From charming churches and monasteries to the last steam train in the Carpathian region, traveling to Maramures means going back in time. And if the welcoming Romanians won’t steal your heart with their warm hospitality the incredible rural experiences will. Let’s dive into the most detailed travel guide about the best things to do in Maramures.
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Except when stated otherwise, the photos in this blog post where taken by Claudio Sericano. The photo from the cover is from Markus Sorin.
Table of Content
- 1. Visit Sighetu Marmatiei
- 2. See Europe’s highest wooden structure: Peri Monastery
- 3. Wander in Sapanta’s Merry Cemetery
- 4. Explore the World Heritage Site, Barsana ancient Church
- 5. Visit the New Monastery of Barsana
- 6. Explore Saint Paraschiva Church in Botiza
- 7. Admire the beautiful St. Nicholas Church in Budesti
- 8. Get to know the locals in Breb
- 9. Explore Stramtura lovely town
- 10. Meet incredible artisans in Sacel
- 11. Admire Mocanita, one of the last narrow gauge steam trains
- 12. Chase views in Borsa
- 13. Attend a Sunday mass
- FAQ for planning your trip to Marmures
- Continue exploring Europe’s gems
1. Visit Sighetu Marmatiei
This city of 40.000 inhabitants was once the capital of Maramures. During World War II, Sighetu Marmatiei was the largest ghetto in the region, with more than 10.000 prisoners. Among them also Sighetu’s native, Elie Wiesel, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize. Nowadays you can visit Elie Wiesel Memorial House, a large collection of the awarded author’s objects and photos, inaugurated by the writer himself.
Although the most important monument of the city’s dark past is the Memorial to the Resistance and Victims of Communism. Situated in an ancient political prison, the museum covers the dramatic events during the Communism period in Romania and also in the neighboring nations.
You can’t end your visit without seeing Sighet Village Museum. This open-air museum traces the story of Romanian traditional architecture through the centuries, by showing different houses. It’s also interesting to admire the evolution of architectural and decorative elements.
2. See Europe’s highest wooden structure: Peri Monastery
Close by the Merry Cemetery, in Sapanta, there is Europe’s highest wooden building. I’m talking about Peri Monastery. Even though the monastery dates to 1997, they built it using ancient techniques. The impressive 78 meters tower has many detailed and beautiful decorations that make the ensemble a must-see when visiting Sapanta.
Before going have a look at the Jewish cemetery nearby the monastery. In complete contrast with the Merry Cemetery, the place has a romantic/haunted feeling especially when the sun starts to go down.
3. Wander in Sapanta’s Merry Cemetery
The Merry Cemetery (Cimitirul Vesel in Romanian) is one of the most-well known attractions in Sapanta, a small village 4 kilometers from Ukraine’s borders. What makes it special? There are more than 800 wooden crosses painted in bright blue, with carved icons of the deceased.
The craftsman Stan Ioan Patras started the tradition almost 100 years ago by starting to create these merry tombstones. In addition to the beautiful decoration and bright colors, a short text completes the small monuments, reminding a peculiarity of the deceased. Many tombs have also poems or parodies and funny texts.
The reasons behind this “happy” vision of death are the inhabitants’ belief that Death is not the end but the beginning of a second chapter.
4. Explore the World Heritage Site, Barsana ancient Church
Not to be mistaken with Barsana New Monastery.
The Entry of the Virgin at the Temple Church is one of the most extraordinary Churches in the region and in Roumania. The story of the church began in the early 18th century when the wooden structure was built in a location called Părul Călugărului (Monk’s Hair literally). Soon after its construction, the monks disassembled and rebuilt it in the Barsana Monastery Area. Where today the modern complex stands.
BUT the church’s pilgrimage to its final destination wasn’t over. Soon after the monks abandoned Barsana Monasteries, the inhabitants of the village decided to bring closer the wooden structure to the city. The new location wasn’t a hazardous choice. In fact, it was moved to a hill that was the burial site of the victims of the plague that infested the area in 1742.
Besides its incredible story, what makes the Entry of the Virgin at the Temple Church more special, are its incredible frescoes, showing scenes from Genesis, the Last Judgement, the Old Testament, and the Passion of Jesus.
5. Visit the New Monastery of Barsana
The original complex dates back to the 14th century. Unfortunately, centuries of raids, battles, and opposition from the government, forced its reconstruction multiple times.
The complex that today is a well-known peaceful oasis was built in 1993 following ancient techniques. And like all the other churches it’s built in wood. There are several buildings that are very beautiful to walk by.
Why wood? When the Hungarian government controlled the region, they prohibited the use of stone to build orthodox churches. Instead, the craftsmen used oak and created incredible carved decorations
6. Explore Saint Paraschiva Church in Botiza
Just like Barsana Ancient Church, Saint Paraschiva was moved to the place it stands today after being disassembled. The first building construction dates back to 1796, in the small village Viseu de Jos. Following Botiza’s growth, a neighboring village, the community decided to move it to a new location.
The church is full of light because it has more windows comparing other churches in the region. The beautiful frescoes are dark but decorated with many flowers. As a result, the church is beautifully decorated and very interesting to see.
7. Admire the beautiful St. Nicholas Church in Budesti
One of the largest and most beautiful churches in the region, St. Nicholas Church was built in 1643. Its interiors and exteriors are equally beautiful for the rich decoration and colorful frescoes.
The church features an admirable collection of wooden and stained glass icons. Before going you can wander among the charming streets of the lovely Budesti village. A small but welcoming community.
8. Get to know the locals in Breb
Almost every village or town in Maramures has the lost in time feeling. But in Breb that’s more of an immersion. An agricultural centred village that feels like the set of a historic movie. The wooden houses and the inhabitants’ traditional costumes make it an incredible experience.
People are also very friendly and will be eager to greet and welcome you. Sometimes even inside their houses. If you are a passionate photographer don’t be afraid to ask them to pose, they will do it with a smile on.
Simply wandering in the streets is a lovely experience.
9. Explore Stramtura lovely town
Another typical village and a must-see is Stramtura. Situated in Maramures center, this is also the ideal place to stay as it’s close to every interesting site, including Barsana village.
Something to pay attention to? The houses’ entrance doors and gates. They are all carefully decorated in the unique style that is so typical of the Marmures wood carving tradition. Similarly to Breb, many villagers live out of agriculture and farming. It’s really common to see horse-trained chariots and other animals in the streets and courtyards.
10. Meet incredible artisans in Sacel
The uniqueness of this small village is the many artists that live there. Sacel is famous for its red pottery which uses ancient Dacian techniques.
Would you like to visit an atelier of traditional masks? Head to the workshop of Vasile Susca. For many years he has been creating beautiful masks from the Romanian tradition. In case you would like to visit his workshop (and you absolutely should!), it’s better to contact him directly. On his internet website, there is a contact form, that pops up when clicking the button “OBȚINE O OFERTĂ”.
11. Admire Mocanita, one of the last narrow gauge steam trains
Mocanita is a narrow-gauge railway once used for cargo or passenger transportation that connected the regions of Maramures, Transylvania, and Bukovina. Nowadays there are a few steam trains that remain in use for tourist purposes.
Notice during Summer the train get really crowded, expect also for waiting lines. The experience is still 100% worth it!
Book the tickets to the Mocanita train online to skip the line at the station. The trip lasts about 6 hours and has three stops in the incredible Vaser Valley. I would not recommend buying the food during your tour. Instead, organize yourself with a sandwich or eat when the tour is over. At the last stop, before heading back, traditional dancers and music await to entertain tourists.
The landscapes on the way are amazing and the whole ride is very pleasant, although note that the seats are quite uncomfortable and during winter you should consider seating in the covered part of the train.
12. Chase views in Borsa
Let me start by saying that there are plentiful incredible landscapes in Maramures. Heavenly valleys and enchanting forests, and of course the rustic villages. Along with the above-mentioned, Borsa has a mountainous outline that reminds the Alps. Absolutely beautiful under Winter snow, during Summer you will get to enjoy the many possible hikes that start from there.
Not to miss: the trail to the Horses Waterfall. To get there you will take a chairlift that has an incredible view of the valley and on Borsa. Once you arrived, there is a short walk (about 1 kilometer) to Roumania’s tallest waterfall, 95 meters. The views on the way are really worth the effort too. Just note to take comfortable hiking shoes, especially in winter when the ground gets slippery.
13. Attend a Sunday mass
Even if you have different religious beliefs, attending Sunday mass in one of the beautiful local monasteries or churches is an incredible experience. The Orthodox Catholic ceremony lasts about 2 hours and is divided into different phases.
First, the faithfuls arrive, dressed in their most beautiful traditional costumes. Once inside, they light candles in memory of their beloved ones. Then the service can begin. Most prayers are sung, and the whole mass has a joyful atmosphere.
The celebration continues outside the place of worship where Prosfora, similar in meaning to consecrated host, is offered to the faithfuls. The remaining host is given to the faithful and brought home.
FAQ for planning your trip to Marmures
Is it worth visiting Maramures?
Maramures is a region rich in history and of undeniable natural beauty. But what makes it unique are its people. People from Maramures are some of the most welcoming in the world. It’s really common to be invited to enter their houses and be offered drinks when wandering in the villages. And that’s when the magic begins.
Their lifestyle will bring you back in time to half a century or more. People have cars, cellphones, and even Facebook profiles, but you will see also many horse-drawn carriages and some houses still have external bathrooms inside small wooden cabins.
Many houses also have a “museum piece”. An extraordinary room where carpets cover from the floor to ceiling, and where the most important objects are displayed.
When is the best time to visit Maramures?
In Summer the temperatures make it easier to walk around and enjoy the hikes in the idyllic nature. But when Winter lays its snow mantle on the valleys and houses, the landscape looks out of a fairytale.
How to arrive and move around
Maramures airport is Baia Mare, in the region’s South East. The best connections are from Milan (30€) and London (50€), operated by Wizz Air, or Paris (74€) by Ryanair.
The best way to move around is by renting a car. Once more I have to recommend our favorite car rental service: rentalcars.com. Thanks to the fact they work with the biggest car rental brands, they can always offer the most competitive prices. The daily cost of renting a car is around 20€.
Where to stay?
There are many hotels in Maramures, as Romanians love the region and there is a lot of local tourism. As the distances are not long you could easily pick an accommodation and move from there to the major points of interest. There are solutions for every kind of traveler, even spa hotels. But I highly recommend choosing more “authentic” accommodations to put yourself in the mood.
Our pick: We had a royal welcome at Sanziene Pension in Stramtura. Our host Zakaria was absolutely lovely. In addition to the friendly staff, the ambiance is typical of the region, but with all the comforts! There is a bathroom inside each room. One more reason to choose Sanziene? Its central position. You will get easily everywhere in less than an hour.
Continue exploring Europe’s gems
Roumania is absolutely magical! And we are preparing more posts about Maramures incredible region. Meanwhile you can continue reading about the many destinations we write about in our destinations page.
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