Today we're taking you to the east of Transylvania, more specifically, Harghita County.
Harghita is a destination with surprising landscapes and unusual tourist attractions, especially recommended to families with children. We will be talking with Károly Szabó, executive director of the Harghita Intercommunity Development Association, about the Red Lake, one of the most beautiful in Romania, the Praid salt mine, and countless historical sites, all of which make for a delightful destination for either a complete holiday or just a weekend retreat.
Károly Szabó: “Harghita County is a mountainous region with breath-taking landscapes spreading 6,600 square km. Both the scenery and the tourist attractions here are unique in Europe: St. Ann Lake or the Praid Salt Mine, or the equally famous Red Lake, Bicaz Gorges, Tușnad and Borsec spa resorts, or the Corund pottery. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit these established tourist sites every year. But there are also less well-known places that have been growing quite beautifully in recent years, such as Toplița, Zetea and Ordoheiu Secuiesc.”
The spa resort of Tușnad is dubbed “Little Switzerland”. Mineral-rich hot springs, the climate and the scenic views are just some of the elements that blend in effective therapeutic programmes for heart conditions, digestive and locomotory problems and endocrine disorders. Here is Attila Pilbath, manager of the Băile Tușnad eco-tourism destination, with more details:
Attila Pilbath: “What I recommend here first and foremost is the landscape and the protected areas, which are the very reason we decided to have Tuşnad certified as an eco-tourism destination. St. Ann Lake is the only volcanic crater lake in south-east Europe. There are countless accommodation and leisure options here, from the outdoor pool up to international standards to the Tinovul Mohoș nature reserve, from insectivorous plant species that only grow here to the large number of bears that can be watched safely from special observation spots.”
The Tușnad ski slope is a relatively recent addition to the list; it is 500 m long, equipped with snow cannons and ski lift, and is recommended for beginners.
Our trip around Harghita County continues, with our guide Károly Szabó, executive director of the Harghita Intercommunity Development Association:
Károly Szabó: “Praid salt mine receives over 5-600,000 tourists a year. Imagine an underground cathedral, several hundreds of square km large and 100 m high, where everything from the walls to the ceiling is carved in salt. And in contrast, the Bicaz Gorges and Red Lake offer amazing views, with fast flowing rivers that cross through the mountains. Harghita’s population is 82% Hungarian, which makes it a unique place in Romania in terms of traditional customs, cuisine and costumes. The Dârjiu fortified church is a UNESCO-listed site. In turn, Șumuleu Ciuc is very important in religious terms, more than 300,000 and Pope Francis made a point of visiting it in 2019. These are just some of the reasons why the 600 certified accommodation facilities in the region are sometimes not enough to accommodate tourists in high season.”
Those who seek excitement and adventure can try the 2 summer bobsleigh installations, one in Borsec and the other one in Lunca de Sus. This and many other attractions are featured in a mobile app and on a website called “Visit Harghita.”
Károly Szabó: “The brand we are using to promote the region is “Visit Harghita”. Our website visitharghita.com lists all the places we believe worth visiting, and also a large number of traditional craftsmen such as pottery makers and blacksmiths. We also recommend here dishes that are only cooked in Harghita, such as the “Kurtos Kalacs”, a special kind of cake that has become a worldwide known brand. Harghita County is a quiet region, which is particularly attractive for families, but it also takes pride in large-scale events, such as Tusványos Festival, which has tens of thousands of participants.”
The Harghita Intercommunity Development Association is founded by local communities, and is working on a lot of projects:
Károly Szabó: “As many as 45 town halls and local authorities are affiliated to our association, and all of them support tourism. In spite of this atypical period we have been through, we launched an initiative called “family friendly”, under which we have certified 52 accommodation units and restaurants as being suitable for families. Another project we are working on is the 1,400-km long pilgrim route Via Maria, which starts from Austria and reaches Șumuleu Ciuc, and which we are planning to extend. We also started working with local guides, who had a difficult year in 2020. Our website visitharghita.com now includes as many as 96 programmes offered by local guides, with photos, prices, and phone numbers, so there is plenty to choose from.”
That was Károly Szabó, executive director of the Harghita Intercommunity Development Association, wrapping up this week’s instalment of Traveller’s Guide. (tr. A.M. Popescu)