Transylvanian Backcountry: Niraj Valley Highlights

Transylvania Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights

The Niraj Valley is a charming area located by the Niraj River, the left tributary of the larger Mures River, part of Mures County. It ties together around 20 small villages, numerous hills, valleys and forests. Despite having a tumultuous background, the Niraj Valley has a strong community of hard-working individuals and is famous for folk dances, local handicraft and its prime vegetable stock.

I had the pleasure of exploring this area last year on my birthday and spent three wonderful days in this lovely part of the Transylvanian backcountry. Despite living right next to the area, I never really went on to explore it properly before.

In the end, this region completely surprised me in terms of its landscape, people, landmarks and hospitality and I hope you’ll love it as much as I do. Here are some highlights from the Niraj Valley: 

Carved Wooden Gates

As you begin your exploration of the Niraj Valley, you’ll likely notice quite a few eye-catching wooden gates scattered around the villages. That’s because wooden gate carving has a long history in this area, stretching back to the first half of the 20th century. They have pretty noticeable characteristics, such as cute little roofs as well as local folkloric elements on their two main sides. As you’ll notice in the photos below, the older ones have a more humble appearance, while the newer gates are much more colorful and even larger.

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Carved Wooden Gates

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Carved Wooden Gates

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Carved Wooden Gates

The Oldest Tree in Transylvania

Quite possibly my favorite place in the Niraj Valley is located in the quaint little cemetery above the village of Calugareni. As you reach the cemetery dotted by old gravestones dating back to the 18th and 19th century, you’ll surely feel a kind of serenity in the air. Here you’ll find not only a quiet place to relax and breathe in the surroundings, but also the impressive linden tree, said to be one of the oldest trees in all of Transylvania. And in its shade lies the impressive Saint John the Baptist wooden chapel, a cherished local architectural gem.

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Calugareni Linden Tree

The Franciscan Monastery of Calugareni

One of the most prominent religious landmarks in the entire Niraj Valley, the Franciscan Monastery can be found in the small village of Calugareni. The construction of the monastery was initiated by Hungarian and Bosnian Franciscans back in the 17th century. The edifice is one of a kind, boasting an octagonal tower, two unique carved wooden gates, cambered windows with sgraffito elements and a quite impressive crypt below the church itself. We were lucky enough to meet with the caretaker, who patiently showed us around, explaining us the monastery’s troubled history and showing us some remaining artifacts from the initial founders of the congregation.

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Franciscan Monastery Calugareni

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Franciscan Monastery Calugareni

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Franciscan Monastery Calugareni

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Franciscan Monastery Calugareni

Local Flora and Fauna

Even if you’re not much of a nature enthusiast, chances are the Niraj Valley will still impress you. Naturally, if you only drive on the main roads, you won’t see much of the local wildlife. However, if you venture off the beaten path a bit, you’ll surely encounter a fox or a pheasant (or both) here or there. The flora is equally amazing, with quite a handful of different species giving color to the vast valleys and green meadows.

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Fauna

 

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Flora

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Fauna

Becheci Peak

No trip is complete without a place from where we can get a good bird’s eye view of the area. The Becheci Peak is the absolute best viewpoint from where you can admire the Niraj Valley. Part of the Gurghiu Mountains, the Becheci stands tall at 1,080 meters and can be accessed both on foot via a marked trail from Sovata and by car on a dirt road.  You’ll know you’re at the top once you see the Saint Cross Chapel in sight. However you choose to climb it, the effort is definitely worth it! See for yourself:

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Becheci Peak

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Becheci Peak

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Becheci Peak

Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights - Becheci Peak

To summarize, the Niraj Valley is an enchanting little area filled with friendly locals, interesting landmarks, lush natural landscape and strong traditions. And even though we’ve seen a lot of the region, there’s still so much to discover! We will be back on yet another mini-trip this spring, but until then please enjoy this short intro to a few highlights the Niraj Valley has to offer.

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Transylvanian Backcountry - Niraj Valley Highlights

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