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Designing Romania’s Via Transilvanica

Romania’s Via Transilvanica connects communities across the country. Covering 1,400 kms, designing the trail has been a huge but rewarding task. The trail has already been a success, winning the Public Choice Award at the European Heritage Awards 2023. We spoke to Anna Székely, co-founder of the Via Transilvanica, to find out more.

The Via Transilvanica is so much more than a long-distance footpath. Immense and spectacular, this new 1,400 kilometre-long trail snakes its way across some of Romania’s most dramatic landscapes from Bucovina in the north to the Danube in the south, encompassing the Carpathian mountains, painted monasteries, deep forests of beech, acacia, oak and pine; healing lakes, medieval castles, upland meadows thick with flowers, Saxon churches, remains of Roman roads and ancient labyrinthine villages.

Overlooking forests, mountains and villages on the Via Transilvanica Trail in Bucovina, Romania

But its main purpose, says Anna, is to give those who walk or cycle it the chance of discovering characters and stories, as well as places, and to be enriched by the experience. ‘The purpose is to heal, both mentally and spiritually.’

The Via Transilvanica is the latest and boldest project created by a remarkable NGO, Tășuleasa Social, whose environmental and educational projects over twenty years have planted a million trees and taught thousands of children about the importance of forests and the value of volunteering. But creating a long-distance path uniting the length of the country was a huge undertaking. How had it come about?

Cycling through a farm in Bucovina on the Via Transilvanica trail

Anna tells us that after she’d walked the Camino de Santiago with Alin Uhlmann Uşeriu, president of the NGO, in 2018, she thought, ‘I’m sorry, but my country is much more beautiful! Why don’t we have a trail like this?’ That’s when she and Alin started planning the Via Transilvanica.

Transylvania might conjure Count Dracula and vampires, but Anna wants to reclaim the name of this historic region – the word means ‘beyond the forest’ – for visitors to discover the incredibly rich and varied cultures of the people living along its length. So the Via Transilvanica has been dubbed ‘the path that unites’; its mission is to connect not only seven historical regions of Romania, but all the people who encounter one another along its route, from walkers and cyclists to shepherds and those who offer hospitality to travellers. ‘This is primarily a social project,’ says Anna. ‘It has huge economic potential for the 400 communities it passes through. Many of them had become like ghost villages because so many people had left to find work elsewhere. Only the old people or children remained.’

Now, she says, these villages are re-animated by the Via Transilvanica because those who walk the route stop in these villages to sleep, or even just pause to talk to these elderly inhabitants. They, in turn, relish having people to chat to, and enjoy sharing the food which they’ve grown in their gardens. ‘Many old ladies who had nothing to do for many years started a ‘local gastronomical point’, cooking different dishes to offer visitors, giving them some income. And there are young families who have come back to their villages to open small guest houses and they are doing very well and making money from it.’

A Slow Cyclist guide cycling over a wooden bridge on Romania's Via Transilvanica trail

The NGO’s aim is that ‘no hiker should ever get lost’ on the route, and so the trail is clearly marked throughout with orange T symbols. And then, every single kilometre in the 1400 km route, there’s a unique, carved andesite stone – all of them created by artists – making this possibly the world’s longest sculpture trail.

‘Of course it’s not as religiously spiritual as the Camino de Santiago,’ says Anna, ‘but you can find your god, or you can just find yourself on this road. Because it’s very meditative, and it doesn’t matter if you’re walking among five people, or just by yourself. Walking on a long distance trail is a spiritual way of living, and it changes you. It makes you go deeper in yourself. Or to your higher self. It’s very interesting how you are at the beginning of the trail, and how you end it. The transformation, and the peace. There are a few things that you will find that are changed inside you.’

The painted monastery at Sucevita, as seen by Slow Cyclists on Romania's Via Transilvanica

If you’d like to cycle and walk along Romania’s Via Transilvanica trail, find out more about our Expedition Journey through Bucovina. Enquire now for more details. 

Trees on the hill in one of Bucovina's beautiful landscapes

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