Charming villages, fairytale castles, and Unesco World Heritage sites dot green valleys and forests below the peaks of the Carpathian mountain range. Romania is a bit off the beaten path for the typical American tourist, but this picturesque land is worth the visit. Those who do visit find a land rich in culture and history, as well as natural beauty
Romania boasts a diversity and wildness of natural beauty that sets it apart from the rest of Europe, with more than half of Europe’s remaining old-growth and primeval forests, which are home to a diverse range of species, including one of the largest populations of brown bears in Europe, and a small population of recently re-introduced endangered European bison.
Much of this forest land lies in the Carpathian mountains, a range of peaks cutting an arc through the Romanian countryside. Toward the southern end of this range lies Retezat National Park, home to 20 peaks over 6,500 feet. From two of these peaks, runners in the Retezat SkyRace touch the sky above beautiful vistas of the green country below.
Alongside this great natural beauty, Romania’s long and fascinating history reaches far back to pre-Chrisitan times. Visitors can see sites marking the land’s history, from the pre-Roman Empire Dacians, through changing powers of Roman and Ottoman empires, Russian control and Communist rule, to the protests that ushered in democracy 30 years ago.
And then there’s the food and wine. Romanian food reflects the nation’s history at a crossroads of cultures, people, and geography. Flavors that may remind you of Turkish, Hungarian, Slavic, Austrian, and other European foods mingle in Romania’s cuisine, rich in dishes that easily fall into the category of comfort food.
Although chances are you have never sipped a Romanian wine, the country is one of the larger wine producers in the world, and the fifth largest in Europe. White wines high in acidity, like Fetească Albă and Traminer Rosé are Romania’s specialty, but increasingly its vineyards are producing higher quality reds, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Also not to be missed is Țuică, the traditional Romanian spirit distilled from plums.
The Retezat SkyRace takes runners through meadows, up mountainsides, and along mountain ridges to rocky peaks, before descending again to the finish line in the lush meadows below.
“The Retezat region was Romania’s first national park and has over twenty peaks higher than 2000 metres (over 6,500 feet).”
The sport of skyrunning is a relatively new one, or rather, a relatively new name for something runners have been doing for a very long time. The sport’s governing body, the International Skyracing Federation, describes it this way: “It’s a sport born in the wild, where the logic was to reach the highest peak in the shortest time from a town or village. Today it represents the peak of outdoor running defined by altitude and technicality…” Skyrunning, as defined by the ISF, means running in the mountains, above an altitude of 2,000 meters, with inclines of at least 6%, and some sections over 30%, but where climbing difficulty is not higher than grade II. Yes, you read that right; these runs have a climbing grade, as in rock climbing. https://www.skyrunning.com/
The Retezat run offers 3 choices: a 28k, a 23k, and a 7k, as well as a kids’ run.
28k Custura Route:
23k Buta Route:
7k Valea Mare Route: