NATURAL HERITAGE OF GORJ COUNTY

Gorj County is among the last wild destinations of Europe, with pristine and diverse landscapes, a variety of natural wonders, a wealth of plant and animal species. From the alpine heights of the Carpathians in the north to the rolling hills and valleys in the south, Gorj reveals the endless beauty of nature.

CARPATHIAN MOUNTAINS

The northern part of Gorj County is occupied by the peaks and slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. Divided by river valleys that descend into the southern hills, the mountains offer endless attractions and experiences, from the wildest and tallest peaks to the gentler ranges covered in forests. The unique and splendid landscapes, deep forests teeming with wildlife, the winter sports opportunities or fascinating hiking paths make the Carpathians an amazing destination.

CAVES AND GORGES

Gorj County is blessed with a multitude of extraordinary natural wonders, one of the best destinations in Romania for exploring wild caves and gorges or experiencing the thrill of adventure. Although only two of the caves are arranged for tourists, there are hundreds more to explore for professionals and enthusiasts. Apart from the Jiu Defile, the county offers dozens of other smaller gorges and canyons, some of them with unique natural features, like the Sohodol, Oltet or Corcoaia Gorges.

FORESTS AND WILDLIFE

Some of the last wilderness areas of central Europe can be found in Romania and Gorj County is such a destination. Although not what it used to be in the past, the land is still forested, with large areas included in national or natural parks. The diversity and importance of the vegetal and animal species is astounding. Inside the territory of Gorj County travelers can find rare or extinct wildlife species, unique ecosystems and countless opportunities for inspiring discoveries.

PROTECTED AREAS

The stupendous natural beauty of Gorj County is protected inside national parks and other protected areas. From old forests to rare floral species and from mysterious caves to idyllic valleys, there are countless natural destinations to amaze and inspire travelers. All of the protected areas of Gorj have something special or unique to offer, but most of all, preserve the unspoiled natural diversity. Most of these areas can be explored with ease through charming pathways and trails.

PARANG MOUNTAINS

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Transalpina Mountain Road

There’s always something special about driving through the high roads in the mountains, and the Carpathians of Romania have plenty of fascinating journeys to offer. Reaching the highest altitude for a road in the country, the Transalpina, also known as the “King’s Road”, truly is one of the most exciting and unforgettable Romania experiences. With infinite twisting bends and a rollercoaster of abrupt ascents and descents, this stunning road over the mountains unravels scenic landscapes and epic emotions. It evokes the raw thrill of exploration and discovery, by crossing ridges and valleys, while sometimes touching the clouds. The Transalpina is among the most beautiful and memorable high mountain roads in Europe. The road crosses the Carpathian Mountains, connecting the historical regions of Transylvania and Wallachia. More precisely, it links the towns of Novaci in Gorj County to Sebes in Alba County. Representing an ancient sheepherding trail, it wasn’t paved until the First World War, considered strategically important. It is also known as the “King’s Road”, as it was traversed and inaugurated by king Carol II of Romania.

The Transalpina Mountain Road is the alpine portion of the 67C national road, connecting the town of Novaci in Gorj County with the town of Sebes in Sibiu County, passing over the peaks of Parang Mountains. It starts in the northeast of the county, rapidly ascending from Novaci towards its highest point at the border with Valcea county, after about 25 kilometers. Access towards the road is very simple from Targu Jiu, following the 67 National Road and then turning left onto 67C road until Novaci. The road is in very good shape, although there are portions where the drop-off is incredible and driving along requires extreme caution. Starting from the south, the road begins in the town of Novaci, famous for its sheepherding tradition. It begins to ascend quickly and in a series of tight turns and bends that require some driving skills. After about 18 km, it reaches the mountain resort of Ranca, extremely popular for winter sports. This is also the best place for tourist services like food and accommodation for those who wish to stay longer in these splendid mountains. Leaving Ranca behind, the most stunning and inciting part of the journey begins. The road starts ascending abruptly towards the Papusa Mountain Peak, reaching its highest altitude in Urdele Pass, as 2132 meters. Panoramas are opening up everywhere, with deep glacial valleys and distant wooded ridges, passing by sheep or donkeys that welcome travelers along the way. Nevertheless, drivers should not become mesmerized by the immense beauty of the landscape, as this section of the road is truly challenging. Crossing several high alpine ridges, it begins to descend again towards the Lotru River Valley. Here, the road intersects another one that crosses the mountains from east to west. There are many wonders and magnificent landscapes waiting beyond this point. First, the road follows the lush valley of Lotru River for a little while, the peaks of the mountains surrounding you from all sides. It then starts to ascend again, firstly peacefully between the dense pine forests, but quickly begins to twist as it reaches the heights of these mountains. Transalpina Mountain Road truly is an existential experience, more than just a feast for the eyes. Travelers get to feel the grand design of nature and the spirit of the wilderness during a trip along this special route. The lake of Oasa is an essential stopover, an artificial lake created by a large concrete dam, surrounded by marvelous landscapes and the starting point for several hiking routes. The monastery of Oasa can also be found on the other side of the lake, a spiritual oasis in the middle of nature. Further along towards the end of the journey, another smaller artificial lake is Tau Bistra, a new exceptional opportunity for photographs and panoramas. Descending further a few kilometers, the views begin to widen and the first villages start to gather along the valley. The end of the road is officially in the small town of Sebes, having traveled about 135 kilometers that stirred countless emotions.

The Sohodol Gorges are a land apart, a unique space trapped in time that charms and amazes each time; no matter how many times one enters its fascinating universe. The first steps in this spectacular place always stir deep emotions and the valley of Sohodol reveals its treasures right from the first meters, with vertical limestone walls that close the sky and multiply the echo of the river passing by. And the Sohodol River is quite the capricious, digging for thousands of years through the mountains, it has created a unique and magnificent landscape, entering under the rocks and re-emerging elsewhere through unknown tunnels. At the first signs of draught, the river becomes unseen, while during the heavy rains, it reappears with raging torrents. Although the parts that truly impress are the gorges, disposed in several sectors, the entire valley is an extraordinary natural space, a true open air geological laboratory with a rich bio-diversity.

The Sohodol Gorges are among the most spectacular in Romania, incredibly beautiful and wild, with countless unique geological phenomena and fascinating landscapes. The gorges can be found north of the village Runcu, about 20 km north-west from the city of Targu Jiu. A small road follows the valley high into the mountains, paved for the first five kilometers, but decent even further.  The treasures of this valley are revealed along the river, following its course back into the higher mountains. The river was once flowing through a huge underground tunnel, but in time it collapsed, creating what we can see today on the surface. The whole valley is filled with splendid places, with gorge sectors, caves and solitary rocks. In a place the river passes through a small tunnel like a portal, isolating a limestone column, while in another, the river has created several breaches while is passes through a small cave. From the same spot, looking far on the high slopes, a rocky arch can be seen, probably the remnants of an old tunnel. The valley continues upwards, alternating narrow gorge sectors with larger ones where the river flows peacefully under the trees. Side valleys run into the Sohodol Gorges, some worth exploring during draught periods, when the streams dry up completely. Such an amazing adventure can be experienced up the Gropul Sec valley, with deep canyons and stunning waterfalls. This is also an excellent destination for rock climbing and canyoning enthusiasts. The Sohodol Gorges have been declared a protected natural area, preserving exceptional and unique landscapes, as well a rich and rare bio-diversity.

Besides the national parks that encompass large areas of natural scientific importance and immense landscape beauty, Gorj County also includes many other protected natural areas. Their purpose is to protect and preserve natural elements, animal and plant species, geologic, speleologic, hydrologic and various others. Many of these are complex natural areas, including more than one element and usually overlap natural tourist attractions. While there are dozens of small protected areas, most of them do not have tourist value other than a nice scenery or scientific research. Here are those that can represent a insightful and interesting travel experience.

 

OTHER COMPLEX PROTECTED AREAS

The small gorges of Corcoaia have been declared a complex protected natural area, mainly because of their astonishing landscape and geology, with a small canyon and natural half-tunnel hanging above the water. The Oslea Mountain is located north of Tismana and Pades settlements, protected for its wild and astonishing landscape, its geology and flower species. It is a great hiking destination in Valcan Mountains of Gorj County. Ciucevele Cernei is an amazing natural area on the upper course of Cerna River, consisting of a series of limestone ridges that rise abruptly along the valley. With small canyons, caves and other carstic elements, but also interesting plant and animal species, it makes for a wonderful hiking destination. Gropul Sec Reserve protects the area around a small canyon close to Sohodol Gorges but more remote and wild, with complex carstic landscape (excellent for canyoning).

OTHER PROTECTED CAVES

There is an astonishing number of caves in Gorj County, more than in any other part of Romania. However, only two of them are open for visitors, the rest either being enclosed and protected as nature reserves or extremely difficult to access. Pades, Tismana, Polovragi and Baia de Fier have several caves that have been declared speleologic reserves. One of the most important speleologic nature reserves in Romania, the cave of Closani is usually closed for the public as it has immense scientific importance. A true monument of nature, it holds many treasures, including a wealth of carstic formations and rare cave specific fauna.

THE PROTECTED FORESTS OF TISMANA

Around the small town of Tismana and its beautiful villages, there are several forest areas that have been protected for their importance. These include rare species of trees and sometimes plants that have great scientific value or are very rare. Among these areas, the Cioclovina Mountain is a small area that has both forests and plants, while other areas spread around the nearby hills include small patches of distinct forests with species of chestnut, hazel, oak, beech, holm and others.

OTHER FORESTS OF GORJ COUNTY

The territory of Gorj County includes other forest areas that have been protected for the value of their species. There are important or rare tree species like Turkish hazel (Pades), edible chestnut (Polovragi, Pestisani-Runcu), oak (Novaci), old sylvan fir (Bumbesti-Jiu), beech and spruce (Novaci), coniferous (Bumbesti Jiu) but also the amazing areas with chess flower (snake’s head lily) in the forest of Botorogi or the wild narcissus field in Preajba (near Targu Jiu). These also have some tourist appeal, as they create charming atmosphere and ambiance, they represent a nice place for camping or walking.

GEOLOGY & PALEONTOLOGY PROTECTED AREAS

The amazing landscape of Gorj County is also dotted with interesting or unique geological features, some them protected inside natural reserves. These have a higher importance for tourism as they offer wonderful highlights in the scenery. There are various areas included in this category, including the Izverna Springs in Tismana, Andreaua Stone in Tismana, the Rafaila Rocks and Lainici Sphinx in the Jiu Defile, Buha Stone and Devil’s Church Stone in Sacelu, the Mineral Springs of Sacelu, Jales Spring in Runcu and others. Gorj County features several protected paleontology areas, with mainly scientific importance. Million years old fossils have been found and dug up, from seashells to fossilized bones of large prehistoric mammals. The settlements of Scoarta, Sacelu, Crasna, Schela and more have small areas with palentological areas.