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.
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.
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.
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!