Straja, the ski resort in the Vulcan Mountains. The legendary land from the ancient borders of the Carpathians VIDEO

In the mountain resort of Straja in Hunedoara, tourists find over 20 kilometers of ski slopes in the winter, and in its surroundings a lot of natural attractions. It was established on the ridges of the Vâlcan Mountains, the former borderland between Transylvania and Muntenia.

Guard. Photo: Daniel Guță. TRUTH

Located at 1,400-1,600 meters above sea level, in the Vâlcan Mountains, the Straja mountain resort in Hunedoara has become one of the most popular recreational areas in Romania in recent years.

Thousands of tourists arrive here in winter every weekend to enjoy the ski slopes and the beauty of the places.

Ski in Romania, at Straja

Even when the cold season is poor in snow and the temperatures are high for this period, in the mountain resort Straja (video) the ski slopes, equipped with artificial snow, can be used.

The mountain resort of Straja is accessible from the municipality of Lupeni on the mountain road of about 10 kilometers and by cable car, and in the alpine area there are almost 200 guesthouses and cabins, plus numerous places for skiing and tobogganing.

“The Straja resort has approximately 26 kilometers of ski area. 20 kilometers can be covered with artificial snow. The 11 cable transport installations ensure easy access to all slopes in the resort. There are 12 ski slopes, each equipped with a cable transport facility. Five of them also benefit from a night installation, thus making it possible to use the slopes until late at nightday”, show the administrators of the leisure area.

From the center of the resort, the most crowded chairlifts go up to the wide and smooth slopes of the Plateau of the Sun, and another chairlift reaches higher, on Vârful Straja, at 1,865 meters, the emblematic place of the Vulcan Mountains.

In winter, tourists can ski down to the Straja mountain resort (video), or on the mountain paths to Pasul Vulcan, also called Pasul Vâlcan (1,621 meters), the small resort located above the municipality of Vulcan.

The road that descends from Pasul Vulcan is transformed in winter into a ski and toboggan run of about four kilometers.

In the town of Valea Jiului, tourists can also go down with the cable car from Pasul Vulcan, inaugurated in 2009, being the first such installation in Valea Jiului. Another cable car was supposed to connect, according to the plans of the authorities from the 2000s, the resorts of Straja and Pasul Vulcan, but the project was never realized.

The land from the old borders of the Carpathians

The story of the Straja resort began after the First World War, with the construction of the first cabin in the Vâlcan Mountains, called Straja, in the vicinity of which the gentle peaks could be used as slopes in winter.

In the 1930s, Straja became a training ground for the gendarme regiment established here, and its slopes were used as ski training grounds.

The former Straja cabin, in the 50s.  Photo: Joseph Horvath.

The former Straja cabin, in the 50s. Photo: Joseph Horvath.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, at the foot of Vârful Straja, travelers found the old cabin with 50 places to stay, surrounded by forests and alpine meadows, managed by the mining company from Lupeni and used mainly as a place of recreation for miners from Jiu Valley.

In the last two decades, a holiday village has developed around the Straja cottage, in the middle of which the hermitage built in 1999 has become a tourist attraction and a place of pilgrimage on Good Friday, before Easter.

Way of the Cross to Straja.  Photo: Daniel Guță

Way of the Cross to Straja. Photo: Daniel Guță

Above the wooden church and the cells around it, the Heroes' Cross was raised, in memory of the Romanian soldiers who fought in the First World War, and in the courtyard of the hermitage, tourists arrive through a tunnel, on the walls of which 365 saints were painted, in the order in which they are celebrated on one day of the year.

“A candle is eternally lit in this tunnel and is moved every day in front of the icon of the saint who marks the current date in the calendar. People appreciate this unique tunnel of saints. He enters the tunnel through a large wooden gate, looks for his birthday and then sees the face of the saint of that day, as it is written in the Orthodox calendar”informed the administrators of the resort.

History from the top of the mountain

The story of the land at the foot of Vârful Straja began long before the first tourists explored it. It was a place steeped in history from ancient times, and its vestiges have been preserved for a long time.

The Vâlcan Mountains were in past centuries the natural borders between Transylvania and Muntenia. At the foot of the Straja Peak (1,865 meters) is the Vulcan Pass (1,621 meters), the old mountain pass that connected the two historical regions of Romania.

In Antiquity, the Volcano Pass (video), also called the Vulcan Pass, was one of the roads on which the Roman legions of Emperor Trajan approached the Dacian capital, Sarmizegetusa Regia, whose ruins are located in the Șureanu Mountains.

The remains of Roman military camps (marching barracks) and some Dacian fortresses dot the mountains, more than 19 centuries after the Daco-Roman wars.

Since the Middle Ages, the plains of the Vâlcan Mountains have been occupied by shepherds in transhumance from the mountains of Transylvania to the plateau and plain areas of the south of the country.

The pass at the foot of Vârfulu Straja, which towered over the Jiu Valley and the lands of Oltenia, became a customs on the “road of the postmen” that connected the two regions and it is said that here, due to fatigue, Michael the Brave's horse met its end , in the hasty way of the mountain voivode to Vienna.

In the following centuries, in times of war, the Turks often used the mountain pass to plunder the lands in the south-west of Transylvania, and the Romanians to take refuge in the isolated land of Văia Jiului, from the Turkish raids.

The fighting in the gorge

The mountains then became borders guarded by Austro-Hungarian border guards on one side of the ridges and Romanians on the other side.

At the end of the 19th century, the customs office between the two regions moved to the foot of the Vâlcan and Parâng mountains, in the Surduc Pass, together with the road built through the Jiului Gorge (video).

Heavy fighting took place in the Vulcan Mountains, in the fall of 1916, between the Romanian, Austro-Hungarian and German armies, and over 1,000 soldiers died here. The trenches dug at the foot of Vârful Straja can still be seen today.

In the Jiului Gorge, travelers find the stone cross erected in memory of the Romanian general Ioan Dragalina (1860-1916), killed here by a volley of bullets during the battles of the First World War. And near the monument, the Lainici Monastery remained the emblematic place of the Jiului Gorge.

After the Great Union of December 1, 1918, the Valcan Pass lost its role as a strategic communication route from the Carpathians, in favor of the Jiului Gorge, which became more accessible with the construction of the road and the railway. However, the land at the foot of Vârful Straja has become, over time, an increasingly attractive place for hikers.

National Road 66A crosses the West Jiului Valley and brings tourists to the foot of the Straja resort. It then leaves the cities of Lupeni and Uricani and sinks into the mountains towards the sources of the river that separates the Retezat Mountains from the Vâlcan Mountains.

The land of the Momorlans

Before entering the wilderness, the road crosses Câmpul lui Neag, an old village of the Momârlans – natives of Văi Jiului -, built in the 15th century by Romanians from Wallachia, who crossed the mountains fleeing the Turks.

Neag's field preserved its legacy of archaic houses in the Land of the Momârlans and became a landmark for tourists embarking on mountain expeditions.

Neag's field.  Photo: Emil Savu Milica

Neag's field. Photo: Emil Savu Milica

Neag's Field is an important starting point for tourists in the Retezatu Mountains and particularly interesting from an ethnographic perspective, especially regarding the architecture of peasant buildings”the historian Octavian Floca described him.

All the houses of the people of Momarlan were made of wood, with a stone structure, built cold, i.e. only with earth, and some date from the 19th century, the locals say. “Building some houses took a long time for those times.

The wood was very well chosen, we have dry birch, which was carved. Here there are old houses of Mormârlans, where the wood from which they were built is so hard that sparks flew from the chainsaw when I tried to cut it”, said a Mormârlan.

The picturesque village in the vicinity of the town of Uricani (video) kept its authenticity until the mid-1980s, when the establishment of a mining quarry led to the demolition of many houses, the church and the cemetery in the village.

“I remember this carnage and how much malice could be expressed. With the soldiers working in the coal mines, they removed the dead from the cemetery, some buried for months and even a boy buried only two days ago. They destroyed the houses of Morla with the excavators, although some people stayed in them, not wanting to leave them”recalls Maria, a local from Valea Jiului.

The mountains surround the town of Uricani.  Photo by Daniel Guță.  TRUTH

The mountains surround the town of Uricani. Photo by Daniel Guță. TRUTH

Part of the authenticity of the old village has been preserved, and the view around it is spectacular.

Retezatul Mic, the land of the black goats

The road that crosses the village stops at the former Câmpusel forest canton, located in the middle of the wilderness, 20 kilometers from Uricani.

Black goats in Retezatul Mic.  Photo: Ioan Benea Jurca

Black goats in Retezatul Mic. Photo: Ioan Benea Jurca

This is the “end of the Ji Valley”, the place from where travelers enter the Retezat National Park, leaving the asphalt to climb the forest roads and mountain paths of the Little Retezat.

With its peaks of over 2,000 meters, Retezatul Mic offers tourists the opportunity to admire the alpine pastures, studded with herds and surrounded by forests, where one of the most numerous populations of black goats is located. In winter, their herds can be seen in more accessible places.

The karst relief in Retezatul Mic favored the appearance of some spectacular natural monuments.

Thus, Cheile Butii in Hunedoara is located near Lupeni and is a place sought after by hiking, caving and mountaineering enthusiasts. They can only be crossed by water, but from their proximity, adventure lovers can climb many mountain trails in Retezat.

Near Cheile Butii in Hunedoara there are several caves, as well as the spectacular waterfalls of Valea Marii.