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Olt ValleyIn order to describe Valcea County, many quills have laid the most beautiful words of praise. Considered to be the jewel of Oltenia for its many and wonderful places, this land received all the beauties nature has offered with generosity. As far as you can see, the landscape reveals valleys shadowy and ripped by springs, blossomed meadows, villages of householders, and when the altitudes rise, the churches heighten their towers among the trees. The silence from around the monasteries accompanies you on the trails from the Cozia Massif, where you will discover special picturesque landscapes.

Cozia Monastery

Olt Valley is full of historical testimonies, and the most important of them is Cozia Monastery. Keeping watch and ward over the places for over six centuries, it is surrounded by imposing peaks and impenetrable forests. Erected by the Voivode Mircea the Elder at the guidance of his councilor Nicodim from Tismana, the monastic settlement had a strategic position; located near the mountain, the monastery was often shielded from the attacks of the invaders. Though it represented a true fortress, being a safe shelter in times of peril, the establishment had not escaped the wickedness of history; at the end of the 19th century it was transformed into a jail, then it became a hospital, and during the First World War it served as a stable for horses.

Cozia MonasteryOvercoming the vicissitudes of time, the Cozia Monastery has preserved its vocation, mission and value. From an architectural point of view, the place of worship embodies a harmonious transition from the Byzantine style specific to Greek churches from the 13th century to the autochthon Byzantine style, later expressed fairly in the Brancovenian art. Across time, the settlement was protected and helped by several rulers who contributed to its current aspect. In the 16th century, Neagoe Basarab built the well from the yard and had the paintings restored; two centuries later, Constantin Brancoveanu adds the threshold, the hermitages and the verandah, giving the monastery several candelabrums preserved up to the present. But the oldest gift is the cross in the steeple, from Mircea the Elder’s time. In the church there can be seen the tomb of the founder and the tomb of the monah Teofana, mother of Michael the Brave.

A muse to many writers and painters, the place of worship from Cozia has been a symbol of all the monasteries in the country, impressing through its historic and artistic value. Besides the priceless mural paintings and the stained glass, the monastery keeps other old objects of cult, reunited in the museum on the east wing. The holly walls of Cozia are still telling their stories, creating an ambiance of beginning of the world, where harmony and peace reign.

The legends of the place talk about the monastery’s faraway history. They say that from the choir from the left side of the altar starts a tunnel that leads underwater to the other bank of the river Olt. Here, it is located the lonely rock, where the Voivode Mircea the Elder took refuge on a day when the Turks broke through the place of worship’s walls and robbed it. Also, they say that in the same spot the emperor Traian served his meal, during the campaign of conquer of Dacia. Keeping the memory of the two rulers, the rock is known as both The table of Mircea and The Table of Traian.

Arutela CastrumOn their way to the heart of Dacia, the Romans crossed the valleys and the forests of the Olt Valley, making them echo under their horses’ hooves. One of the evidence of this fact is the Arutela Castrum, located approximately 1,5 km from the Cozia Monastery. During the reign of the emperor Hadrian, a party of Syrian archers built it on top of an old Dacian settlement; around it was discovered one of the biggest Roman commercial roads. In the first half of the 3rd century a powerful overflow of the river Olt destroyed the west side of the castrum, causing the retreat of the Roman garrison. At present there are visible traces of the construction and portions of the old road paved with ashlar.

Turnu (Tower) Monastery

From Cozia the road twists and turns through rocks and clear springs, crossing rich forests to the Turnu Monastery. Oasis of spirituality and peace of mind, located at the foot of the mountain, in an enchanting natural setting, it was erected in the 16th century by two monks from Cozia. They had chosen this place because it was favorable for their lives as hermits; still, as time went by many monahs crossed the river Olt to stay here forever. So, they first built a wooden church, then one of stone and the hermitage expanded; some of the old hermitages dug in stone can be seen even nowadays.

Turnu MonasteryThe settlement consists of the old church, located at the entrance, and the new one, erected at the end of the 19th century. The harmony of the architectonic style, dominated by arches and columns, the richly colored exterior frescos, the wooden ornaments and the simplicity of the steeples are all impressive. The isolation of the hermits from Turnu ended in the moment of the railway construction, when tourists began visiting more often the place of worship. But the monks here still carry on with their quiet lives, being occupied with taking care of the monastery and prayer.

Nearby you can see the hermitage of Pahomie, a church glued to a rock. Though it has rather small dimensions, it attracts through its lively colored exterior and the rustic porch from the entrance, whose painted pillars contrast with the white walls. From the same rock the Beautiful Spring begins its course, the only one that shatters the tranquility of the monastic settlements.

Stanisoara Monastery  

Stanisoara MonasteryLeaving the Turnu Monastery, on the trails that go up through the forest, you reach another holy place of worship, Stanisoara. The landscapes are special; the trails make way through the trees, leading you to this peaceful piece of heaven. Initially, there was a wooden hermitage at Nucet-Stanisoara, inhabited by the surrounding caves’ hermits. Then a church was built, but it didn’t last long; after only 40 years of existence, the Turkish invaders burnt it and killed the monks. Rebuilt at the beginning of the 19th century, the place of worship is destroyed again by another fire. Finally, between 1903 and 1908 the current church made of stone is erected, a massive construction with a large steeple and a spacious threshold. Inside, some old icons and churchly books are being kept, brought from Mount Athos; the sober atmosphere is tamed by the rich stained glasses that depict faces of saints.

At Stanisoara Monastery, the monks dedicate themselves exclusive to prayer and preaching the holy mysteries (sacraments). Don’t be surprised if they will be withdrawn around tourists; inhabitants of caves at their origins, mountain dwellers at present, they searched entirely spiritual peace and joy.

Cozia National Park

If you prefer backpacking trips and want to explore the surroundings at altitude, the Cozia Massif gives you the chance to admire the wildness in its entire splendor. Surrounded by relatively low depressions, the mountain appears as a stone citadel guarded by towers that reveal surprising landscapes over the surroundings. Here, nature has perfected an original creation, putting in one place cliffs pierced by springs, portly forests and a charming animal and plant’s world. Although it isn’t very high, the mountain attracts through its abruptness, rocky relief and luxuriant vegetation which delight the sight. Along the trails, you meet proud durmasts, firs and beeches, the Cozia birches and the dwarf locust trees. Among these, at their shadow, you can catch glimpses of yellow irises, the rare edelweiss, mountain peonies, white ivy, as well as a glacial relict, the earth pine. If you are lucky, you can see the cheerful black goats or the more careful martens and lynxes.

Houses along Olt ValleyThe mountain tracks are accessible even to beginners; the paths climb smoothly, but constant, however the forest is so captivating that you don’t realize when you go through the difference of level. The coloristic palette, the varied relief, the points of belvedere, all offer a delightful view, there is nothing monotonous. Of the objectives on the massif, we recommend the Gate of Rock, an immense opening in the rock, of impressive dimensions, Lotrisor Waterfall, gorgeous and noisy oasis of coolness, and the shapes of stone with human faces: the Sheperd, the Outlaw, the Wiseman, the Dacian man, “Father Frost”, the female bear and her cub. A hike on the mountain demands a place for resting. At Cozia chalet, situated at 1573m high, you find meals and lodging and a place just right for telling stories around the fire with other adventure lovers. On the plateau you are greeted by quiet and coolness that are specific to high altitudes and the feeling of absolute freedom. From here, the view opens on Omu Peak and Capatanii, Lotrului, Fagarasului and Iezer-Papusa Mountains, dominating the horizon.

From points such as Turnu, Pausa, Calimanesti, Gura Lotrului, start touristic tracks marked towards the main objectives. Along the paths you will find arranged halts -benches and wooden tables, refuge chalets-, where you can rest for a few moments, get ready to discover the beauties of the mountain. Don’t get deceived by the weather; even if at the mountain feet everything looks serene and calm, at a higher altitude rain and changing weather may create difficulties. Gear up accordingly in order to have a carefree hike and go through the following trails:

Cozia National ParkTurnu train station - Curmatura la Troita - Scortaru Mountain - Muchia Turneanu - Cozia Chalet (5h-5 ½ h, difficult to pass on snowy weather).

Lotru train station - Varateca - Muchia Urzicii - Stana din Rotunda - Cozia Peak (4-5h).

Stanisoara Monastery - Muchia Vladesei - Durduc - Cozia Peak (4-5h).

Lotrisorului’s Mouth - Lotrisorului’s Valley - Tarsus Meadow (2-3 h, relatively easy trail).

The Roman Arutela Castrum - La Troita - Stanisoara Monastery (2-3 h).

Lotrului Valley

Beyond Cozia Mountains stretch large valleys pervaded by the tempestuous Lotru, that springs from Parang’s lands. On its valley is situated Brezoi village, a settlement of remiss and welcoming people, where you will discover the charm of rural life. From here, on winding roads through the mountains, you reach Malaia, a well-known lake among fishing lovers. Legends say that long ago, the bands of outlaws of Malai, Ciungu and Voinea were spending their time around here. After a while, having enough with robbing and raising their fortunes, they started families and settled at Malaia, Ciunget and Voineasa. On the shore you can have a picnic in the middle of the nature in order to relax after a long road or you can even try your luck with the fish.

Latoritei GorgesFor an energizing walk, a travel through Latoritei Gorges is worth it. Mountain crests appear to unite above you, the richness of rushing and noisy waterfalls, the moss and flowers that grow on the rocks; all offer the sensation of pure freedom. All the rivers that go down the mountain effuse in Latorita, accompanied along their road by many lively birds and colorful butterflies. There is a fuss around; the nature seems liberated, rushing to greet the wild landscapes lovers. From the bottom, the paths uncoil like in a fan on the mountain. In all the directions, the touristic trails follow the valleys of the creeks, to the points of attraction, such as Galbenu, Petrimanu and Iezerul Latoritei lakes and the waterfalls the Windmill of the Devils and the Hung Water.

Voineasa - Obarsia Lotrului (Lotru’s place of birth)

VoineasaAt a small distance there is Voineasa resort, a picturesque place surrounded by forests, sought especially for its clean air, free of dust and allergens. Known mainly for climatic conditions and for the treatment possibilities, Voineasa used to receive waves of tourists who wanted to take advantage of the benefits offered by nature. With time, the interest of the authorities over this area has decreased, but the resort has great potential for development due to its natural resources. Given the optimal conditions that allow development and modernization, the region is recommended to investors. All things considered, the landscapes are special, favorable for a quiet and relaxing vacation; the walks through the surroundings are a real treatment of fresh air benefic for the health.

Vidra LakeFrom Voineasa you can go on a roadtrip to Vidra dam, which you will catch sight of between the tops of the firs. In the lake’s clear mirror are reflected the sun’s rays, strongly contrasting with the lively green of the surrounding forests. The locals say that on these lands there is, allegedly, a gold mine very well concealed, exploited by the Nazis in the Second World War. They say that at that time the Nazis were working with prisoners and when they found out that Germany was defeated, they hid the prisoners in the mine, and then they blew it up with dynamite. The treasure could never be found, because of the rocks fallen from the slopes. In winter, the picture of the melting snow around the lake, transforming fast into steam, is a sublime one.

Until Obarsia Lotrului, the road winds smoothly among cliffs and forests, in a silence only interrupted by the waterfalls’ noise and the sough of the trees. In this sector of Valcea County, nature has kept its wild side, revealing overwhelming landscapes, as you rarely come around. From Calimanesti to Lotrului Valley, you can enjoy gorgeous places, which will definitely make you come back.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]