What Went Wrong
I decided to visit Maramureș after already having planned out a trip through Transylvania to Bucharest, so it really was tacked on. Not wanting to spend too long deviating from my original plan, I only gave myself 2 days to visit and see what the region had to offer. This is most certainly not enough time to properly appreciate the region’s appeal.
Knowing I needed to maximise my time while there, I looked for tours that would help me see as much as possible. The tours I came across were mostly at least a week-long, fully exploring the region and its sights. This should have been my first warning that I was waging an uphill battle. I did manage to find 2 one day tours exploring some of Maramureș, including visits to a number of villages and churches, but they were quite expensive for only 1 person.
Since the cheaper of the tours left from the city of Baia Mare, I decided to find accommodation there assuming I might be able to find cheaper local tours; I didn’t. While my accommodation was fine, Baia Mare itself was quite plain with very little of interest for tourists. Within the town centre, there is a large tower and a few churches which were mildly interesting and a large square where there were plenty of restaurants and bars, but that was it. Seemingly the other city or town to base yourself in Maramureș is the town of Sighetu Marmației right up on the Ukrainian border. Based on a little research I have done since, it seems to offer a little more for tourists sighseeing-wise. It is also closer to several of the more popular sights and the same distance than Baia Mare to the sights that I managed to see in my visit. You can also often stay in the villages themselves, with locals running small guesthouses or pensions.
The plan from Baia Mare was to take a local bus that went several times a day through the countryside to Sighetu Marmației and jump off at the village of Breb. I had read that Breb and nearby Budești were relatively good examples of Maramureș village life and had wooden churches I could visit. After deciding on this plan of attack, I realised that the buses only run twice a day on Sundays, once in the morning and once in the evening, drastically limiting my options and running the risk of problems were I to miss them. In the end I was able to rearrange my itinerary so I would visit on a different day, at the expense of a long travel day the following day.
Unfortunately, the weather was conspiring against me and severe thunderstorms were forecast for all afternoon that day. Again adjusting, I decided to take the very first bus out at 7am so I would arrive at Budești just before 8am and would then have until 10.15am to sightsee before taking the bus back to Baia Mare. Unfortunately, the next bus back to Baia Mare wasn’t until 4.30pm but there was no point taking that one as it was meant to heavily rain for most of that time (I didn’t have appropriate wet weather gear either). All in all, I had gone out of my to spend 2 extra days in an uneventful city for 2 1/4 hours of sightseeing. Sigh.
What I Managed to See
So what did I manage to see of Maramureș in the end? Well, enough to know that I’d like to see more of the region and to do it properly.
The bus ride led us up through some woods along winding road until we broke free and found fields and meadows stretched out in front of us. When I hopped off the bus at the turn off for the village of Budești, there was little but a sign and a couple of houses. As I made my way down the road, I passed a few locals who either gave me a friendly nod or looked over at me curiously. These responses would continue the whole time, so I think it was uncommon to see a tourist walking in alone, rather than driving or being part of a tour.
As I neared the village centre, I encountered my first horse and cart and the houses started to have big, ornate wooden gates. At one point, I decided to venture down a side lane and found myself at the back fence of church grounds. Here there was one of the region’s prized wooden churches, the church of Saint Nicholas, surrounded by a modest cemetery. While the view of the church was nice, I had clearly taken the wrong path so I got back on the main road and walked down to the town centre.
Once in the centre of town, it was easy to find the front entrance to the church, although the gate was closed. Tentatively, I opened it and walked through and wandered around the grounds for a bit. The St Nicholas Church of Budești Josani is one of 8 wooden churches of the region heritage-listed by UNESCO. The church dates back to 1643, making it not only beautiful, but a historically and culturally significant building as well. I was unable to see inside the church because there was no one around unfortunately.
After wandering aimlessly around town, I decided to try to find the second church I had seen signs for. The village of Budești is situated in the Cosau Valley, so I followed the river upstream, stopping every once in a while to admire the houses or the river.
It turned out that I wasn’t on the road I thought I was, but I did eventually stumble into the church and was given a chance to look at another magnificent wooden church. This church, while also dedicated to St Nicholas, is the Church of St Nicholas in Budești Susani. This can get a little confusing. While not heritage-listed, it is still an impressive landmark and because it is situated high on a hill, it has decent views out over the valley and countryside.
At this point, I realised the time and knew I had to get going if I wanted to see any of Breb, the next village along, before my bus back to Baia Mare came. So back I hiked through town and onto the main road where I had initially turned off. From there it was a couple of kilometres, walking along the road, watching people working in the fields and just admiring the scenery.
By the time I reached the turn off for Breb, I realised I was starting to cut it fine with the timing. I did the math and figured out I needed to turn around after 20 minutes to make sure I made the bus. So at a brisk pace, I ventured down the narrow road into Breb, stopping ever so briefly to take a few photos once I caught sight of the town proper and the tall spires of its church.
Whereas Budești is located in the Cosau Valley, Breb is out in the open countryside among meadows of wild flowers and orchards making it incredibly picturesque. In fact, Breb is known as the village that Prince Charles visited once on holiday and was so enchanted by its beauty and history, that he bought several houses in the region in order to preserve them.
I was able to make it into the fringes of the village and walk up past some incredibly rustic houses before my time expired and was forced to race back to the bus stop. I never made it to Breb’s church or the village centre and I’m sure I missed out. It was a good thing that I turned around when I did, because mere minutes after I arrived at the bus stop, the bus arrived and early at that. Driving back to Baia Mare we passed through several showers and that afternoon the heavens opened up.
While I was disappointed I didn’t see more, my glimpse into the Maramureș region was a good one, if rushed quite a bit. Hopefully this serves as a cautionary tale for those seeking to visit, but also possibly some inspiration to give this quiet region a visit.
If you’re looking to properly explore the Maramureș region of Romania and all it has to offer, then I recommend you:
- DO your research of what you would like to see;
- DON’T try to squeeze it into a full itinerary;
- DO consider booking an organised tour;
- DON’T expect to see much on a self-guided day trip;
- DO look at maybe staying in Sighetu Marmației;
- DON’T stay in Baia Mare to sightsee in the city;
- DO take your time to take in the wonderful scenery
Here are some links for information to help you with your research, including some sights that I now know would have been worth seeing:
Churches and Villages to visit via Visit Maramureș
Sapanta Merry Cemetery via Visit Maramureș
Info on Maramures, including day trips from Baia Mare by Kristakis Travel
Bus schedule from Baia Mare to Ocna Sugtag (which is very near Breb and the nearest official stop)
Have you visited the Maramureș region before? Please share your experiences in the comments.
This post is part of The Weekly Postcard over at Two Traveling Texans. Please head on over for more great posts.