Location: Northwest Romania
(bordering the Ukraine to the north and Satu Mare county to the west)
Area: 6,662 sq miles
Population: Approx 530,000
Main cities: Baia Mare, Satu Mare, Sighetu Marmatiei and Carei.
Climate: Temperate continental with rich precipitation in the summertime and abundant snow in the wintertime
The region of Maramures (NW Romania) is home to villages where century-old traditions are still part of daily life. The inhabitants of this area have preserved, to an amazing extent, the rural culture and crafts of their Dacian ancestors.
Woodlands account for more than four-fifths of the land surface of Maramures. As a result wood has long been - and continues to be - the medium of expression for the region's artisans. Unique wooden churches with tall spires and shingled roofs, wooden houses and tall, carved, woodcarved gates are distinctive elements of the local architecture. Hand-woven carpets decorate the homes of the locals and intricate embroidery adorn folk costumes still worn by the locals, usually on Sundays.
Carved Wooden Gates
The local craftsmanship can be best observed in the monumental Maramures gates, guarding the entry to the houses. Supported by three columns, they feature traditional ornamental motifs, including the sun and the twisted rope - both symbols of life and continuity. Some of the most beautiful wooden gates are found in the villages of Vadu Izei, Desesti, Giulesti, Budesti, Sarbi, Barsana and Oncesti. The villages of Barsana and Oncesti have, perhaps, the greatest number of impressive gates.
As it has for hundreds of years, social life in Maramures continues to revolve around the village church.
The Wooden Churches of Maramures ) - in Surdesti, Plopis, Rogoz, Ieud, Poeinile Izei, Barsana, Budesti and Desesti - have been recognized by UNESCO as some of the most important sites of world heritage.
Unique in shape and ornamentation, they have characteristic high roofs and tall, narrow, pointed steeples, often collectively describer as 'the Gothic style of Maramures.'
The primary wood material used by the artisans who built them was local oak, which has survived the elements with sturdy elegance until today. The interior walls of the churches were painted by local artists, with biblical scenes often juxtaposed against the familiar landscape of the village.
The spiritual philosophy of the people of Maramures is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in Sapanta. The town folks' ancestors considered death as a beginning, not the end, and this faith is reflected in the carvings in the town's unique Merry Cemetery . Blue wooden crosses feature a carved scene and humorous verses that endeavor to capture essential elements - both the good and the imperfections - of the deceased's life. Even without benefit of translation, visitors can appreciate the handiwork of sculptor Stan Ion Patras, who began carving these epitaphs in 1935, and his successors. Patras' house in the village is now a fascinating museum. Sapanta is also home to several wooden gates and one of the region's tallest wooden churches.
Sapanta is a 20-minute drive, to the west, from Sighetu Marmatiei, an important tourist and cultural center in the region. The outdoor village museum in Sighetu Marmatiei boasts dozens of homes and farm buildings assembled from around Maramures County. Other attractions include the 16th century Reform Church, the Elie Wiesel Memorial House, and the Victims of Communism Memorial (Museum of Arrested Thought), located in a former communist prison in the center of town.
Maramures is dominated by a landscape of mountains and rolling valleys. The Gutai, Lapus, Tibles Maramures and Rodnei Mountains are cut by passes named Huta, Gutai, Prislop, Setref, and Botiza. Three large valleys cross the region: Viseu, Iza and Mara. The Rodnei Mountains National Park, a natural reserve filled with a rich diversity of flora and fauna, has been awarded biosphere status by UNESCO. Here, chamois leap between rocks, the cry of eagles' rings out overhead and as the snows recede in the spring, crocus and other flowers create swathes of dazzling colors.
For a one-of-a-kind experience, take the narrow-gauge steam train "Mocanita".
Mocanita departs from the small logging town of Viseu de Sus and runs along a scenic road for about 30 miles (round-trip), chugging behind an old steam engine. The train provides the only access - other than walking - to settlements higher up in the valley. During stops, passengers can watch workers load firewood and take on water from clear mountain streams. On the trip back down in the afternoon, the engine driver whistles for brakemen to stop the train - sometimes to pick up or drop off passengers, sometimes to stop to pick wild mountain mushrooms. Website
16 Unique Maramures Sights and Experiences
Maramures is, arguably, Romania's most rural region, where people still follow their ancestors, century-old, traditions. Best-known for its distinctive wooden churches, with tall spires and shingled roofs, Maramures in home to many other authentic attractions:
1. Mocănița , steam engine narrow-gauge train.
This narrow-gauge takes travelers on a 14-miles (22 km) journey - along Vaser river valley - through amazing scenery, dense forest and quaint villages.
The total length of the narrow-gauge railway, built in late 1920s to transport timber from Maramures Mountains, is 79 km (49 miles). “Mariuta” the oldest steam engine, still in use was built in 1910.
2. Sapanta Merry Cemetery (Cimitirul Vesel) – one of the world’s most unique cemeteries. Colorful headstones/ oak-carved crosses/ decorated with traditional motifs are engraved with a withy epitaph and a drawing that present the deceased qualities or imperfections.
3. Rodna Mountains National Park – the largest protected area in the Carpathian Mountains, home to alpine, sub-alpine, grasslands, mountain hayfields, beech forest and mountain plateaus habitats. Natural features include rich wildlife, caves, crevasses, forests, moraines, springs, and valleys.
5. Baia Mare Mineralogy Museum
Over 20,000 mine crystals, rare minerals and gems are on display in this, little-known museum, interesting museum. A must-see for all visitors interested in geology.
6. Town of Baia Mare. Notable landmarks include the Old Town Square (Piața Cetății) and Stephen’s Tower (Turnului Ștefan).
7. Maramures Village Museum - Sighetu Marmatiei (Muzeul Satului Maramuresan)
A collection of 30 Authentic, completely furnished, wooden houses that illustrate the local architectural style and decorations, flank the road to the 16th-Century wooden church, the cultural and spiritual centre of the village.
8. Maramures wooden churches.
Norhwestern Romania is home to numerous historic wooden churches and monasteries that have stood the test of time. The following have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites: Barsana, Budesti, Josan, Desesti, Poienile Izei, Surdesti, Plopis, and Rogoz. These narrow and tall timber structures, single or double-roofed and covered by shingles, with tall, slim clock towers show a great variety of designs and outstanding craftsmanship.
9. Monastery Sapanta-Peri
The tallest wooden church in the world (258 feet-high) features beautiful wood-carved decorations. 28 lbs. of gold have been used to gild the roof. The monastery is home to a small community of nuns.
10. Village Breb
One of Maramures’s most beautiful villages is home to numerous traditional houses and hand-carved, massive, wooden gates. Traditional manual farming techniques are employed to maintain/ harvest crops and grow livestock. On Sundays, villagers still go to church dressed in traditional costumes. Add to the unique local culture and beautiful, unspoiled, landscapes the relaxed way of life and organic vegetables and meats, produced in the village.
11. Moara lui Dănilă Mecleș - village Sârbi.
19th_century water mill, still in use. The household include two other water-powered installations: acarpet washing/ softening and a wool carding machine.
12. Barsana Monastic Complex
One of the most popular attractions in Maramures, Manastirea Barsana includes three spectacular places of worship (Biserica, Altarul de Vara and Aghiasmarul), along several structures, artisan workshops, a museum, guest-house and nuns’ quarters.
13. Meet the Local Artisans.
Ways long forgotten elsewhere are still alive in Maramures. Most household items, traditional costumes and foods and tools are hand-made and feature century-old motifs. Local artisans - that create traditional wood carvings, wool fabrics, embroidery, carpets and rugs, twig baskets and more – welcome visitors to their workshops to share their stories and show how their crafts are made.
14. Discover Maramures’ wildflower-rich meadows and hay stacks.
Life in rural Maramures is ruled by the gifts and characteristics of each season. End of May until mid-July is the best time to see how wild hay is cut, dried and stacked manually by the locals. “Locals state that Maramures cows and sheep prefer the clean taste of handcut (grass)”. ( National Geographic Best Trips 2015).
15. Museum of the Romanian Peasant Woman (Muzeul Tarancii Romane) - village Dragomiresti
A three-hundreds years old traditional wooden-house is now the home of a museum dedicated to the essential role played by the peasant women in human development and rural society and culture. Muzeul Tarancii Romane exhibits authentic traditional costumes, decorative objects, handicrafts, household itmes and tools.
16. Try the local, very simple, delicacy Plăcinta Creaţă. This traditional pie, made from four-ingredients: unleavened dough (flour, water and salt) and sheep's milk cheese is fried in a cast iron skillet using just a little bit of sunflower oil. Filling variations include: cabbage, potato, cabbage and bacon, cow'smilk cheese and dill or apple. The name of this pie "Placinta Creaţa" (Curly Pie) comes from the particular shape given, by hand, to the thin dough when folded over the filling. The curly pie is traditionally served with a glass of "groscior" - cream skimmed from freshly milked (raw) cow's milk.
Time-starved visitors can get a glimpse of Maramures in a self-guided day-trip (own car) or arranged by a local tour operator. To see more of Maramures and experience the local way of life plan to spend at least three days in the area.
Maramures Visit planning tips:
Car is the best way to travel to get around and reach Maramures' remote and charming areas.
Larger towns can be reached by train or bus while smaller villages only by bus.
Most villages are located within walking distance, active visitors can easily plan trekking from one village to another.
The only available accommodations in smaller villages are B&Bs run by genuinely welcoming locals.
If interested to learn a great deal about Maramures history, culture and traditions, hiring a local guide is a good idea.
Maramures itinerary ideas:
Wooden Churches of Maramures
Baia Mare – Surdesti – Cavnic – Ocna Sugatag – Budesti – Calinesti Caeni - Poienile Izei – Ieud – Desesti – Ocna Sugatag - Baia Mare.
Duration: eight to nine hours
Maramures' Traditions and Folk Art
Baia Mare – Ocna Sugatag – Barsana – Sighetu Marmatiei - Sapanta – Sapanta Peri - Ocna Sugatag - Baia Mare.
Duration: nine to ten hours
Maramures countryside & the Vaser Valley with “Mocanita” narrow-gauge forest train
Baia Mare – Ocna Sugatag – Sighetu Marmatiei – Petrova – Viseu de Sus (narrow-gauge train ride) -
– Bocicoel – Rozavlea – Barsana – Valeni - Ocna Sugatag - Baia Mare.
Duration: ten hours
Museum of Maramures Lands
Elie Wiesel Memorial House
Casa Memoriala Elie Wiesel
Victims of Communism Memorial
Museum of Arrested Thought
Baia Mare Art Museum
Muzeul de Arta Baia Mare
Maramures county Museum of Ethnography and Folk Art
Muzeul de Etnografie si Arta Populara Maramures
History & Archaeology Museum
Muzeul Judetean de Istorie si Arheologie
Muzeul Judetean de Mineralogie “Victor Gorduza”
on display are rare 'mine flowers' from the ore mines in the area
Satu Mare Art Museum
Muzeul de Arta Baia Mare
Satu Mare county Museum
Muzeul Judetean Satu Mare
Baia Mare Drama Theatre
Teatrul Municipal Baia Mare
Satu Mare Philharmonic Orchestra
Filarmonica de Stat “Dinu Lipatti”
Satu Mare Drama Theatre
Teatrul de Nord Satu Mare
Satu Mare Cultural Centre
Centrul Cultural Satu Mare
Town of Carei Drama Theatre
Rodnei Mountains National Park
Parcul Național Munții Rodnei - 115,152 acres nature reserve home to 15 glacier lakes, 1.200 species of plants, 150 species of birds and 40 species of mammals. The highest peak in the Eastern Carpathians (Pietrosu - 7545 feet) and numerous caves attract adventure seekers and active travelers. Rodna Mountains feature one of the longest continuous ridges in Romania, with over 35 miles from west to east and are home to the deepest cave in Romania.
Maramures Mountains Nature Park
A 376,820 acres nature reserve that encompases 10 villages, seven of them located along river Vișeu and three along stream Ruscovei. 90,000 people live in the area, main ocupations are: mining, agriculture and silviculture and timber harvesting.
Pietrosul Mare UNESCO biosphere reserve.
8,155 acres of diverse habitats located at altitudes of 2,950 ft. to 7,600 ft.: beech , spruce and pine mountain forest ecosystems as well as alpine meadows with many endemic and endangered species.
Biking, Camping, Fishing, Hiking, Nature walks, Paragliding, Rafting, Skiing, Wildlife and bird watching.
Maramures Traditional food
The cuisine of Maramures is mainly based on a limited number of ingredients: corn, pork, lamb milk and seasonal vegetables. Traditional dishes are simple, unsophisticated, but very tasty due the good quality localy produced, organic, ingredients used for preparation.
A typical, traditional meal, in Maramures include:
~ Gustare cu Carnat uscat, Slanina Afumata si Branza de Oaie (cold appetizer dry pork sausage, smoked lard/ bacon and fresh ewe's milk cheese, served, during summer, with fresh peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and onion),
~ Ciorbă de Fasole cu Varză Murată (Bean and Sauerkraut Soup) or Zamă de Şălate cu Groştior (Lettuce Soup),
~ Tochitură cu Mămăligă (Pork stew served with polenta) or Piroşte cu Păsat (sarmale) – Cabbage Rolls (stuffed with broken maize or minced meat and broken maize),
~ Hăluşte cu Licvari (or colțunași cu magiun de prune) – dumplings with plum jam filling.
Other Maramures regional dishes include:
~ Hrenzăle (potato patties),
~ Sos de hribi cu Moare îngroșată cu Mălai (wild mushroom stewed in sauerkraut juice and thickened with corn or wheat flour),
~ Cotoz (cornmeal boiled in milk and mixed with sourcream and white cheese),
~ Brozdi - Zeamă de Urzici Tinere (spring nettle soup),
~ Supă cu Porumb și Cașcaval (corn and yellow cheese chowder),
~ Tocană de mămăligă cu jumări (smoked meat/ sausage and belows cheese polenta),
~ Chihăle (milk and egg soft cookies).
In Maramures the hosts always welcome guests with a piece of homemade breads and a small glass of horinca - the local double-distilled plum, pear or apple brandy.
The region of Maramures - Satu Mare is not one of Romania's major wine producing areas but just south of town of Satu Mare there are quite a few small wineries worth exploring:
Crama Nastase (Labels: Crama Nastase),
Familia Hetei (Labels: Familia Hetei),
Nachbil (Labels: Nachbil and La Capela),
Weingut Edgar Brutler (Labels: Weingut Edgar Brutler),
Triterra (Labels: Triterra),
Casa Vlas – Ardud (Labels: Casa Vlas),
Crama Dobra (Labels: Pogany and Dobra Wine),
Crama Jurchis (Labels: Jurchis),
Crama Teodor (Labels: Sat Mar, Adeodatus and Frappant),
Crama Ratesti (Labels: Crama Ratesti) and
Vinaria Jugrestan (Labels: Mai Ia, Petru și Pavel, Psalmi, Pururea and Libéré).
In the 1700s, the Swabian immigrants (Șvabi Sătmăreni in Romanian or Sathmarer Schwaben in German) settled near Satu Mare and contributed to development of viticulture and winemaking in the area. High soil acidity and mild climate help make fresh white wines and well balanced red wines, with good aging potential.
Although two out of three beers produced in Europe come from six countries: Germany, United Kingdom, Poland, Spain the Netherlands and Belgium many excellent, unique, beers come from countries that are not top beer makers, i.e. Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy and Romania.
Local / artisan beers produced in Maramures – Satu Mare include: Dura, Acord, DoppelBock and HAB
Transportation to Maramures
Travel to Maramures by train
There are several daily trains from/to Bucharest and other major cities in Romania to Maramures region.
Main train stations in Maramures and Satu Mare regions are Baia Mare, Satu Mare and Sighetu Marmatiei.
Train stations of local imporance are Valea Viseului and Viseu de Jos
There are daily trains from Sighetu Marmatiei to Bucharest, Cluj Napoca, Arad and Timisoara. Trains also depart daily to Viseu de Jos, most continuing to Salva and Ceblean, the junctions for trains to Vatra Dornei, Campulung Moldovenesc, Gura Humorului, Suceava, Oradea and Brasov.
To check train schedules for domestic routes please visit RomaniaTourism Domestic Transportation section.
Travel to Maramures by bus
Main bus transportation hubs in Maramures and Satu Mare regions are Baia mare and Satu Mare.
There is daily bus service from Maramures to cities in Central and Western Europe as well as to major cities in Romania.
Access to most smaller villages is only possible by bus or by car
To check bus schedules for domestic routes please visit RomaniaTourism Domestic Transportation section.
Traditional Villages in Maramures
by Joyce Dalton
This section is courtesy of Travel Lady Magazine
From the province of Moldavia, head westward along a good, but mountainous, road to Romania's most traditional region, Maramures. The drive takes about five hours with no stops, but this is virtually an impossibility, especially for photographers. Picturesque villages (notably Ciocanesti, whose houses covered with painted flowers and geometrics make it arguably Romania' s prettiest village), spectacular mountain scenery and a unique museum smack in the middle of nowhere The Museum of the Tree Roots (Muzeul Radacinilor) with a bizarre exhibit of figures sculpted from tree roots all beg inspection. Gawking becomes even more demanding once Maramures is reached. At Mosei, turn left toward Bistrita, then right after a few miles toward Sacel and Sighetu Marmatiei, the principal town. (Sighetu also can be reached by continuing straight at Mosei, but the lower road passes through the region' s most traditional villages.) From Sacel on, each village offers its share, and more, of wooden houses, many with sculpted designs on balconies and around entrances. Then, there are the towering carved wooden gates, attached to fences half their size, rising before even modest dwellings.
Popular motifs include grapevines, acorns, twisted rope, sun symbols, crosses and forest animals. The villages of Barsana and Oncesti have, perhaps, the greatest number of impressive gates.
Maramures is Brigadoon land where the way of life has changed little over the centuries. In late afternoon, old women sit outside their gates coaxing coarse wool onto spindles. Many still favor traditional dress, meaning white frounced blouses, striped woven panels covering full black skirts, headscarves and "opinci", a sort of leather ballet slipper from which heavy yarn criss-crosses over thick socks. On Sunday, such dress is practically de rigueur, even for little girls.
Hardly a village lacks its own small wooden church dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. These are exquisite, high-steepled jewels with multiple gabled roofs, all of a pattern yet each distinctly unique. Seeing at least a few interiors is a must as many frescoes remain in good condition. If time is limited, the interiors at Ieud, Bogdan Voda and Poenile Izei are recommended. The latter depicts some highly original torments for such sins as sleeping in church. Although churches are usually locked, ask any passerby for the key-keeper by pointing at the door and saying "cheia" (pronounced kay-ya), meaning the key. Romanians are extremely kind and friendly and will be sure to help. While the main tourist activities in Maramures are gate-church- and people-viewing, the town of Sighetu Marmatiei has a few attractions worth visiting. The outdoor village museum, on the road into town, boasts dozens of homes and farm buildings assembled from around Maramures county. Even Oncesti s wooden church has been relocated here.
For a look at Romania s more recent past, an hour spent at Sighetu' s Museum of Arrested Thought can be instructive. Though only a block or two off the main street, it is not easy to find. Ask for the "Muzeul Inchisorii" (pronounced "moo ze ool un kee swah ree"), meaning prison museum. Although built before Communist 'Revolution' the Communist regime utilized the prison to detain the political opposition leaders and intellectual dissidents. Three tiers of cells and various exhibits may be viewed; an English-speaking guide is available.
An old synagogue and the childhood home of author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel also are in Sighetul Marmatiei (Sighet for short).
No trip to Maramures is complete without a look at the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta, a 20-minute drive from Sighet. Here, colorful folk art pictures and witty words carved into wooden headstones immortalize the deceased's foibles, occupations or family problems. No translations, but the pictures tell much of the story. An old woman bakes round loaves of bread, a young person bends in scholarly fashion over his books, one man is shot by soldiers while another tends his flock of sheep.
Beauty assumes many forms. For most travelers, the enduring traditions of Maramures and the magnificence of Bucovina's painted monasteries will define two of them.