Fly to Bucharest. On arrival we are transferred by minibus to our private guesthouse at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains (approx. 3 hours). Food and refreshments will be served during the transfer.
After breakfast we spend the day walking around the area surrounding the unique Kalibash villages of Magura and Pestera, where the houses are built all along the mountain ridges with deep ravines and valleys in between.We will visit these traditional houses and learn about the history of the settlements, which were built against the mediaeval invasions of Mongols, Tartars and Turks.
The region around Brasov is closely related to the history of the Transylvanian Saxons, settlers who immigrated 800 years ago from the Rhine-Moselle valleys. Their strong fortified churches have attracted international attention and some of them are listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. In the morning we drive down into the valley where we begin an easy hike which leads us through open woodland, an area ideal for all kinds of birds. On our way we may watch the shepherds at work. After about 3 hours we reach the village of Vulcan. Its name derives from the Slavonic word 'valc' which means wolf.
In Vulcan we will be welcomed with coffee and tea in the yard of the fortified church. The churches in Transylvania were strongly fortified during the Middle Ages when the region was raided a number of times by Mongols and Tartars.
In the afternoon we return to Magura by minibus.
Today we travel the traditional way as horse-drawn carts take us into the Barza Valley. As we make our way slowly through the valley we can enjoy the spectacular view, though the open meadows, of the Piatra Craiului mountains. From the valley we hike up to an orthodox hermitage with a chapel hidden in the rocks, dedicated to Holy Paraschiva. The monks will invite us for a cup of their herbal tea before our walk back to the valley where the horse-carts wait to take us back. This evening, those who want can take the opportunity to go wild bear watching. A forester will take us to a safe hide deep in the forest. The hides are managed by the forestry commission and their access is dependent on their permission which is why it is organised and paid for locally. Not being able to get access to the hides is extremely rare.
Today we hike 300 metres high on the hills of Magura, where we hit the trail to Dracula's castle. This castle was built on the border to Valachia, where once Vlad Tepes (AKA Vlad the Impaler), the Duke of Valachia, ruled. Vlad, also known as Dracula was a brutal tyrant and provided inspiration to Bram Stoker when he wrote his famous vampire story. After Transylvania had become part of Romania in 1920, the castle was donated to the Romanian royal family. It became the summer residence of Queen Maria, a granddaughter to Queen Victoria. We will be picked up by a minibus later this afternoon and return to the guesthouse.
In the morning we visit the old medieval town of Brasov. Since its foundation in the 12th century it has been a melting pot of nations. After a guided sightseeing tour there is time to explore the city individually. Lunch will be at a traditional restaurant, before we meet staff from the wildlife department of Brasov university who will accompany us for a field excursion to a UN-Ramsar site (to do with an international convention on wetland conservation) where we may see some rare species of birds like black stork or lesser spotted eagle. More than 10 years ago beavers which became extinct in Romania were reintroduced in the rivers and some of them established a new home in this wetland area. With a bit of luck we may spot some of them. (please note that very occasionally the university staff may not be available to meet us but we will still explore the site in search of its birds and beavers).
In the morning we walk through the spectacular Jurassic-era Prapastile Zarnestilor Canyon. Some rare species of birds like the wallcreeper and Tengmalm's owl are breeding in this gorge. We walk higher up through the forests to the shepherds' summer camps. In Transylvania the old system of shepherding is still alive: sheep are driven through the forests and across the pastures during daytime, only coming home to the camp twice a day for milking. At night the flock is guarded against bear and wolf attacks by a fierce pack of dogs and the shepherds. The shepherds will serve us some of their delicious dairy products, produced in the camps.
Transfer to Bucharest airport; fly to London. Please note that some weeks the itinerary may be followed in a different order but we will still do all of these activities even if on different days.