10 best things to do in Maramures

Posted in Adventure / Hiking, Culinary, Inspiration, Nature / Sightseeing, Religious, Traditions / History
Cold winter morning in a village in Maramures

Located in the northern part of Romania in a large valley with the same name, Maramures is an area where people are still following, for the most part, the traditional way of life. From our visits, we have selected for you 10 best things to do while in Maramures. This are places and activities which will give you an idea about the treasures of this area. The order of the attractions is not necessarily as a top 10, where number 1 is the most attractive. Some tourists might be interested more in the religious heritage of the area, while others would appreciate more local cuisine.

What is Maramures mainly known for

With a long and interesting history, communities in this region managed to preserve their traditions like no others. Very skilled people have created real wood masterpieces along the centuries. Building with wood has become an art in Maramures: houses, gates, churches, tools – everything is built out of wood here.

1. Visit Barsana Monastery

The old monastery of Barsana (name coming from a sheep breed in the area) was built in the second half of the 14th century, but the Tatars destroyed it in 1717. In spite of people struggling to rebuild it, this was not possible up until 1991, after the fall of the communism. The are several buildings in the monastic compound. All of them are made with local materials, respecting the traditional building methods. Among them, the main church is built out of  strong oak beams and is 57m high (187 ft), one of the tallest in the world. The "summer altar" is more like a pergola, built entirely out of wood, where religious ceremonies are held during summer days. The "refectory", with 2 large terraces and many flower pots hanging, will impress you through its architecture.

Barsana wood Monastery

2. Take a ride with Mocanita - steam-engine train

Another "must-do" in Maramures is Mocanita, located in Viseu de Sus. From here, the Vaser river valley goes deep into the wilderness, for approx. 60 km /37 miles. The thick forest here has always provided valuable row material for the famous wood "industry" of the area. The canyon-like valley is hard to cross, so locals built a narrow gauge line after the First World War, for hauling logs down from the mountains. Surprisingly, the steam-engine trains are still used for this purpose. More recently, tourists have discovered the impressive mountain landscape offered by Vaser valley. As a result trains have been adapted to this new role. It is a very interesting experience, both from the engineering point for view as well as for the beauty of the wild nature.

Mocanita steam engine traine on Vaser river valley in Maramures

3. Visit the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta

As strange as it may sound, the most visited tourist attraction in Maramures is the Cemetery in Sapanta village. Every day there are hundreds of tourists from Romania and other countries are visiting this place.

But what makes it so special? The uniqueness of this cemetery are actually the vivid colors of its crosses: from blue to red, yellow or green. Its history starts actually in 1930, when a local artisan, Stan Ioan Patras, has chosen to present death through a different perspective. This way of seeing a person’s most tragic event is actually going down the centuries to free-Dacian people, living in this territory in ancient times. They were not seeing death as a sad event, but rather an opportunity to leave an ever-lasting life alongside with their main God: Zalmoxes.

Along the years, the sculptor has created hundreds of such vivid-painted crosses, almost managing to drive-away sadness from the cemetery. Every cross has the same style: a flower-decorated cross on top, followed by a bas-relief, depicting a symbolic scene from the deceased’s life and a funny poem (an epitaph), detailing the scene:

"Underneath this heavy cross
Lies my mother in law poor
Had she lived three days more
I’d be here and she would read
You that are passing by
Try not to wake her up
For she comes back home
She’ll bite my head off
But I’ll act in the way
That she will not return
Stay here my dear

Merry Cemetery in Sapanta village, Maramures

4. Enjoy local accommodation in Maramures

Romanians are known for being welcoming and friendly, but you won’t meet the real Romanian hospitality until you check-in in Maramures. People in this region are very communicative and they love having guests.

Many of the local families have transformed their houses for accommodating tourists by enlarging them or even building new ones. Not all of the guesthouses are of a good taste, respecting local architecture, but you will for sure be able to find an authentic one in every village.

Accommodation facilities are usually the equivalent of a 3 stars hotel. They provide comfortable rooms, most of the time decorated with local embroideries and carpets. Bathrooms are often modern, fully equipped with shower, hot water and central-heating (even if this sometimes means for the owner to wake up in the middle of the night and refuel the wood-fired central heating unit).

Usually every guesthouse has a large yard where you can relax or a family-owned farm, where you can see their animals.

For sure a local Travel Agency will be able to point out for you the most authentic places to stay in Maramures.


5. Visit the wooden church in Surdesti

Although at the edge of Maramures province, we can definitely include this attraction on our list.

The Graeco-Catholic church of Surdesti was built in 1766. For many years this was the tallest wooden church in Europe (72m / 236ft). It has a rectangular shape, with a polygonal chancel apse. The roof has double eaves, covering chancel as well, with a secondary row of windows between the two eaves. The tower is really impressive, with a ledge, about half-way up and four pinnacles at the corner of the roof.

Although very tall, the whole is harmonious and nearly reaches aesthetic perfection.

The interior wall-painting is even more impressive, as it is painted directly on the wood-walls. Almost all paintings have white background, making the entire interior looking clean and bright.

6. Visit Sapanta Peri monastery

Between 14th and 18th century, the Peri monastery was the largest and most important monastery in Maramures. It was originally located on the right side of Tisa river, an area which nowadays belongs to Ukraine.

The new monastery was built in an old forest, right at the edge of Sapanta village, starting 1995. It took the same name, in a sign of continuation of the monastic tradition in the area. The main church of the monastery was finished in 2003 and since then is the tallest wooden church in the world (78m / 256 ft.) It is built on a tall concreate foundation, which, to my opinion, “steels the start” in competition with the wooden church in Surdesti. The church impresses though through its proportions and the complexity of the steep-slope roof.

Surdesti wooden church
Sapanta Peri wood church

7. Taste local cuisine

Maramures’ cuisine is simple, yet, it requires time and attention to understand it. It holds inside of it the entire cultural heritage of the area. In Maramures every meal, sometimes even the breakfast, starts with a shot of “horinca” (local plumb or apple brandy). It continues with a thin slice of pork-fat (usually smoked), some freshly-backed bread and a piece of onion. From here it continues on countless “roads” – from soups to grills and from cabbage-meat-rolls to the delicious "cozonac" (a kind of sweet bread).

All dishes are freshly cooked with local ingredients. They are based on meat (usually pork or lamb) and vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, onion, etc). Deserts are simple, but delicious, as they are made with love: from different types of pies (cheese, plumbs, pumpkin) to donuts.

Holidays are special to the locals and so are the meals prepared on these days. Every holiday starts at the church, where the priest blesses the food, which is then brought back home and shared with the family. Every important holiday would have its own main dishes: Christmas is mainly about pork and Easter is always about lamb.

If you can schedule your holiday in Maramures, try schedule it during Christmas or Easter. You will not regret it! And even if you come during the year, locals will be glad to cook for you some specialties, as you will be their special guest.

freshly_backed lamb in the over
Freshly baked bread in Maramures

8. Go hiking or biking

If you are passioned about hiking or biking, Maramures it is the place to be. With its calm-hills relief and surrounded by medium-heights mountains, the area offers countless options for outdoor activities.

There are many marked and unmarked paths which you can take. Along the route nature will impress you with its wilderness. Speaking about which, you should pay attention to wild animals and sheepfolds’ dogs.

My preferred hiking route (because I am not a professional hiker) is the one towards “Cascada Cailor” (Horses’ Waterfall) and Taul Stiol (Stiol lake). It can be done in less than a day (both ways) and it offers spectacular views.

Taul Stiol lake in Rodnei Mountains, Maramures

9. Visit the Communism Memorial in Sighet

The Memorial is located in the center of the town, in a former prison which functioned here from 1899 until 1965. Between 1948 - 1955 the place was transformed into one of the most feared political prison in Romania.

Most of the cultural, political and intellectual elite of Romania was set behind bars by the communist regime, while driving the entire country into poverty and darkness. Considered enemies of the regime, all prisoners were tortured, poorly fed, kept in unhealthy conditions with no heat or light. Due to this “treatment” some of them lost their lifes and were buried during the night in anonymous tombs, in the Poor People’s Cemetery, in the outskirts of the town. Among them, Iuliu Maniu, former Prime-Minister.

Communism Memorial in Sighetul Marmatiei

Fortunately, in 1955 Romania joined United Nations and following this step, the political prisoners were moved to other prisons or freed.

The Memorial was inaugurated in 1997 and shows all the atrocities that prisoners had to face during those dark times. Most of the former cells are now thematic rooms, exhibiting different aspects of the communism period in Romania. Although a very emotional experience, I recommend it to you.

Valtoare Maramures
Moara de apa Maramures

10. Take a walk through the village

Probably the best thing you can do in Maramures, in order to better understand the local architecture and way of life is simply to take a walk through the villages.

Walk slowly, take pictures and admire the beautiful carved wooden gates and houses. You can’t miss the spirit of the community. Immediately you will notice if they are busy or if they are celebrating, depending on how quiet the village is or how many people you will meet on the street.

You will also have the chance to meet some local artisans. Most of them will be happy to invite you in for a shot of “horinca” and they can show you how they work: be it wood carving, hat-making, weaving or other traditional activities.

In the village most of the people know each-other, so don’t be surprised if someone will greet you on the road. Simply reply with “Buna ziua!” (Good day!).

old wood gate in Maramures

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