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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Long Weekend in Baile Herculane and Orsova

ROMANIA | Tuesday, 1 December 2020 | Views [123]

The view from the monastery looking over the Danube towards Serbia.

The view from the monastery looking over the Danube towards Serbia.

It was a long weekend or ‘bridge’ as they call it in Romania, so we took the chance to explore more of this wonderful country. The holiday consisted of St Andrew’s Day, the patron saint of Romania and the National Day, which was when several states, including our own Banat joined to form the modern-day Romania on December 1st 1918. Our plan was to head south of Timisoara to Baile Herculane, a spa town in the mountains, and then on to Orsova, a town on the river Danube located on the border with Serbia.

We usually like to travel by train, but seeing as the train left at 5 am we decided on a lie in and get a bus at 8am. The trip was quite uneventful and the weather wasn’t too promising but it was good to get away and to experience more of Romania. The further we got into the 3 hour journey the better the scenery was and we loved passing through an area of forest which was covered in frost and looked like a typical winter wonderland. We were soon approaching Baile Herculane and we jumped off when the bus stopped on the main highway near the train station. Unfortunately, the town was a couple of miles up the valley so we shouldered our packs and set off on foot.

It wasn’t too long before we found Vila Ana, our accommodation for the next two nights. Ana herself greeted us and showed us our room which was spacious and had a balcony with a fine view of the mountains. Ana couldn’t speak any English but she was very friendly and we managed to communicate somehow. We settled into our digs and then headed out to explore. Baile Herculane is an old Roman Spa town famous for the healing qualities of the water. It is said Hercules bathed here once upon a time, hence the name of the town. The town is very spread out along the Cerna river with steep sided mountains either side forming a gorge. Our plan was to head up the valley towards the old town and the baths. It was a very pleasant walk along the river but unfortunately the main part of the town is dominated by several huge concrete apartment blocks and hotels.  These architectural carbuncles kind of ruins the lovely surroundings. We carried on along the river and finally came to the old Roman baths. Now, when Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria visited back in the day he claimed that Baile Herculane was the most beautiful spa town in Europe. He had obviously not been to Buxton or visited Herculane in quite some time. The baths are a bit run down shall we say. The building in its hay day would have been fantastic and hopefully they will restore it to its former glory. A few of the buildings in the historical area have been restored but most are in a state of disrepair. Again hopefully they will be able to do them up and the place would look amazing. There is also a statue of Hercules to prove that he did in fact come here to bathe. There were actually some people bathing in the hot springs but the stink of sulphur and the fact that it was brass monkeys made us pass on that particular activity.

We walked back along the other side of the river looking for a potential place to have a drink and a bite to eat. Baile Herculane is not blessed with restaurants and bars despite the number of hotels in the town. We didn’t spot anywhere which looked promising until we were nearly back at Ana’s when Emma spied a small bar with a roof terrace. The whole town had the feel of being closed for the season despite it being a holiday weekend. Anyway, this place was open and we managed a couple of beers outside before the cold got too much and we decided to retreat back to the guest house before it got dark. We found a minimart and got some snacks for tea which would have to do for the evening meal. Hopefully we will find a restaurant tomorrow for some proper nosh.

Our plan for today was to trek up to Demogled Peak, but seeing as we couldn’t see the mountains from our window due to the cloud we thought that might be a bit ambitious. We would have to save that trek for another season when the weather would be kinder. After all there’s no point climbing a peak to not have a view. The previous day we had seen a trail board with various shorter trails marked on so we thought we would check that out. It was a longer walk back to the trail head than we remembered as the town really is spread out, but we eventually came across it and settled on one of the shorter treks. It ended up being a bit of a stroll up through the forest to loop back round into town. Not the major trek we wanted but a nice walk all the same and the trees mostly still had their autumn leaves which gave a nice palette to the forest. Given that the weather wasn’t great and it was absolutely freezing we were not that upset at our curtailed walk.

We wandered around town and finally found a restaurant that was open. We stumbled upon Demitrio’s Greek Pizza place round the back of the historical square. It was pretty busy on a Sunday afternoon but then again there were not many other places to eat. Greek pizza turned out to be pretty similar to the old Italian version but it was very tasty and welcome after crisp butties the night before. We washed it all down with a decent bottle of Romania red which kind of put an end to our activities for the day.

We moved on the next morning to Orsova, a small town right on the border with Serbia, about 20km south of Baile Herculane. We had planned on getting back on the same bus that had dropped us off to carry onto Orsova, but we were feeling lazy and impatient to move on so we asked Ana to call us a cab. Not 30 minutes later and we were dropped off at Pensiunea Taka. As we arrived most of the patrons were finishing breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the river, so to say we were quite early for check in was an understatement but that was no problem at all. People in Romania are very accommodating and nothing is too much trouble. We were shown to our room which was lovely but didn’t have all the facilities I hope to see in a room. It didn’t have a kettle, this seems to be the norm in Romania unfortunately, but I need a proper cup of tea in the morning! The room had a commanding view of the Cerna river which had flowed with us down from Baile Herculane. Looking down the river you can see where it flows into the famous River Danube ( which is actually blue here) and to the hills marking the start of Serbia. The actual border is in the middle of the river.

Looking across the river was the town of Orsova as we were located out of town on the other side of the river. So our plan was to walk round to the town to check it out. Orsova isn’t the most picturesque town but the setting is lovely with the river and hills and the weather today was amazing. A brilliant deep blue sky and not a breath of wind which helped to make it not feel like the 0 degrees it actually was. We wandered along the quayside and there were lots of boats to take tourists out for trips along the Danube. However, they were all locked up due to it being December and absolutely freezing ( did I mention that already?). Again another reason to come back in the spring.

We spotted a church up on a hill so we made that our focus for a walk. Turned out to be the Sfanta Ana Monastery and it was a pleasant walk up the hill. The monastery is a wooden building but didn’t look all that old. We were however rewarded with a beautiful view over the Danube to Serbia, so it was well worth the trek. On returning to town we called into Pensiuena Damiro which seemed to be the only place in town that was open. We had a drink and some grub on the deck looking over the river directly towards our Pensiuena. It was a really pleasant spot but again the chill forced us back to our hotel and the warmth of our room. At least we could still look out over the river as darkness grew on this small corner of Romania.

Our train back to Timisoara wasn’t until lunchtime so we had a leisurely breakfast and chilled until it was time to get the train. The train station was all of 50 yards away over the road so we didn’t need to rush. As it happened the train arrived on time which was pretty good as it had travelled all the way from Bucharest. We enjoyed a pleasant journey home with the sun shining on the Romania countryside as we made plans for our next adventure.


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