In the heart of central Romania, where the scent of pear blossoms mingles with the distant call of cuckoos, a small, aging cottage stands as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. The house, half-hidden by lilac trees, was once home to Elisabeta Rizea, an anti-communist activist who defied tyranny and clung to her ideals even in the face of torture. Today, her cottage in the remote village of Nucsoara embodies the enduring spirit of a region where time seems to move at a different pace. As I embarked on a week-long journey through the Southern Carpathian Mountains, I discovered a land where history, nature, and rewilding efforts converge in a captivating tapestry.
A Landscape of Resilience
Nucsoara, a village seemingly untouched by the frenetic pace of modern life, lies in stark contrast to the bustling capital of Bucharest, a mere three-hour drive away. Here, the landscape, with its sage-green hills and cherry tree-dotted houses, evokes a sense of tranquility that is increasingly rare in our fast-paced world. Mayor Ion Cojocaru, a man deeply connected to this land, initiated a unique project that symbolizes the region’s pride in its natural beauty. He selected 2,544 ancient beech trees, each representing a meter of height on Romania’s highest mountain, Moldoveanu. Visitors can adopt these trees, with their stories embedded in QR codes, contributing to the preservation of local hiking trails.
A Symphony of Nature and Heritage
Beyond the breathtaking landscapes, this part of Romania holds a special secret—a rewilding project with a grand vision. The Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC), since 2009, has been diligently working to protect and restore this region, which boasts Europe’s highest concentration of large carnivores, including bears, wolves, and lynx. The project’s ambition is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The FCC has already safeguarded 105 square miles of land, with an additional 200 square miles designated as hunting-free zones.
But it doesn’t stop at protection; the FCC has cleverly tapped into ecotourism, offering travelers a chance to experience the wilderness up close. From wildlife-spotting cabins in the mountains to equestrian trail-riding centers and organic farms, they are actively engaging visitors in the preservation of this remarkable landscape.
Elisabeta’s Legacy Lives On
In the heart of this rewilding effort lies the village of Nucsoara, where the recently opened Caezu guesthouse stands as a testament to the region’s deep-rooted history. Caezu, a charming guesthouse with strong local ties to Elisabeta Rizea, offers visitors a glimpse into the authentic soul of this land. As I explored the pristine wilderness of the Southern Carpathians, I couldn’t help but feel a connection to Elisabeta’s spirit, who once said, “They took everything from us … Still, what they could not take was our soul.”
Deep within these rugged mountains lies a story of revival and hope. Christoph Promberger, co-founder of the FCC, spearheaded the reintroduction of European bison into the Fagaras Mountains. These magnificent creatures, once driven to extinction in the region, have made a triumphant return, with calves born in the wild and more bison joining the group. This initiative goes hand in hand with the reintroduction of beavers and, in the future, vultures. Christoph and his wife Barbara’s dedication to rewilding, which began with raising wolf cubs, has transformed the landscape and rekindled hope for a thriving ecosystem.
Protecting Nature and Empowering Communities
The FCC’s efforts extend beyond conservation. They have created employment opportunities for over 200 locals, from rangers to wardens, and have planted over 2.5 million saplings. This rewilding endeavor is not just about preserving biodiversity but also empowering local communities. A residential education center for schoolchildren exemplifies the commitment to involve and educate the next generation about the importance of nature.
A Night in the Wilderness
My journey led me to a remote cabin, Comisu 1, nestled at an altitude of 1,860 meters, offering a window to the untouched wilderness. Here, I gazed out at the vast expanses of old-growth forest, punctuated by small patches where trees had been felled. The night sky above was adorned with a blanket of stars, reminding me of the enchantment that nature still holds.
Bison and Bears
As the morning sun bathed the landscape in golden light, I witnessed a powerful sight—European brown bears foraging just meters away from the cabin. These majestic creatures, once threatened by hunting, have found refuge in this protected area. Yet, the FCC understands the importance of coexistence, working to support local shepherds and villagers affected by bear interactions. This community-focused approach is key to the long-term success of the national park project.
I concluded my journey in southern Transylvania, where I ventured into the lower slopes with guide Ionut Bordea. He shared stories of a bygone era, where the simple act of working in a bicycle factory often concealed the production of ammunition. Despite the challenges of preserving tradition in a rapidly changing world, the beauty of the landscape around us, with its meadows and fir woods, served as a reminder of the value of holding onto one’s roots.
The Southern Carpathian Mountains are more than just a landscape; they are a testament to resilience, conservation, and the enduring spirit of a region. As I departed from this land of bears, wolves, and bison, I carried with me the echoes of Elisabeta Rizea’s words, reminding me that the soul of a place is worth preserving at all costs. Romania’s rewilding project is not only reinvigorating nature but also empowering communities and rekindling the human connection to the wild. In a world moving ever faster, the Southern Carpathians stand as a sanctuary where time slows down, and the wilderness reigns supreme.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Rewilding Romania
What is the main focus of the article about Romania’s Southern Carpathians?
The main focus of this article is on the rewilding efforts in Romania’s Southern Carpathians, highlighting conservation, the return of large carnivores like bears and wolves, and the revival of European bison populations.
Who initiated the rewilding project in the Southern Carpathians?
The rewilding project in the Southern Carpathians was initiated by the nonprofit organization Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC).
What unique project did Mayor Ion Cojocaru launch in the village of Nucsoara?
Mayor Ion Cojocaru initiated a unique project in Nucsoara, allowing visitors to adopt individual beech trees, with their stories embedded in QR codes, to raise funds for local hiking trails.
How has the FCC combined conservation with tourism in the region?
The FCC has combined conservation with tourism by offering various travel experiences, including wildlife-spotting cabins, equestrian trail-riding centers, and organic farms, to engage visitors and support conservation efforts.
What wildlife has been successfully reintroduced in the Southern Carpathians?
European bison, beavers, and, in the future, vultures have been successfully reintroduced in the Southern Carpathians as part of the rewilding efforts.
How does the FCC aim to coexist with local communities in the national park project?
The FCC is committed to coexisting with local communities by providing employment opportunities, supporting shepherds affected by wildlife interactions, and involving local schoolchildren through educational programs.
What is the significance of Comisu 1, the cabin mentioned in the article?
Comisu 1 is a remote cabin at a high altitude, offering visitors a unique opportunity to experience the untouched wilderness of the Southern Carpathians.
Why is coexistence with bears particularly important in the region?
Coexistence with bears is crucial in the region because, despite previous hunting efforts, Romania is home to more than 6,000 bears, and finding ways to minimize conflicts with shepherds and villagers is a priority for the FCC.
How does the article describe the landscape and atmosphere of the Southern Carpathians?
The article describes the Southern Carpathians as a region of pristine beauty, with sage-green hills, cherry tree-dotted houses, and meadows, evoking a sense of tranquility and timelessness in contrast to the bustling modern world.