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Stories / November 26, 2019

Bicycle tourism is helping save the farm villages of Transylvania

BikeTours.com President and Founder, Jim, Johnson, often finds himself reminiscing about a bike tour to Transylvania he took in 2016. Not only was it a most memorable trip, but it truly demonstrated how bike touring is more than just the best way to experience a destination.

One of the many villages we passed through.

In the decades following the fall of communism, rural farm villages in Transylvania faced a mass exodus to more urban settings. Until the fall of the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in late 1989, no one was allowed to leave the villages. So, when they had the chance, they left.

For nearly two decades, villages sat nearly vacant or had become ghost towns, often with only the elderly to hold onto customs and traditional ways of life. Little by little, though, slow tourism, especially bicycle tourism, has helped bring them back to life with many farmhouses and once deserted homes becoming rustic inns and restaurants supplied by the farms around them.

When I took the Medieval Villages of Transylvania tour, this became quite obvious.

On this tour, you’re more likely to encounter carts than cars on most days.

In Cund, for example, we overnighted and dined at Valea Verde Retreat, an endeavor that has revived and transformed a dying farm village. Guests get to experience farm life as it had been for centuries—and even go foraging with the chef/owner, Jonas Schaefer.

(Valea Verde has also become an award-winning destination for foodies across Europe, and our group savored some of the best farm-to-table cuisine I’ve experienced—and it’s especially fun when the table is at the farm.)

We also visited Moşna and had lunch at the farm of Willy Schuster, a passionate supporter of the cause of sustainable and organic farming in Romania and abroad. After he introduced us to “the happiest cows in all of Europe,” he and his team brought out tray after tray of fresh farm delights.

Along the way we also got to watch craftspeople and artisans at work such as brick makers, blacksmiths, and shoemakers.

One of the few remaining blacksmiths in Transylvania now has lifetime employment from the government to build fences and gates for historic castles and manors–in exchange for agreeing to take on apprentices to keep the craft alive.

All this is part of efforts to keep traditional crafts and customs alive. Likewise, to keep alive the customs, traditions and ways of life that prospered for centuries but have more recently been in jeopardy. In the case of the shoemakers, it has also provided jobs for dozens of women in one village, with the traditional felt shoes now being exported worldwide.

As we rode through villages, we returned the “high fives” of the kids who ran out to greet us. Our guide, Ionut, asked if we noticed that most of them were under 10.

“That’s because tourism started bringing the villages back to life about 10 years ago. That’s when people started returning to the villages and having children. For the first time in their lives, they realized that village life held out opportunities for them and their kids.”

Want to make a difference in the world? Sometimes it’s as easy as riding a bike!

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Tags from the story:

Eastern Europe, Romania

BikeTours.com Staff
4 years ago

Chris, thanks so much for posting! I'm glad your memories are as fond as mine!

Jim Johnson, President, BikeTours.com

Chris Warren
4 years ago

My first cycling holiday in Transylvania was just the most amazing holiday ever. The memories of that trip will stay with me forever. It was such an amazing trip that I've been back on two other occasions and plan to go back again.
I too, had lunch at Bio Mosna and I can honestly say that it was among the best food I've tasted.

Art Anderson
5 years ago

We took the Romania, Castles of Transylvania - Unguided Bicycle Tour in 2013 and absolutely loved every minute of it. We made many friends in the towns we passed through and I still communicate with them through photo-sharing websites. My photo album from the tour was adopted by a photo sharing site in Romania and I received many positive communications from them. Here is a URL to that album of pictures and captions: https://goo.gl/photos/FVE5md3USMyj4AjP7

BikeTours.com Staff
5 years ago

Art, so wonderful to hear that your memories of Transylvania are as powerful and wonderful as mine! Thanks for sharing the photos!

-- Jim

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