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Responsible Travel and Ecotourism

Agro and Ecotourism in Romania

Discover Village Life and Volunteer for its Preservation

By Kara McDonald

While Romania is an unlikely destination for most tourists, it provides unique travel opportunities to those who want to explore traditional village life and territory untouched by time. From bird watching on an ecotour in the Danube Delta to living with a Romanian family on a functioning agro-tourism farm, Romania has seized upon rural tourism as an engine for its economic growth. The sheer size of the country coupled with its diverse terrain makes it an ideal destination for the traveler who is looking for agro- and ecotourism opportunities.

An extensive network of farmhouses and agro-tourism pensions offer a comfortable, yet realistic view of village life and gastronomy. Tourism is not the main activity of the hosts. Most are farmers or local merchants, but most family-owned operations provide their guests with basic amenities to ensure that agro-tourism doesn’t become “aggravated tourism.” Prices range from free room and board in exchange for help on a farm to $40 per night for the most luxurious rooms. Most rooms cost around $15 per night.

The most developed rural stay networks are in Maramures, in the northwest, described by many as a place untouched by time. Villagers live without the conveniences of industry and technology. Farm tools, clothing, and shoes are all made by hand. Bucovina, where European tourists have discovered painted monasteries, offers the most abundant choice in rural pensions. Transylvania also has a highly developed network of pensions and guesthouses, many of which are in villages nestled between the jagged Carpathian mountains.

While almost all rural stays now have running water, guests should expect to live as Romanian families do: goose-down comforters, ceramic wood fireplaces, warm fresh cow milk, natural foods, and frequent displays of how the the foods are grown, raised, and prepared. Rural stays are particularly animated during local festivals when hosts often invite guests to participate in traditional activities like learning a Romanian folk dance in Transylvania or fabricating a colorful mask from vegetables and sheep wool in Maramures County.

Ecotourism

The Danube Delta offers some of the best ecological stays in Europe and is the only river delta in the world to be protected as a biosphere reserve, with over 580,000 hectares of preserved wetlands and over 5,000 species of flora and fauna. Local fisherman, who serve as tour guides, are experienced in navigating the Delta’s channels by motor or oar and are also knowledgeable birdwatchers. Be certain to learn about ecological tour guides (the Biosphere Reserve Authority is a good place to start: see sidebar) before going. As tourism in the Delta increases, so does the number of tour operators who do not always respect the same ecological approaches to the Delta.

Join the Restoration Effort

Agro and Ecotourism aren’t just fun for discovering village life and wildlife, they’re also geared toward preserving that life and enhancing local participation in sustainable economic development. Projects for volunteers include restoring manor houses and churches that fell into disrepair during Communism. The Kalnoky family, for example, fled Romania leaving their manor house, which the Communist State expropriated. The family has now returned to Transylvania, applied for restitution of the property, and renovated the manor’s guesthouses to allow visitors to sample village life and cuisine, all while sharing in restoration of the property lost under Communism.

In a similar vein, Communism banned public religious life. Romania’s many churches, monasteries, and cathedrals received little support. Some of these churches and monasteries now depend on agrotourism for funds to assist their preservation. In some cases, small churches will find rooms for guests in private homes or in the pastor’s parish to afford travelers the chance to share the community’s experience. In other cases, large monasteries have rooms available for guests who want to visit and share with the nuns and monks who reside there.

Whether your goal is ecologically responsible travel to a nature preserve or backpacking through Transylvania, Romania welcomes your contribution to the preservation of its rich cultural and traditional heritage.

Agro and Ecotourism Resources for Travelers and Volunteers in Romania

Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Authority, www.ddbra.ro), has information on the Delta, reliable tour guide operators, and rural stays.

Count Kalnoky’s Manor House, (www.transylvaniancastle.com) is in the heart of Transylvania. Proceeds from stays go to the manor’s restoration.

The Holy Monastery of Hurezi, Horezu-Valcea (Tel. 40-250-860-071), one of the largest in Romania, has clean guestrooms for visitors wishing to spend the night. The head nun during your visit also gives tours of the church, explains the many frescoes, and arranges a pleasant dinner for you.

KARA MCDONALD is a foreign service officer in Bucharest, Romania.

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