Saxon Trek meant one week of walking from one Transylvanian village to another, a 150 kilometers ride in total – with forests, hills, small villages and quiet all around us. We’ve been flirting with this idea for a couple of years now, mainly because we like hikes, walks, treks (basically anything that has to do with moving our feet for many hours during the day) and also because we are in love with the Saxon villages of Transylvania and with everything that has to do with their history, culture, traditions and gastronomy. So what better way to discover them than on foot?
We planned the whole trip very much in advance and we chose our route as to avoid as much as possible the main paved roads, mainly because there are too many cars using them today. We wanted to take the unpaved, forest and dirt roads that where being used in the past as cart roads, to move from one village to another. They are mainly just some dirt paths, not too much used nowadays, that go from one village to another passing forests and hills. We passed by 18 villages during 7 days, walking a daily average of 20 kilometers.
A bit of history of the area
The area we chose for our trek, generally known as the Transylvanian Highlands, is an area strongly linked to the Saxon settlers, who came in these parts of Transylvania starting from the XII century. The main purpose of bringing the Saxons in this area was to protect the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom (Transylvania being part of the kingdom back then). They brought with them experience and crafts that helped the area develop and show its full potential.
Over the centuries, they built infrastructure, they built fortified churches and houses and they mixed together with Romanians (and a few Roma and Hungarians) and gave this area the authenticity it has today. They built a strong community, but unfortunately in the last few decades most of the Saxon population was either deported (during WWII), or left the country in the beginning of the 90s. Still their legacy is still alive in some villages, mostly in terms of old architecture and in the fortified church that still stand tall all over the Transylvanian Highlands. More info HERE.
The reality of the villages today
The area has been highly promoted, tourism wise, in the recent years and the interest for it has grown more and more every year. Some international websites even started comparing it and naming it The Romanian Toscana, having some similarities, of course. Walking from village to village made us think more about what it’s promoted in the media and what is actually happening in these villages now.
I would say that these villages have two realities, that work hard on getting along fine one with the other. First, it’s the general reality of the Romanian village, something you would find anywhere you go in this country. Villages are mostly inhabited by old people, or people who are quite poor and don’t find jobs. In many of the villages, there’s plenty of Roma people, with no source of decent income, with no proper living conditions, with kids who don’t attend school. Younger generations move to towns and cities in search of education and jobs and are not very keen on coming back to the villages. There are also many people who have left the villages to go work in Western European countries, to sustain their families – which meant also leaving small children behind, living with their relatives (a very sad reality that’s happening more and more in modern Romania).
And then, there’s this new wave of young, educated people who are tired of living a stressful city life and move towards the villages, in search of a more relaxed, laid back and back to the roots life style. Most of them open small guest houses and enjoy the simple countryside experience. Some of them become farmers, they have agricultural activities all year round, or farming related activities and make a living out of those. They produce small scale cheese, vegetables and fruits, wine, bread, meat products. There are many cases of foreign families buying houses in the area and starting small businesses here. They all come with modern mentalities about how to protect the living patrimony of each village, they want to make their voices heard and to change the way locals understand the true potential of a village. With their small businesses they create jobs for the people and grow awareness on the villages and their still natural and unspoiled beauty.
There are NGOs who recondition old houses and turn them into guest houses, who take care of the fortified churches and open them for the public, there are organizations who do gastronomic events every year and who work on documenting and promoting the local flavors. History is still writing itself in these villages, they still have a dynamic going on and this can only be seen as a positive situation.
Our 7 day trekking trip
As I said before, we did a lot of research before the trip as to what route and what paths to actually follow. The area is rather wild, especially when you go out of each village and it’s mostly the locals who can guide you (but they all were surprised when we were telling them what’s our plan). A part of the paths we chose also had some markings, but it’s not 100% visible and you have to pay attention where you’re heading.
We had a printed map from Zenith and that helped a lot with our orientation. You can also find the map online. We also got a lot of help from Transylvanian Highlands, with suggestions on routes and marked trails, from the official Sibiu Tourism Office, from Experience Transylvania, with recommendations on which guesthouse to chose for the nights we spent in the villages and from My Transylvania, with good advice, contacts of local producers and places we definitely should not miss during our trip.
We chose mid-September for the trip and it turned out to be a wise decision mainly because: it’s still a nice weather, but not very hot (we had around 20 degrees every day, sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny), the grass over the hills is short (as sheep and cows have already eaten it) so it’s easy to walk around especially in areas where there’s not a proper path to follow. Plus there’s fruits in the trees, so you get a fresh snack from time to time.
Regarding the walking itself, we were a bit worried before the trip that the effort would be so big that we can’t finish the trip. But actually, it was a light to medium effort every day, although in some days we walked more than in others. We didn’t have to hike high altitudes, there are hills surrounding the villages, but it was always a rather easy climb. It turned out that the psychical effort was our least concern.
It was an intense trip – with mixed feeling about the realities in the villages, with fear of wild animals and shepherd’s dogs protecting their flocks, but also with amazement about the simple life, about the beautiful untouched nature, about the kindness of the people. Also, it was a bit difficult in the first four days since we didn’t meet any other people on the roads.
Here is a full map of our trip. Detailed daily reports with maps, description of the trek and the villages with follow.