Ever since I worked in the travel industry I’ve been thinking about Transylvania’s potential as a destination for cycling. When interviewing for Backroads Inc. right out of college (interview that I failed because I was applying for a bicycle guide position, while I hadn’t ridden a bike in 15 years) I was looking at their itineraries and began imagining fantastic bike getaways in Romania, in exactly the type of setting this article describes.
However, I only started thinking about cycling in Transylvania after I met a group of great people this summer, people who are very much into cycling, hiking and overall outdooring. It took only a few conversations, email threads, Facebook messages and phone calls to plan a cycling weekend through the villages of Central Transylvania – home to the famous fortified churches of the Transylvanian “Saxon Triangle”.
Once we decided on a weekend, we searched for itineraries, advice and housing recommendations in Biertan (which was our central point) – we talked to our dear friends at Fundatia Adept (Ben and Cornel, thank you!) who helped us immensely – and we set sail on a Friday evening. We grouped in Biertan in the evening, unloaded the bicycles, drank a few bottles of wine along with some incredibly stinky Munster cheese I had brought from France (our host was convinced the cheese is rotten and should be thrown away) and then we went to sleep.
The guesthouse was ok, nothing too fancy, bad mattress/sofa, but enough to provide for shelter. The first night I actually slept outside under the clear sky in my sleeping bag (no, not because of the wine, it was a choice rather than a physical challenge preventing me from entering the house).
In the morning we woke up, had breakfast, and around 10 AM we hopped on our bikes and headed out on the trail.
The first part of the path was a steep hill, just what we needed to get our blood pumping until we got to Copsa Mare, a beautiful little village built around a superb fortified church that we explored extensively (including tolling the bells – an activity that was frowned upon by the locals):
As we left the village of Copsa Mare, we took a shortcut to actually reach our itinerary – we were still not on the planned route, and we knew itinerary only starts on the next valley. Thus, we took the direct route across the hill and started climbing on a narrow path, completely non bike-friendly and very steep. We ended up push-bike-ing (my new favorite term in bicycle-slang) until we reached the summit. We missed the planned route slightly, but still, we knew that however we went down, we’d reach the road, perhaps a bit further down than we wanted to.
The downhill was very steep and the path was again anything but bike-friendly, so we biked down carefully until the path leveled and we could bike safely. Actually, most of us biked carefully, as one of us, who went in front, lost control and, via a spectacular crash, broke his shoulder thus ending his bike trip prematurely. Consequently, we had to walk our bikes to the road where our injured friend’s girlfriend came and picked him up. This breather gave us plenty of time to enjoy the sights thoroughly – including the lushest green we saw throughout the weekend in this beautiful meadow:
With our reduced team, we continued on our perceived path. “Perceived” because at this time we started misreading the maps rather than aiming for them. So we are back on a steep climb to reach the next valley – we actually took a detour over the hill in order to avoid a sheep farm and their gracious, beautiful, mean and protective sheepdogs that the locals warned us about. So back we are, push biking.
We eventually made it to the top, we entered the forest enthusiastically (did I forget to mention this was the hottest day of the year?) and started our descent to our actual path (we were 4 hours into our bike trip and still we had not reached the path we chose for the day!). We reached the main road safely, and there we go, the paved road, the roses, and the beautiful village of Malancrav, home to a beautiful manor house and a great little factory producing some of the finest apple, pear and other organic 100% natural juices. We had a few litres of this juice and then headed back on our trail.
After this, we went on a sprint as we were 1) excited to have paved roads and be able to actually bike fast and 2) the organic juice on an empty stomach was a BAD idea and we were desperately looking for a bathroom. It took 20 km of speed biking to reach the village of Danes, a hotel and a wedding whose attendees were totally surprised to see two sweaty bikers in full bike gear and with backpacks on cutting through the middle of the dance floor aiming for the bathrooms.
After we rested and cooled off our stomachs, we headed for the chill part of the itinerary, through a few beautiful villages, a small but continuous incline followed by a long downgrade only disturbed by a few mean dogs and the town of Dumbraveni and its beautiful Armenian Catholic Cathedral
We ended the evening in the Unglerus restaurant in Biertan, with some great food, pain from all the cycling and, creme de la creme, a beer courtesy of our stomachs that decided to forget about the natural juices and settle down.
Below, a map of our actual path, rather than the map we wanted to follow:
The next day we went on a different path, shorter, but even more interesting – Day 2 Cycling in Transylvania