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The Ceahlau Massif has throughout time stood as a muse for numerous writers who described it as an Olympus of the Romanians. Being a secret spring of legends and songs pertaining to the Romanian people, the Ceahlau is the mountain around which most stories have been woven, as every rock and every lodge has its own history. Located at the heart of Moldova and mirroring its splendor in the clearness of the Mountain Spring Lake, the massif dominates the surroundings and stands to be admired for its beauties eroded only by the passing of time. Full of mountain routes at the end of which chalets await, with welcoming hosts and traditional dishes, the rock giant invites you to hear its stories.

Though barely over 1900 meters, it is said that on a clear day, with clouds and clear atmosphere, the Ceahlau offers a view so wide over the Romanian land that you can even see the sea. A neighbor of the clouds, ”the giant with its forehead in the sun” among the blue skies, as George CoÅŸbuc described it, is each time different; green and painted in the colors of flowers, dressed in the copper clothes of autumn or hosting generous layers of snow and determined winds, the mountain always reveals its mysteries bit by bit.

Izvorul Muntelui

The Dacians’ Holy Mountain

The mighty Ceahlau has been a source of legends since early times. They speak both about its history and the wonderful places it shelters. This is where the foundation of ancient spirituality was laid, Ceahlau being the second holy mountain of the orthodox Christianity, after Mount Athos. It is said that Zamolxis himself lived on the rocky giant before he became the supreme God of the Dacians.

According to the stories of the elders, Ceahlau was built at the command of Emperor Trajan to defend against the barbarians coming from the East. After the slaves placed rocks and boulders one on top of the other and the emperor was satisfied, they also placed a semantron and a soldier on top of the mountain, as the soldier would keep guard and sound the alarm whenever the enemy invaded. But one day the semantron was left without a master because the soldier was struck down by an arrow. Ever since, the enemy kept invading our lands.

Mysterious Apparitions on the Ceahlau

The Ceahlau has always attracted attention with the mysteries surrounding it. Two unique optical phenomena which create exquisite images on the plateau enhance the mysticism. In the first part of August, in the light of the first sun rays, the shadows of the Toaca and Piatra peaks form a huge holographic pyramid. The phenomenon was called the Pyramid Shadow and can be observed for one and a half hour. The legend says that the tip of the pyramid indicates where the Dacians’ treasure is. The same image was printed on ceramic objects that form the famous Cucuteni culture, dating back to 4800 B.C., found only 30 km away from Ceahlau. 

At the same period of the year and also at sunrise, you can see The Way of the Skies for a few minutes, above Toaca peak. This is where a pillar of powerful and strange light appears, sided by two dark bands. The reviving picture of the sunrise is contoured out of inexplicable light shows which surround the “alpine sea” at the foot of the mountain. The mighty landscape takes your breath away and makes you fall in love irredeemably with the mysterious Ceahlau Mountain.

Red Lake


Ceahlau Mountains

The Legends of the Rocky Treasures of Ceahlau

Either if you start your trip from the Mountain Spring (Izvorul Muntelui) or from Durau, the marked routes reveal odd rocks with human forms, which bear their own tales. One of the most famous is Dochia Rock, near which there is a chalet by the same name. The locals have preserved a number of legends regarding this rock. One of them tells us that an old woman called Dochia had a son by the name of Dragobete, who married against his mother’s will. To get back at her daughter-in-law, Dochia gave her a spool of black wool and told her to go to the river and wash it until it became white. Being a chilly winter day, the girl’s fingers started to bleed, but the wool would not whiten at all. Desperate, the young girl started to cry and her sorrow was heard by The One Above, who gave her a red flower telling her to wash the wool with it. Fulfilling the heavy task, the girl returned home with the white wool, but Dochia accused her, saying that the one who helped her was her lover. Convinced that the flower received by the girl was a sign of spring, the old woman went off to the mountain with her flock of sheep, taking her coats off one by one as she went up, all twelve of them. Shortly after, the weather changed for the worst, as it started to snow and Dochia froze along with her sheep turning into stone.

In the Romanian tradition, Dochia and her coats represent the first days of March, when spring tries to take over winter’s place. Usually, these are nasty days in which the two seasons fight a continuous and unpredictable battle, the same as when Dochia headed for the mountain.

Under Toaca Peak, there is yet another imposing rock, Panaghia. In time, it has gathered many legends, the most beautiful of them being the one told by Calistrat HogaÅŸ. Panaghia was a splendid young girl to whom the Fates granted kindness, tenderness, perky cheeks and a rich black hair. Even God gave her a piece of His soul. To keep her safe from the mortals, the Fates took Panaghia on the Ceahlau Mountain in Ghedeon’s Cave. The girl grew up and became as beautiful as the princesses in the stories, and even the Sun fell in love with her. It stood on the sky so much longer in order to admire her, that the night never came. When God saw this, He punished the Sun to always rise enveloped in fog so it could not tempt the mortals anymore. But Panaghia could not live without the Sun, so she asked God to turn her into stone and let the Sun shine on the sky once more. That is how Panaghia became a cold rock bathed in the sweet rays of the sun.



Ceahlau Mountains

Ceahlau National Park

A wide area of the Ceahlau massif is covered by the National Park, a reservation holding three protected areas where you can find rare plant and animal species. On Ocolasul Mare Peak, access for tourists is restricted, as the area is considered a scientific reservation. Even so, you can still visit the other natural monuments. Duruitoarea Waterfall makes itself heard from a distance, as the noise of water falling from a height of 50 meters is quite loud. Here there are countless colored delicate butterflies circling you or resting on your clothes until you notice them. Also visit Polita cu Crini, a larch reservation, the only conifer with falling leaves, Avenul Mare or the Detunate cavern which hides an unknown world. The Ceahlau National Park is one of the few Carpathian complexes in which unaltered natural areas have been preserved. That is why this space is propitious for the growing of protected species of flora and fauna such as: the edelweiss, the lady’s slipper, the hero’s blood, and animals like the black eagle, the mountain eagle, the chamois and the rock butterfly.

The heights of Ceahlau can be conquered from the two peaks with similar altitudes – Ocolasul Mare (1907 meters) and Toaca (1900 meters), but only the latter is open for tourists. Along the route you will also see many cliffs that pierce the forest, the sources of countless legends woven around the massif. Among these we should mention Panaghia, Detunatele, a twinned rock split in two by lightning, Claile lui Miron, a place where the shepherd played the whistle for the animals, the forest, the meadows and the rivers, the Furculita and the Piatra cu Apa.

To visit the reservation, we recommend a bike ride on the road that winds into the forest, an opportunity to take in the fresh air and the green of the trees along with the songs of the birds. This route can be crossed on the road between Izvorul Muntelui and the Durau resort, with a medium difficulty level.  The road opens into the coniferous forest and offers astonishing views over Ceahlau’s cliffs. The feeling is energizing, and a good excuse to charge you batteries.

Toaca Peak


Ocolasul Mare Peak

Lodges on the Ceahlau

If you are planning a long and relaxing vacation near the Ceahlau massif, finding lodgings should not concern you. Izvorul Muntelui and Durau resorts are full of hotels and welcoming motels where they serve traditional dishes. Izvorul Muntelui Lodge was built on top of the cells of some hermits, serving first as a shelter for those who explored the forests, then a forest district office and nowadays - as a lodging facility. It is the perfect place if you wish to visit Ocolasul Mic and Stanca Dochiei.

To watch the mysterious phenomena on the Ceahlau and the unique spectacle of light at sunrise or at sunset, we advise you to choose the lodges situated at a higher altitude. Fantanele Lodge is situated in a place from where three springs used to flush out, being a layover for the mountain men who quenched their thirst here. Enjoy the silence of the heights and the clean air that make Ceahlau such a popular destination. At an altitude of 1790 meters, Dochia Lodge was devastated numerous times, either by powerful storms or by the troops in WWII. Rebuilt and opened for tourists, the lodge attracts mountain fans, being a point of belvedere and the starting point towards the unique cliffs of the Ceahlau, while in the morning it offers a clear picture of ‘the alpine sea’. Furthermore, Dochia Lodge is always cheerful, welcoming you with good spirits and on the rhythms of guitar strings.

Explore the Ceahlau Massif

Ceahlau deserves to be fully explored, because its beauty is unique and the landscapes it reveals at different altitudes are stunning. The majority of the marked routes take up to 4 hours to complete, so you can finish each of them in a day without having to spend the night on the mountain. You must know that on the Ceahlau there are no roads going all the way up to the peaks, neither are there cable cars, so you can only hike up the routes; equip yourself properly and be ready for changing weather. We recommend a few circuits with layovers in the key points of the massif.

The Izvorul Muntelui Lodge - Curmatura Lutu Rosu - Piatra cu Apa - Detunatele - Dochia Lodge  Route (3 ½ hours, medium difficulty). The road follows the left bank of the Mountain Spring  (Izvorul Muntelui) on a relatively easy hike. Then the trail changes course and the climbing gets harder for a while on a few serpentines. Shortly after this portion, there is a place where you can rest in a broadleaf area and if lucky, you can even spot deer. From here you can see the Izvorul Muntelui valley, Ghedeon’s Piatra Lata and Ocolasul Mare. Passing by the Polita cu Crini reservation, the road goes through huge limestone blocks, and then enters the Piatra cu Apa Glade. The climbing gets harder all the way to Detunatele, but Dochia Lodge is quite near, after an area of mountain pines and spruces.

Ceahlau Mountains


Ceahlau Mountains

The Izvorul Muntelui Lodge - Curmatura Lutu Rosu - Izvorul Alb - Stanca Dochiei - Jgheabul cu hotar - Dochia lodge Route (4 hrs., medium difficulty). The route offers splendid views over Toaca peak and Panaghia and passes through a foliage arch, accompanied by the crystal clear waters of the river. At Jgheabul cu Hotar you will see carved in rock an eagle with its wings spread which the locals called ‘Trajan’s eagle’.

The Izvorul Muntelui Lodge - Poiana Maicilor - Claile lui Miron - Ocolasul Mic - Dochia Lodge Route (4 ½ hrs., medium difficulty). This route is recommended especially in the summer and autumn, when the edelweiss and the hero’s blood give color to the forest. From different points of view you can see Ocolasul Mare and Toaca, as the trail passes by the silhouettes of some unique shaped rocks.

The Durau Resort - Fantanele Lodge - Piatra Lata - Sub Varful Toaca - Dochia Lodge Route (3 ½ hrs., medium difficulty). From Durau you climb up to a spruce and beech tree forest, on milder or higher hills all the way to Fantanele Lodge. From here the route goes on to the Curmatura Piatra Lata and Pietrele lui Baciu, passing through a juniper forest and finally arriving at the foot of the Panaghia rock. If you go beyond the base at Toaca peak you will see before your eyes the Ocolasul Mare.

The Durau Resort - Poiana Viezuri - Piatra Lata - Duruitoarea falls - Poiana Scaius - Polita cu Arinis - Curmatura Piciorul Schiop - Dochia Lodge Route (5hrs., medium difficulty). This is a historical route, being among the first ever marked in the Ceahlau masiff. The road goes through The Horses’ Glade (Poiana Cailor) and many other small valleys bathed by the spring all the way to Duruitoarea Waterfall. After a stop here, the trail reaches Scaius Glade, after which it climbs under the Piatra Ciobanului all the way to the edge of the alpine meadow. In Curmatura Piciorul Schiop, the altitude reaches 1765 m, a height from where you can see Hasmasul if it is a clear day. The route is not recommended during winter because of the steep slopes and the ice forming on them.

If you choose the routes starting from Durau, take a few minutes to visit Cnejilor Palace in the Ceahlau commune. On a plateau on the left side of the Schit River, the ruins of this historical monument have remained imposing despite the passing of the time. A former monastery, then a fortified mansion house, a place where numerous important events took place, Cnejilor Palace had a short period of glory around the year 1840. The Cantacuzino family who owned it, being used to the luxury in Sankt Petersburg, spent money beyond their means and ended up in ruins. Taking advantage of the situation, their political adversaries bought all the proprieties owned by the Cantacuzino brothers. Inside the palace there was a fearsome resistance before giving in the building to its new owners. Cnejilor Palace is still dressed in mystery and legend.

The Neagra village - Neagra peak - Curmatura Varatec - Poiana Maicilor - Claile lui Miron - Dochia Lodge Route (6-7 hrs., medium difficulty). The road alternates between smooth ascents and descents, forests with clear cold springs and glades all the way to the lodge. Here you can camp for the night.

The Bicazul Ardelean village - Telec - Bistrelor confluence - Curmatura “La Scaune” - Curmatura Stanile - Curmatura Piciorul Schiop - Dochia lodge Route (6 ½ hrs., high difficulty). On this route, in the Stanile glade and the Curmatura Varatec you can encounter adders, but the probability of such an event is very low. You can have a pleasant surprise on the versant of Ocolasul Mare where the rare rock butterflies nest.

Izvorul Muntelui Lake


Izvorul Muntelui Lake

Either if you follow the routes starting from Izvorul Muntelui or you set out from Durau, either if you climb the mountain in the summer, on trails bathed by the sun, or in the winter between the snowy trees, the Ceahlau always has wonderful landscapes to show to the tourists. Majestic, imposing, a rock castle with towers, the massif allows you to gradually discover its legends and secrets managing however to remain an enigma. With picturesque landscapes and human-shaped rocks, crystal clear waters and mighty forests, the Ceahlau undeniably lures you and only lets you go after it has filled you with energy and enthusiasm.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]