Transylvania, a region in rural Romania in Central Europe, is for many people linked to and associated with the fictional Dracula figure out of the 19th century book by Bram Stoker. However, the meaning of the name, derived from the Latin “ultra silvam” or “exceedingly forested,” is much more representative for the true content and richness of this wonderful piece of land in the heart of Europe.
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Having known quite vivid history, and being at times part of the Roman Empire, the Hun Empire, Hungary and Romania, or even being an independent region, it offers a rich variety of nature and culture. For Jeepers, this means endless drives on unpaved roads through hills and valleys, and great visits to medieval villages.
With this in mind, my family and I set out for the Euro Camp Jeep site near Berlin with our Rubicon Unlimited to Romania, crossing Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary with the aim of spending a two week holiday of off-highway driving in the Apuseni Mountains.
The Apuseni Mountains are not high. The highest peak is only approximately 5,500 feet and human settlement can be found even on the highest peaks. The landscape offers a variety of steep climbing roads ending on a plateau with a small village, mixed with great views and sights on the valleys. The area is also special in the sense that it is disputed between the Romanians and the Hungarians. One village is Hungarian while the next one is Romanian. In any case, the whole area is very rural with small villages and no cities, lots of unpaved roads, and cattle and horse-drawn carts on the roads.
We decided to rent a holiday house and work with an organization called Green Mountain Holidays, operated by a Belgian ex-patriot and offering active and natural holidays. This turned out to be a big hit! Johan provided us with a binder full of detailed maps, containing off-highway tracks and routes for days and days of driving. This was great! We were now free to plan loop-based trips from our cottage, and get up there in the mountains every day, packing a picnic and our maps.
In all, we probably drove about 800km – 320 miles – off-highway, visiting amongst others medieval villages on the top of a mountain, secluded and almost abandoned monasteries, deserted winter skiing slopes, etc etc …The real wonders of the Apuseni are not above but underground. Hidden in deep valleys are extensive limestone formations that give rise to some spectacularly eroded scenery. It turns out the whole region is like a big, white chunk of Swiss cheese, thoroughly carved by underground rivers for millions of years.
A great attraction is the Scarisoara cave, site of a large underground glacier that is preserved during the summer and winter months. An off-highway trek of about 7km takes you up the mountain, after which you descend into the funnel leading to the glacier. The off-highway drive up the mountain with the Rubicon was big fun. Unlike home and elsewhere in Europe, there are no restrictions or negative looks from hikers when you are crawling up the mountain in a 4×4 … Fantastic.