before we start, a piece of useful info:
If you need a good map of Macin Mountains, the awesome people from Carpati.org have this one.
Day 1 – Cozluk Valley - Length: 16 KM - Mark: Red Dot
Itinerary: Greci – Crucele pasture – Radului Valley – The Crooked Lime tree (Teiul Strâmb) – Baia de aramă (the copper mine) – Pietrele Lacului (Lake stones) – Conaciu Peak – Poplars (Plopilor) Valley – Pietrele Mariei (Mary's Rocks) – Greci.
What to see: Peonies, Orchids & Turtles
Cozluk Valley is a bit of a wild trail that will often misguide you into taking the wrong road. Or at least that was our experience. It seemed so chaotic that afterward, I found it impossible to mentally retrace our steps back to the starting point. Left, right, left, right, where’s the mark? Left, right, left, right, it seemed like it made no sense whatsoever. Most of the trail goes through the woods and, at least during spring, some parts are so wild and filled with plants it’s hard to see the actual path. With plants going as high as our knees in some places, it was almost impossible to have our cat, walk with us. Because he was wearing his leash, he would constantly get stuck under the plants, so we had to make frequent stops to untangle him.
I imagine this trail is wonderful to take on when the peonies are in bloom. You will literally walk a path surrounded by red, lush, wild peonies. However, since the peonies were not in bloom at all during our trip, that, and the continuous zigzag made the trail a bit unappealing. Even so, the forest is beautiful, turtles are all around and wildlife is very present. We saw marks left by wild boars and we’ve even heard them in the forest, quite close to us much to my despair, we stumbled upon two does that ran scared into the woods and we found several turtles, all serious and might in their tough shell. By the way, turtles are not as slow as you’d imagine.
When it comes to flowers, it’s not just peonies you will find on the Cozluk Valley trail. I’m a bit of a flower addict and I go nuts when I spot blooms during my hikes. I know how many tourists are collecting flowers from the forest and simply damaging the chances of that specific species to propagate next year. So to be able to still find wildflowers like orchids or alpine lilies is a treat and a blessing. To me, it’s a sign that nature still prevails.
During late April – early May, throughout some of Macin’s forests, you will see some weird plants. These look like spikes or arrows, raising straight from the ground, with only two leafs, both at their base, right on the ground. Fight your curiosity to poke at them. These plants will eventually bloom, with a bouquet of beautiful bell-shaped flowers right at the top. The plant is called Nectaroscordum siculum spp. bulgaricum - Bulgarian Honey Garlic and as weird as this name sounds, trust me, you do not want to test the garlic connection. When the plants’ membrane is damaged, be it a leaf or stem, they emanate an awful stench. It will turn your stomach inside-out.
There’s one flower though that we found in the forest this year, which I totally didn’t expect to see. Wild Muguet flowers, or how we call them in Romania “margaritar”. I’ve heard people saying that in their areas (Ardeal region mostly), these delicate bell-shaped white flowers are found in the forest. I’ve never seen any during my hikes, until this trip. It was such a lovely sight and have totally added to the beauty of this forest trail.
As mentioned before, the trail goes left and right, and then left and right again, all way too puzzling for me to make any sense of it all. It’s mostly a forest walk, almost not at all steep, although carrying a 6kg cat in my backpack didn’t make it all that easy. In all, with the time spent trying to spot the next mark, we spent about 3 hours on the trail. We walked through the woods and by a camping spot, reached a ridge, found the orchids, went back into the forest, climbed through a rocky river bed, stepped through a marshy area, walked by a lake in the forest, got scared by wild boar cries, lost the mark twice and gave up looking for it, switched to another trail that went the same way, found the original trail mark again, only to lose it within minutes.
Eventually, we gave it all up and switched to a bike trail that went back to Greci and out of the woods. We crashed in knee-height grass, right under the forest edge, ate and tried to trace back our steps while watching our cat play hide and seek. From there on, we walked the dirt road towards our car - and the starting point of the Cozluk Valley trail, while soaking in the breathtaking view of Dobrogea’s hills and fields.
I can't wait to be back to this trail when the wild peonies will be in bloom. Last year we found them in a different spot and didn't make it to the Cozluk Valley trail. Until next time :)
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I have one thing to ask of you fellow nature traveler. Please remember to be respectful of nature's beauty and diversity, to protect its wild flowers and animals and to try your best to clean up after yourself.