When you say Romania, most people think about Transylvania, which is one of the most popular destinations in the country. But few tourists know about the fairy-tale region of Bucovina, in northern part of Romania. Here you can still wander through villages forgotten by time, where the soil is tilled with the horse and plow, and the wool is spun with a spindle.
Bucovina is one of my favorite parts of Romania, rich in folklore, natural beauty and history. We first discovered its charm back in the 80s, when we still lived in Romania and used to take long trips around the country.
A Brief History of Bucovina
Until World War II, Bukovina was under the control of Romania, as part of the historical province of Moldavia. But in 1940, the northern half of Bukovina was occupied by the Soviets and it’s currently still part of Ukraine. So when we speak about Bucovina (spelled with a ‘c‘) we are referring to the southern part of this region, which remained affiliated to Romania.
From the 14th to the 16th centuries, Bucovina was the seat of many Moldavian rulers, the most famous of which was Stephan the Great (Stefan cel Mare) who built many of the monasteries in the region.
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN BUCOVINA ROMANIA
There is barely any information about Bucovina online, so it’s not surprising that very few European itineraries include this part of Romania. Therefore, in this post I’ll tell you all you need to know about visiting Bucovina. This is a trip that you should make by car, to fully enjoy it.
1. Cheile Bicazului (Bicaz Gorge)
If you like dramatic scenery and stone walls towering over narrow passes, this place is just for you! Cheile Bicazului are part of a natural reserve called Hāsmas National Park, which lays over 6,500 hectares.
The road that goes through the gorges is like a tunnel carved in limestone rock, with sharp twists and turns that will make your heart stop! Nonetheless, this is one of the most spectacular drives that you will ever encounter! In fact it’s so beautiful, that many people choose to park their car and walk instead of driving.
The nearly vertical walls abound with vegetation that grows in odd places. Trees rising up from the rocky peaks, small waterfalls coming out from the cracks in the rock – this place is amazingly beautiful!
2. Lacul Rosu (The Red Lake)
Another beautiful place to visit in the Bicaz-Hāsmas National Park is Lacul Rosu (the Red Lake). This natural dam was formed when one of the massifs near the Bicaz Gorges collapsed due to a big earthquake, and locked the river valley.
Before the rock cliff collapsed and the valley was invaded by water, this area used to be a forest. Therefore, the lake looks like a sunken forest – with broken tree trunks emerging from the water. Navigating through them in one of those rental boats can be a little challenging.
Its name comes from Pârâul Rosu (the Red Creek) , which crosses through red layers of iron oxide and hydroxide, giving the lake somewhat of a reddish color.
If the weather is good, you can rent a boat and row around the lake. You can also tour around it on foot. Unfortunately Lacul Rosu is always swarming with people, I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen it empty.
3. Putna Monastery
If there is one thing that made Bucovina known outside the borders of Romania, that’s its painted churches and monasteries. So if you are visiting this part of the country you should make it a point to see as many of them as you can.
Perhaps the most important monastery in Bucovina is Putna, located near the town of Suceava. This was one of the first monasteries built (1466) by Stephen the Great, the famous Moldavian ruler that Romanians hold so dear to their heart.
Legend has it that Stephen chose the construction site by shooting an arrow at a nearby hill, and the building was erected on the ground where the arrow landed.
Putna may lack impressive frescos, but it’s instead the resting place of Stephen the Great, his second and third wives, and their children.
Both the monastery and its magnificent church are a gem! When visiting Putna, read the information at hand and try to appreciate what you see. It’s important to understand the historic moment during which this monastery was built.
Behind the monastery there is a museum that houses a large collection of medieval objects and manuscripts, among which is the Holy Book that Stephen carried in battle.
4. Daniil the Hermit’s Cave
Just 2 km away from Putna Monastery you can visit the cave of Daniil the Hermit, a 15th century monk who chose to live his life in total isolation. He carved a small chapel into the rock, in a very densely forested area.
Known in Romania as Daniil Sihastrul, the monk rose to fame because Stephan the Great, the prince of Moldova and Bucovina, consulted him before each battle.
To reach the cave you can either walk from Putna Monastery (about 30 minutes), or drive following the signs to ‘Chilia lui Daniil Sihastrul‘.
5. Voronet Painted Monastery
The Painted Churches are the biggest attraction in Bucovina and for sure one of the reasons why many people visit Romania. What makes these monasteries so famous are the colorful exterior frescos depicting various religious scenes.
If you have time, I would suggest taking a dedicated tour of all the painted churches in Bucovina. They are absolutely stunning! But at the minimum, you should visit the Voronet Monastery, which is undoubtedly the most beautiful one.
Voronet Monastery – which was also built by Stephan the Great – is famous for its stunning Last Judgment fresco, painted on the western façade. The fresco depicts Jesus at the top of this scene, from where he judges all of humanity. On the left are the righteous men and women who will go to heaven, while on the right a river of fire takes the sinners to hell.
The blue paint, which is the predominant color of the church, has miraculously never faded. So what’s the secret behind the ‘Voronet Blue’ Nobody knows. The craftsmen guarded their trade secrets fiercely. So to this day, the composition of the paint still remains a mystery.
6. Cotnari Vineyard
Cotnari is one of the oldest and most famous wines in Romania. The hills in this region are calcareous and enjoy specific climate. These conditions favor the appearance of the ‘noble rot’ – a fungus which helps produce the best sweet wine.
The Cotnari wines were very popular in Europe at the end of the 19th century, but today they don’t enjoy the same fame as in the past. Nonetheless, if you are visiting Bucovina, I recommend trying some of the wines in their collection. The most famous ones are Grasā de Cotnari and Frâncușā de Cotnari, which is the only Cotnari wine that is not sweet.
7. Suceava Fortress
The town of Suceava may not be on the list of the best cities to visit in Romania, but it’s a good starting point for a trip to Bucovina. It is also home to one of the most impressive fortresses in Romania.
The Fortress of Suceava was built in the late 1300s by the Moldavian ruler Petru Mușat, as a defensive fortification against the Turks. It also served as the residence for some of the most powerful and influential voivodes (rulers) of Moldavia.
Unfortunately, the fortress did finally cave in to the Ottomans in 1675, when it was totally blown up.
8. Cacica Salt Mine
One place you shouldn’t miss when visiting Bucovina is the Cacica salt mine, located in the village of Cacica. Although not as popular as the Painted Monasteries, or the Bicaz Gorges, the mine is still a fascinating site to visit.
The deepest area you can access in the mine is at 44 meters below the surface. As you enter the cave, you’ll notice a strong smell of gasoline which they say it’s not harmful. However, if you have a keen sense of smell, I recommend wearing a painter’s mask, as the smell may be really bothersome.
One interesting fact about this mine is that it was all carved out by human labor, with the use of very simple tools, like axes and shovels. No excavators were ever used in the construction.
9. Bucovina Village Museum
The best way to experience Bucovina’s rural architecture is by visiting its remote villages, where old traditions and customs are very much alive. But if you don’t have time, you should at least visit the Bucovina Village Museum, located next to the Royal Citadel in Suceava.
This open-air museum (quite similar to the Bucharest Village Museum), features a collection of 80 traditional homes from all over Bucovina. The houses are decorated with their original furnishings and accessories.
You can also buy some nice, authentic Romanian souvenirs from the museum shop.
10. Ceahlau National Park
If you like hiking and the outdoors, I can’t think of a more spectacular place than Ceahlāu National Park. Located in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains in Bucovina, the Ceahlāu Massif is one of the most renowned mountain chains in Romania.
It’s been many years since we hiked these trails, so I don’t remember much about them. But if you are interested in hiking the Ceahlāu, I recommend going with a local guide. Some of these treks are quite challenging.
Is Visiting Bucovina, Romania, Worth It?
Absolutely! However, visiting Bucovina independently may be a little challenging and adventurous. Firstly, because Bucovina is very remote and almost no one speaks English here. Also, public transportation is scarce or almost inexistent in some villages, which makes it difficult to get around unless you have a car.
Nonetheless, visiting Bucovina is a very rewarding experience. It’s like stepping back in time in a bygone era of rural traditions and carts pulled by horses. Besides, you’ll discover that Romanians are one of the friendliest and most welcoming people in the world.
When to Visit Bucovina
The best time to visit Bucovina is from April to September. Springs are especially beautiful in Romania, when the trees start blooming and the mountain slopes dress up in multiple shades of green.
Summer months are also great a time to visit this region because it doesn’t get too hot in this part of the country. In the fall the days are shorter and you get more rain, but the vibrant colors of the fall foliage make it all worth it.
Winters are not so great if you want to hike or spend time outside. However, this is a unique time of the year for experiencing the Christmas traditions in Romania. And Bucovina is quite rich in such customs.
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