A full day excursion through the northwestern Romanian region of Maramures, home to many villages where century-old traditions are still part of daily life, has been added to the itinerary of our tours that cross from Hungary to Romania, such as our Transylvania Tale tour. This addition enables us to explore the traditional rural lifestyle of the Maramures villages and their wooden churches, some of which have been recognised by UNESCO because of their characteristic high roofs and tall, narrow, pointed steeples.
Coming from Debrecen we take the train across the border arriving in the half-Romanian, half-Hungarian town of Satu Mare (Szatmar). At the train station we get picked up by our guides in private cars to take us over the mountain pass to the isolated land of Maramures. Along the way we pass the strange town of Certeze, where 90% of the working population has left the town to work abroad. The money they make is sent back and invested in bricks and mortar, leading to the most expensive corner of real estate in the country outside of Bucharest. Here everybody is trying to outdo their neighbour, which leads to ridiculous extravagance. Once over the mountain pass we reach the Tisa river that forms the border with Ukraine. We follow this until we reach the village of Sapanta with its unique cemetery. The brainchild of a local artisan, who began carving gravestones out of oak, with an image of the deceased, a humorous epitaph in the local vernacular, and painting them with bright colours. Soon the cemetery gained the nickname of “Merry Cemetery” thanks to its positive and light-hearted approach to an often depressing subject. There is literally no cemetery in the world quite like the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta and was voted number 2 in the National Geographic’s “Top 10 Cemeteries“.
From there we travel to the village of Barsana where the local, rich tradition of woodcarving is alive and well, with picturesque wooden houses fronted by giant, ornately-carved gates. In the evenings the older people of the village sit on benches outside and tut tut about “young people today”. The old-new monastery (there has been a monastery there for hundreds of years, but it was ruined and neglected during Communism, so has been rebuilt from scratch) has been built according to traditional methods and affords great views over the Izei valley, where people still farm using centuries-old techniques.
From there we drive to the small village of Serb where the villagers still use an old, water-powered mill to grind their corn to make mamaliga, the staple of Romanian cuisine. And finally we stop at Desesti (maybe not always as the person with the key may not be in – but if not we would visit a similar church) with its wooden church that is inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list. The naive, folk paintings inside are unique and show rural representations of heaven and hell, including tortures for such egregious sins as short-changing customers or falling asleep in church.We then drive back over the mountains to Baia Mare where we spend the night.
You can pass through this beautiful corner of Romania on our Transylvania Tale tour, which explores many of the most fascinating historical sites and cities in Eastern Europe.