Filled with mountains and valleys, gorges and lakes, and luscious green grass and trees, Transylvania’s beautiful scenery was like no other place I’ve visited. A great home base for exploring Transylvania is Cluj-Napoca, sitting right in the heart of Transylvania. I spent a day and a half visiting the many scenic attractions around Cluj, driving and hiking in the mountains, while returning to my Airbnb in Cluj every night.
If you have one day to explore Transylvania from Cluj, I recommend driving 40 minutes to Turda Gorge and hike through the gorge. It’s very accessible and the hike is fairly easy, but most importantly, the views along the hike are stunning.
Turda Gorge is only about 20 miles from Cluj, taking about 40 minutes to drive to. The first half of the drive was on the main paved road through the countryside and over several hills. The views along the way were amazing, albeit slightly distracting. As I came over one hill, I saw small hills and mountains, each with perfectly green grass and trees that extended endlessly into the horizon. I pulled over to the side several times to take photos and marvel at its beauty.
The second half of the drive took me off the main road through small villages and unpaved roads. The road conditions were still good – a combination of pebbles and dirt roads - nothing too intense. I drove through local villages and mountains to get to Turda Gorge. Although the views weren’t as vast and open, it was interesting to see how local people lived and relaxing to breath in the fresh mountain air.
Once at Turda Gorge, several food vendors and shops were available to buy souvenirs or food. I’m not sure when they opened but they were closed when I got there at 9:30 AM.
The trail extends the length of the gorge, so you would need to hike from point A to B, and then back. It is 1.5 miles one way and takes about 40 minutes to hike. The trail is well marked and pretty flat, making it an easy and relaxing hike along the small river that runs right through the gorge. Throughout the hike, there were several mini-suspension bridges to cross the river, giving me the opportunity to go down to the water a few times.
My favorite part of the gorge were the narrow paths carved into the side of the rock. With the river on one side and a vertical rock wall on the other, the paths had cables installed on the side to hold on. While it looked scary, it felt very safe.
One end of the trail (the end that Google Maps took me to), is mainly wooded forests, while other opened up to a wider valley, giving you the opportunity to see the gorge and the grandeur of the surrounding mountains. Both ends offered different views and both were beautiful.
In addition to the main trail that runs through the gorge, other trails went up into the mountains. I attempted to hike one mile into one of the trails, but decided to turn back because I couldn’t tell where it was going. It turns out that particular trail was one of the steepest hills I’ve ever hiked, but the views oversaw the entire gorge and into the nearby town. I recommend doing a bit more research on the other trails if you’re interested as those trails aren’t marked on Google Maps.
Turda Gorge will take about an entire morning, depending on how fast you hike and what trails you take. For the remainder of the day, there were also scenic stops on the drive to Tarnita Lake.
While Turda Gorge is south of Cluj, Tarnita Lake is west of Cluj. I did these two things on separate days but they should be doable together in one day. Note that the scenery at Tarnita Lake is very different than that of Turda Gorge. Tarnita Lake lacks the grandeur of the gorges, but red roofed houses and mountains reflecting on the lake makes the experience especially tranquil.
On the way to Tarnita Lake, I passed by two other lakes - Somesul and Gilau. In my opinion, these two lakes were more beautiful than Tarnita Lake, especially after I ventured off the main road to explore the local roads. I can’t pinpoint exactly where I stopped along the road because I would veer off into unmarked roads to get closer to the water, but venturing into new areas was really fun and offered some of the best and most secluded views.
The drive to Tarnita Lake directly from Cluj probably takes about one hour, but give yourself extra time to account for detours (it took me about two hours). I’d encourage everyone to trail blaze their own paths along the drive and explore the untouched parts of Transylvania.
I really enjoyed my time in Transylvania as I solo explored Turda Gorge and Tarnita Lake. Both areas were well within the mountains that there was a sense of tranquility and calmness to it. Regardless of how you traverse through Transylvania, I’m sure it will be just as exciting and enjoyable as my trip.