The morning dew and the shy sun show us signs of a great day ahead. Today we will be like children going on a field trip that is meant to discover the cultural core of the Mara – Cosău – Creasta Cocoșului area.
Dawn in Maramureș
Our schedule is pretty full for the day but nothing we can't handle; we start early in the morning without even eating and we hurry outside on the surrounding hills to catch the first sun rays and to hear the Hay Story: when you cut the grass, how you need to pile it up in a haystack and how long can you use it.
We come to our senses not with coffee but with a small hike on the hills around Breb village where we find out about the local customs of hay stacking and about the life cycles people practice here, at the footsteps of the mountains.
Our plans to take some shots of the morning sun rays are ruined because the sun was missing. The same as us, clouds gathered close from all around to listen carefully what Edit from EcoMaramureș had to say about traditions in the area.
From up here, everything looks unflinching.
Our all mighty 'horinca'
We make our way back to the bus that was waiting for us next to the main road. The driver is Viorel, Mărioara's husband – a real character. After we have breakfast the second lesson for today starts. Viorel welcomes us close to the boiler and explains how this specific type of "holy water" is made. One thing is clear – the locals don't kid around about their 'horinca' (traditional Romanian plum schnapps) and it is obvious that they never start the winter season without a solid stash.
In the evening we take part in the process of measuring the "strength" of the drink which needs to be exactly between 50 and 52 degrees. The experts determine this by the number and size of air bubbles the drink leaves behind when it is poured. We are happy only to taste the batch – they have done an excellent job as it is one of the best plum elixirs we have ever tried out.
Visiting wooden gates and timeless churches
You can't think about Maramureș without taking into account one of its most relevant emblems: the wooden gates and churches.
A curious fact is that most of the wooden gates and churches are full of symbols that predate Christianity and even though their true meaning is unknown to most people they are still vastly used.
I still remembers from my time in college when I studied anthropology that I encountered and learned about these symbols. For some of them the meaning is still fresh in my mind. Alongside solar symbols that come from the early agricultural times we can see the rope symbol, representing the axis mundi, the snake which is the protector of the house and many consecrated geometrical symbols that represent males and females, creation and fertility. It is fascinating to see that these symbols still endure in our modern times.
The wooden churches built in the 17th and 18th century still show the power of faith the Romanian people have in contrast to the passing of time.
Inside them, the air emanates… modesty. Something that is so far away from what the church and its people without character have transformed into in our modern times. Here you can find all the wooden churches located in the Mara – Cosău – Creasta Cocoșului area.
It is still early morning and the light is perfect for macros and high detail photos.
Maramureș on horseback
We were guests of honor at Casa Pașcu – a fantastic riding center, hotel, and restaurant. After we received the tour of the house we stopped to pet the horses, to relax, to share stories and to ride!
As we all saw to our own activities we quickly huddled back when we were served a big plate of tasty homemade treats. This wasn't planned but as we mentioned earlier the people of this region are well known for their hospitality.
Since they offered us the possibility to ride some of their horses around the property we quickly took advantage of this. The place is ideal for a small horseback vacation. For your info, they also have an outdoor Jacuzzi and a dry sauna so put this place on your TO DO list.
Not to mention that the horses are extremely well kept, groomed and taken care of and this is something you can see from a mile out. It is clear the owners started this business out of passion!
The craftsman's universe
Eco Maramureș did an excellent job regarding craftsmen. They got in contact with the most talented of them all and thought them how to better promote their skills and how to pass them along to the new generation.
This is how the area has plenty affiliated craftsmen that are more than willing to welcome guests into their homes and to show them their unique skills. Just look around for the Craftsman's logo on houses and dare to know at their doors. You will find more info about them here.
We managed to learn quite a few things from these craft masters.
We took part in the making of the famous Maramures hats. With amazing skill, Mr. Vasile Borodi managed to complete a hat in just 5 minutes time. It is true that he uses an electric sewing machine but even so his hands move with lightning speed and hide away his age.
Talking about age, true beauty has nothing to do with wrinkles but it is something that comes from deep down a vibrant soul and an ever-young mind. Next, we met Mr. Opriș who managed to entertain us with many things: we admired his time old traditional machines powered by water – the mill, the thrasher, the whirlpool and the carding machine.
We were amazed when we saw the unique traditional wooden gate Mr. Opriș had at his house – it had a built-in horincă (Romanian plum schnaps) dispenser. This man has understood that in life he needs to be efficient so why should he waste time going back in the house for a drink when he can chill right at his gate 🙂
When we thought things couldn't get better we found out that Mr. Opriș also knew how to sing… and it wasn't very hard to convince him. We laughed hard at his improvised "stand-up comedy" lyrics he managed to come up with.
Walking through backyards
To soften up our departure on the last day we spend the first half walking through the village and through the backyards of people in the company of a local guide.
It seems that here it is not uncommon at all to go through people's backyards. Even more, people usually welcome you and invite you to stay a while for a chat or for a drink. People here are like one big family with members from all over the globe: Romanians, Hungarians, Austrians, Brits, Dutch.
It seems that there are quite a few foreigners that fell in love with Maramureș and moved here for good. This is also the case of ex-paparazzi Duncan, who is best known for the Princess Diana photographs, that has opened up a local business, The Village Hotel.
Matthijs și Eveline from Holland have established Babou Camping. Even though we have only visited the camping grounds we warmly recommend it and we are looking forward to the summer months to return here.
For this trip our host was Mărioara. We slept in the old house and we can honestly say that is has a distinct personality. It smells like history and it creaks from every join but this only makes the whole experience even better.
There are many undergoing projects on the roll and probably most of them will be well welcomed by tourists because not only there has been a lot of soul invested into them but also a lot of hard work.
Dining in Maramureș
We chose to leave this for last to help with your appetite! When talking about food Maramureș is a top destination and since we managed to check multiple restaurants in the area we can honestly say that finding good food here is not something rare but more something that is quite common.
Our top preference was Hanul lui Cobâlă which has great branding, a great looking traditional location, fantastic personal and exquisite food. Even though we are vegetarians for a fair amount of time we still seldom consume fish and we can say that the trout served here is very delicious. The omnomnom mood has spoken!
The restaurant is a family business that represents the result of a lot of hard work and passion but it is something that is noticeable in every corner of the establishment.
Mărioara is also an excellent housekeeper – when we'll return here we will probably take a big pot of bean stew for back home :). The great advantage is that this guesthouse offers a full package – food, rooms, bike rental and more.
Some other places worth mentioning are Lucia and Maramu. Great food, good hosts… you get it.
For more accommodation and food options check this page.
Once again we are very grateful for this opportunity that has printed out Maramureș in a whole new view for us.
You are more than welcome in the area to try out hiking, bicycling, horse riding, skiing, climbing or relaxing and don't forget to check out www.ecomaramures.com for more useful information.