We like Szekely Land because of its many traits as compared to Bucharest: green, remote, underdeveloped, deserted. We went by car to explore some of its sights, trying to cram as much as possible in just 2 days.
The natural sights around Racos
We started with the volcano. Very interesting landscape. I guess this place is a lot better to visit with a guide or a geologist – they would have a lot of information to share. All we could say was “Look, rocks!”.
There is a dirt road that leaves you 500 meters away from the volcano. You can park your car there and continue by foot. Visiting shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. As we were getting back to the car, a
pack bunch of wild stray little kids pretty much attacked us, begging to give them anything. It’s unsettling seeing a group of 5 year olds running towards you as if charging for battle. We jumped in the car and locked the doors, managing to drive off without running over anybody, despite their best efforts to surround us.
About a kilometer further we parked again. Two hundred meters to the south we saw the basalt columns. A little to the north was the Emerald Lake, formed in an abandoned quarry. They were nice to visit, but without the volcano I don’t think they’d be on a lot of itineraries.
The 900 year old oak tree
You can find this medieval tree near Mercheasa. Turning off the paved road, you’ll have to follow a (good quality) gravel road for a couple of kilometers. The final few hundred meters are on foot, on pastures dominated by oak trees. Just follow the signs/trail. You can’t miss the oak tree. It’s in a protected area – surrounded by a little wooden fence. It’s worth coming here not only for the tree (unless you haven’t seen trees before), but also for the surrounding area. Hard to find a more picturesque pasture.
The Baraolt Museum
They have here one of the most complete mammoth skeletons in the world. Unique exhibit. Unfortunately, the museum is open only on weekdays, so little chance we’d ever be able to see it.
The Varghis Gorge (Cheile Varghisului)
Yes, go here! Leaving the main road in Varghis, follow a narrow paved road until you leave the tarmac behind. The road still has another 1.5 km from here and can be used by any car (barely..). If you’d rather spare yours, you can leave it there and continue on foot. The entry fee is 5 RON per person (paid to a guy somewhere on the trail).
The gorge’s main attractions are a series of caves. We visited a couple, but missed some, as not all are visible or clearly marked. I guess better planning and looking over a map beforehand would have helped. Anyway, we did get to explore some caves (a little) and see a few bats. Bringing a head torch definitely helps.
Camping The Valley
It’s where we spent the night. Beautiful area, surrounded by forests bustling with wildlife (they had wild boars on the premises the night before our visit). That’s why they keep 3 large dogs running around (that are very friendly towards humans and hostile towards anything else, apparently). The camping is in a remote village, so no point in walking around searching for restaurants or shops. The owners there run a small shop, but you should buy everything you need from Baraolt beforehand. Great place to pitch a tent, especially if you want to make sure no bears will wake you up in the middle of the night.