The railway east from Sighet follows the River Tisza for 25km before heading up the beautiful Vişeu valley; the hills between the Tisza and Vişeu valleys are inhabited by Huţul or Ruthenian people, the archetypal inhabitants of the Carpathians, who speak a dialect of Ukrainian incorporating many Romanian words. Local buses from Sighet run along the DN18 through the Ukrainian-populated village of Rona De Jos to terminate at the tiny spa of Coştiui, 22km from Sighet, which has a motel and căsuţe. Beyond the turning to Coştiui the road climbs to a pass in lovely beech forest; from Leordina (once home to Harvey Keitel’s parents), 28km southeast of Rona de Jos, a rough side road follows the River Ruscova north into a Huţul enclave. There’s still a synagogue in Ruscova, once home to British politician Michael Howard’s father, while in Poienile de sub Munte, the centre of the area, there’s a Ukrainian-style wooden church dating from 1788 and a couple of guesthouses. Back in the Vişeu valley, trains continue 10km east from Leordina to VIŞEU DE JOS, then turn south towards Transylvania; from Vişeu de Jos, passenger trains no longer run up the branch line to Borşa, but there are regular buses as far as Vişeu de Sus, and fewer on to Borşa.
Continue reading to find out more about...
Vişeu de Sus
Just east of Vişeu de Jos is VIŞEU DE SUS, a logging town that’s growing into a tourist town thanks to the popularity of the steam train from here up the steep Vaser valley, with new guesthouses that appeal more to Romanians in search of comfort than foreigners seeking a wooden-house-and-farm-animals experience. Diagonally across the main Strada 22 Decembrie from the museum is a wooden Uniate church built in 1993–5 by Gavrilă Hotico of Ieud.
Mocăniţa Narrow-Gauge Railway
The narrow-gauge railway up the wild Vaser valley, towards the Ukrainian border, is still used by diesel-hauled logging trains; in addition, up to five tourist trains run daily as far as Paltin, 18km up the valley. These are hauled by small steam locomotives – known as mocăniţa, meaning “little mountain shepherd” – which have been restored by enthusiasts, the oldest dating from 1910.
There’s a pleasant café (with wi-fi and toilets) in a typical wooden house at the departure point, with a small exhibition on the town’s vanished Jewish community (about forty percent of the population in 1940). There are also three preserved steam locomotives here, including a huge standard-gauge beast (a 2-10-0) near the train-hotel.
Along the route, you may see deer drinking from the river, unperturbed by the trains. The River Vaser, rich in trout and umber, descends rapidly through the 50km-long valley; its whirling waters have begun to attract kayakers to logging settlements like Măcârlău, also the start of a rugged trail over the Jupania ridge of the Maramureş mountains to the former mining centre of Baia Borşa, just north of Borşa. You can also take bikes and cycle the 9km back from Novăţ station.