For those of you who are passionate of tracking, long walks in the middle of nature, speleology, searching the secrets of the surroundings and admiring the view while enjoying the fresh air, the Western Romanian Carpathians is the place to go. Known as Apuseni Mountains, they represent one of the most sought after touristic spots in Eastern Europe and not only. Here you will find a seductive blend of history, millennial local traditions and cuisine, staggering sceneries and a lot of many other hidden treasures.
Considered the heart of Transylvania, the Apuseni are one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Romania. Beyond enchanting landscapes, people and general charm of the natural reserve, this attracts thousands of visitors. Caves (400), waterfalls, easier or more difficult mountain trails, fairs and traditions, memorial houses and museums – these are only a few of the reasons to make a visit to the region, regardless of the season.
Because there are so many things to see and enjoy in this area, we thought of focusing solely on the caves for now. Since the perimeter is very rich when it comes to caves – over 400 -, we mentioned a few, the most popular and accessible to amateurs who don’t have or need special training. But it doesn’t mean that they are less spectacular, on the contrary. In addition, there are many others, but only an extended stay could really cover it all. The best spot to set your “base” in Arieseni, a small town which is close to most of them), then you can settle your itinerary according to your own plans and desire.
Ionele’s Gate Cave
If you want to visit this, you can do it in a combo while of visiting Scarisoara as well, the two being located at a short distance from each other, in Ordancusii Keys. Ionele’s Gate greets you with a huge and spectacular grotto (Corobana lui Gartau), which is clogged, but where you can sit at a picnic, as there are several tables. The cave entrance is on a side road, after you pass about 150 meters ahead.
Discovered by J. Vass in 1857, but explored in detail by Emil Racovita, in 1921, the cave has a nice legend, from which it received its name. Ionele was an outlaw hiding in the cave that was discovered after a girl from the village came to bring him food. The cave entrance is through an opening 20 meters high. The route is arranged and the interior is light. The length of the cave is 131 meters,the stalactites and stalagmites are rare but as an element of interest, the galleries host protected bat colonies. On the walls of the gallery, visitors can see traces of water that floods in the rainy periods.
Scarisoara cave (or Glacier Scarisoara Cave)
If you have chosen to visit first Ionele’s Gate, Scarisoara you will then cross a beautiful area – Ordâncuşii Gorge and the area that follows – which is a fabulous bucolic scenery that will make you stop and take an exceptional photo shooting. At some point you will notice a sign in the parking lot which will direct you towards a road lasting for about 10-15 minutes to the Scarisoara cave, the largest ice cave in Romania, considered a natural monument since 1938. Where you have to prepare yourself to descend the 270 steps (48 meters) and, especially, to climb them back while returning.
Situated at an altitude of 1150 m, Scarisoara was mentioned for the first time in documents in 1863 by an Austrian geographer. The glacier inside the cave has existed for over 3000 years and the cave has a total length of 750 meters on a section, but only 250 meters can be accessed. You can visit the main gallery – the entrance in the Great Hall, then the Church, where there are dozens of stalagmites. There are two rooms – Little Reserve and Grand Reserve, however they are not open to tourists, but only for scientific researchers. The Glacier Cave resists due to the air currents and low temperature inside. During the year, the ice melts, then recovers, so the cave landscape is never the same.
The Bear Cave
The Bear Cave is among the best arranged tourist location in Apuseni. More than 17,000 years ago, the wild prehistoric animals used to find shelter in this area, especially bears (among them, many bear species that disappeared). Apparently a rock rolled over the cave entrance at one point, probably because of an earthquake, blocking inside about 140 bears, whose remains have been found much later – thus giving the name of this tourist attraction. The cave was discovered very late, in 1975, by a group of miners who worked in the exploitation of limestone. Five years later, the cave came into the tourist circuit. It has a length of 1.5 km and three for visiting galleries, plus one reserved for scientific research.
Here, you can see the Candles Hall, the Meeting Room, the Bones Hall and Emil Racovita Hall. Here an ancient bear skeleton is on display, but what truly contributes to the beauty of the cave are the thousands of stalactites and stalagmites spread on the inside of the cave in various shapes and sizes.
In the Gallery of the Candles there is a strange limestone formation in the shape of a bear trying desperately to find the exit of the cave after it had been trapped. In fact many of the formations have bizarre shapes, consequently being named after people’s imagination: the Rocket, the Swan, The Dwarfs’ Lodge, the Pagodas etc.
Meziad had long been considered the longest cave in Romania, with its length 4750 meters; meanwhile, speleologists discovered that the Wind Cave is even longer. It was one of the first caves arranged by man, and is a natural monument and Speleological reserve. It lies at an altitude of 297 m and the entrance is through a portal high 16 m. The cave is really spectacular: corridors, galleries, limestone formations, curtains, stalagmites and stalactites will delight the spirit of the traveler; another element meant to your attention is the bat colonies in the Hall.
Meziad can be visited by a specific schedule, the tours are taken with a guide, every hour, starting at 10 and ending with 17.00 (June 1st to September 30th) / 16.00 (March 1st to May 31st). In the remaining period, the cave can be visited only by preliminary appointment. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and the temperature in the cave is between 10 to 12 degrees.
As the matter of fact, all caves mentioned above have a schedule and professional guidance. In general, organized groups receive discounts.