6 Ways to have an Authentic Experience in the Ghimes Area of Transylvania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

The picturesque Ghimes area of Transylvania is located at the foothills of the Eastern Carpathians. It is composed of 3 large communes, namely Lunca de Sus, Lunca de Jos (both part of Harghita County) and Ghimes-Făget (part of Bacău County). The three have a combined population of approximately 15,000 and are spread beside the 25 kilometer-long main road. It is a unique area in Transylvania, thanks to its tumultuous historical background, fascinating landscape and strong heritage. Here’s how you can have a true authentic experience in the Ghimes area of Transylvania: 

  • Stop and Enjoy the View

The easiest way to get to the Ghimes area is by driving up from the county seat of Harghita, Miercurea-Ciuc. After about half hours’ drive you’ll get to the Ghimes Pass, which boasts sudden, drastic turns but after a while offers amazing views over the valley. I suggest you start your quest on getting to know the Ghimes area here. Stop for a few minutes, sit down and just look at it from an altitude of 1,159 meters. You can even have a picnic or smoke a cigarette, but whatever you do, take your time. Breathe it in. The fresh air, the smell of pines, the “perfume” of the sheep herd in your immediate proximity. Just take it all in and enjoy the unparalleled green rolling hills the Ghimes have to offer.

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

  • Get a Taste of the Simple Life

Although I’ve traveled far and wide in Romania, I’ve never actually met friendlier locals so far than in the Ghimes area. As we were walking among the streets of the villages, we were pretty obviously not from there. Nevertheless, everyone greeted us with a smile from 7 year-old school kids to 90+ year old grandparents. So don’t hesitate to stop for a minute and talk to them. They have the most interesting stories when it comes to this part of the country.

They also live according to tradition, having a courtyard, a separate garden and a barn next to the house. Most of the families have an additional land from where they collect the grass (which grows very quickly thanks to plenty of rain) to feed their animals. What I really loved that many people put their tools on the outside wall of the barn, making it visible to everybody. As you walk past these homes you can feel the connection people have with each other. They trust each other, they work their lands together and they survive catastrophic floods (like the one of 2009) by fighting against it together.

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

 

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

  • Participate in a Local Event

When we were visiting the area, we were extremely lucky to catch the graduation ceremony of the seniors at the local schools. It might not be a big deal in general, but the people of Ghimes to this (and everything else) in traditional style. There was actually a huge march with the children of the schools, which started with an actual marching band made up of students and their teachers.

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

This was followed by the graduating boys and girls dressed in traditional costumes who came in on horseback! Yup, you read that right. And if this all wasn’t enough, the third part of the party was made up of the smaller children in the school, who accompanied their peers on horse-drawn carriages, all the while singing traditional folk songs. It was definitely a moment to remember.

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

The Ghimes valley hosts a myriad of colorful cultural events besides the graduation, including the Cheese Curd Polenta Festival (no, this is no joke), the Chango Festival and many more. You can keep up with the events on this website.

  • Learn All About the Ghimes Area’s History

The Ghimes Valley lies on the border of a County with 85% Hungarian ethnicity (Harghita) and a County with 96% Romanian-speaking folk (Bacău). As you can imagine, locals have been affected by this stark contrast. A small ethnic group called the Csango people live in these lands (and especially in Bacău County), who are mostly of Roman Catholic religion and speak a kind of dialect of Hungarian. I don’t want to get into too many details, so don’t hesitate to read on about the Csango People if you’re curious to find out more.

The main thing I wanted to get to is that this area was the official old border with Romania, back in the days when Transylvania belonged to Austria-Hungary. But nearly 100 years have passed since Transylvania was annexed to Romania, however the last railway station (nr 30) of the Hungarian State Railway still exists. Its owners kept it in immaculate shape and it can be visited today, as it houses a Historical Museum of the Railway.

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Right next to the Railway Museum you’ll find the ruins of the Rákóczi fortress, which was built in 1626. No renovation efforts have been made in the past years to rehabilitate the historical site, so it really is in ruins. Nevertheless, the steep stairs are worth the climb, since the fortress offers quite a nice view over the Ghimes-Făget commune.

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

I’ve mentioned before that the locals here are very religious. So it might not come as a surprise that numerous religious pilgrimage routes pass along the Ghimes valley. In fact, the locals here are known for attending the Csíksomlyó Pilgrimage, the largest Pentecost gathering of Hungarians in the entire country. To show their love of pilgrims, the locals set up a few sculpted wooden crosses on the hill opposite to the fortress. This place also offers quite an impressive vista of the surroundings.

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

In memory of the enormous flooding which occurred in 2009 and devastated numerous households, the locals have set up a small chapel atop a hill in Lunca de Sus. It’s nestled between the trees of the nearby forest and also offers spectacular views of the commune, so you might want to check it out.

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

  • Delve into the Local Cuisine

Thanks to the region’s historical background, the local cuisine was also influenced by different ethnicities, contributing to unique blends and savors. I’m gonna give you a heads up and warn you upfront that the portions here are huge. The food is excellent, so make sure you only order the amount you know you can manage because you’ll feel bad for leaving it on the plate later. The soups are dense and contain a lot of meat (for me the soup was already more than enough), whilst the main courses are also filling. Don’t hesitate to drink a shot of pálinka before your meal, to conform to the local tradition. I also wouldn’t miss out on having a traditional polenta with cheese curd, a batch of stuffed cabbage rolls or a bean soup served in bread.

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

  • Explore the Natural Attractions the Ghimes Area has to Offer

Don’t be afraid to wonder off the beaten path and find a lil’ hiking trail to get lost among the green rolling hills of the Ghimes area. During one such escapade we actually stumbled across a nice waterfall where we could cool down. The same trail leads you further, right until the Hasmas Mountains which we also explored last year.

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

I’m curious: which part of the Ghimes area do you like most?

Let me know in the comments section below!

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Authentic Transylvania: Ghimes Area of Romania

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