I dedicate this article to the Spanish cyclotourists we’ve met in Albac and the ones we met later on the road. They did not knew much about the region and were limiting their journey to the main asphalt roads without any detours. At that time I did not knew much about cycling possibilities in the region myself so I was only a bit sad for them, coming all the way here and not seeing any cave or more traditional village. I write this in English in the hope some cyclotourist thinking of cycling this road will find this and have a worthwhile detour.
Why not spend 1 or 2 days seeing this:
instead of this:
Day 1/2, Albac to Sfoartea, 31km, cyclotouring
There is no shortcut from Bucharest to Albac, the start of our journey, so we arranged the panniers on our bikes around 3pm and started on the road at 4pm. This was quite fortunate since it was a very hot day. All of us, Magda, Cata, Vali and I, have planned this trip in a bit of a rush but were very excited coming here to explore a bit the region.
We started on the asphalt road to Scarisoara leaving Albac behind and enjoying the low traffic.
In Garda de Sus we turned right following the Ordancusii canion to Ionele’s Cave. The cave can be visited until 18:00 so we were one of the last groups. There is a long stairway to the cave so we were a bit edgy leaving the bikes and the bags unguarded but we had no problem.
After the cave, we continued on the road trying to find a nice clearing or pasture on the top of the hill for our tents. And indeed we found it, after a few km’s climb, in Sfoartea village.
Where the road stopped climbing, we asked the people mowing the grass if we could camp on their land and they immediately said: “yes, of course”. We gave them some beer money and in return they gave us water, “slana” and freshly plucked onions. The only request was not to make an open fire since the hay was dry and it could cause problems. As the sun went sleeping, they went down to their homes, we ate pasta with “slana”, some soup and wine and also went to sleep.
Day 2, Sfoartea, Scarisoara, Garda Seaca, Casa de Piata, Padis, 34km, cyclotouring
We woke up in the sunshine, having placed our tents facing the east so the sun would dry them even before we woke up. We had tea, soup and some veggies, packed the tent and we were cycling even before the sun bathed all the pastures on the west side.
Our target, Scarisoara cave. We reached it in no time since the road was downhill only. The only stop was to find a dog which could benefit from the rest of “slana”. We found one, but he was so little that he had trouble grabbing and moving the large remaining chunk :)
At Scarisoara cave, we left the bikes in a safe place in a villager courtyard, then went visiting the cave. It’s also a supervised cave and you enter in groups each half hour. We were the 10:30 group. The cave is quite nice and we spend a lot of time taking pictures of the ice, lights and shadows.
We safely rejoined our bikes and started on the freshly repaired road to Garda Seaca. It was a high speed, 9km descent on the perfect asphalt.
Even if the Garda de Sus – Garda Seaca road is still causeway, the Ordancutei Canion – Sfoartea – Scarisoara – Garda Seaca is asphalt, perfectly cyclable with road panniers and quite worth it. There are 2 caves, and you can find place to sleep either in a tent or in a guest-house/”pension”. There are 2 or 3 available. It will also immerse you more in the Apuseni mountain spirit than the road through Albac.
In Garda Seaca we bought some bread and started our journey on the causeway road to Casa de Piatra. After Casa de Piatra the road continues for a while until gets more steep, rough and finally disappears completely on a pasture. There are 2 caves on the road which we did not visit since we decided to spend some time water and sun bathing while we ate lunch from our bags.
There are a few km’s on the pasture, following the path, a bit of climb and down-climb until we reached the DC265, also tarmac but quite circulated. Before reaching Padis we also reached new asphalt which now connects Padis to Beius.
The Padis area has changed a lot in the last 10 years since I was here and not in a good sense in my opinion, so it was a bit awkward to put the tent around construction debris, piles of garbage, ruins and stray dogs, so we decided to stay in a small cabin and take a shower. The shower was not very clean and I had cold all night so this proved to be a not very good decision.
Day 3, Padis, Cabana Varasoaia, Cetatile Radesei, spre Vf. Vladeasa, Pietrele Albe, Rachitele, 39km, mountain-touring
We left Padis and after a short distance on asphalt we turned right to Varasoaia Cabin. A short distance from it it’s the V5 Aven? around which there was a nice place for tents, already taken. We climbed a bit with our bikes then left them in the forest, well camouflaged within the underbrush.
We continued our hike to Cetatile Radesei armed with some warm clothes and lanterns. This is a cross-through cave and we had a delightful time crossing it, taking pictures, and enjoying the cool air, quite a relief during the hot day. The cave was never fully dark and this potentiated the experience. Once on the other side, we continued up and around on the foot trail until we found our way back to the first entrance and then to our bikes. We stopped to forage for water and berries.
Filled with positive-excitement, we found our bikes in their hidden place and continued on the path in direction of Vladeasa Peak. This is a forest road, wide enough for a 4×4 vehicle but quite steep as it reaches almost 1800m. The climb was a bit exhausting pushing our bikes but once on top the road was quite cyclable (on a mountain bike) and we shifted our priorities to escaping the gathering clouds.
We only stopped for a short energy replenishing lunch with bread, fish can and a lot of berries we bought from the people harvesting them in large quantities. Berries with cold water and bread, what can be tastier after a long climb.
We continued to follow the path to Vladeasa Peak. At some point it seemed we ended up in the American wild west during the gold rush as we encountered a small cabin, smoke rising from the wooden stove, surrounded by herds of cows and horses.
Not far from it, we turned right and ended in the forest where due to the recent logging we had to search a bit for the good path. We managed to find it after a steep and bouldery descent and ended up under Pietrele Albe (White Rocks) where there were a lot of tents and young people singing.
We did not stop as we wanted to reach the Valul Miresei waterfall. We did that around 19:00. We took the mandatory photos and continued to the Rachitele village. We might have put the tent but we finally ended in a nice guest-house with good food and more importantly a warm shower. We washed waves of dust, ate and slept as the bikes spent the night in the wood shed.
Day 4, Rachitele, Belis, Poiana Horea, Albac, 83km, cyclotouring
From Rachitele we followed the new road to Belis. It felt as we were the first cyclotourists to test it, so we had a great time. It seemed to be from another, Austrian, story so we enjoyed the lack of cars, the perfect road, the sun, the forest and the lake below, up to Belis and Fantanele.
We only made a stop near a beehive where the beekeepers served us honeycomb which was chewy, sweet and instantly cavity filling.
At Fantanele we escaped the heat for some time, then continued on the asphalt to Poiana Horea. This was no longer new asphalt, but filled with lots of old and new patches. After Poiana Horea, as we crossed into Alba county, the asphalt was completely gone, so we ended up sweating under the sun on the dusty road. This did not stop us, however, as we pushed forward with only short rests in the shade. It seemed as we could ride forever as we reached Albac.
We bought tomatoes, sausages, bread and even a watermelon and camped a few km’s from Albac, on the river bank in a more or less organized place.
Since Vali and Magda were leaving the next day, we made a fire, had some pasta with sausages, beer and watermelon and we would have lasted long into the night with stories if we were not so tired after the long day.
Day 5, by car and by feet, Pestera Ursilor, Cetatile Ponorului
In the morning we said our goodbyes and as Vali and Magda returned to Bucharest, we continued to Padis by road, with a small detour to the Bears Cave. The cave is very nice but the presentation and the plastic doors are quite awful. It’s very “touristic” but still worth it because of it’s “caveness”. There are plenty of stalactites, stalagmites and cave formations and it’s well preserved. Ignore the entry and you will enjoy the rest. We didn’t take pictures as we were part of a large group in constant movement.
As Padis seemed to be a bad idea, we reached the Glavoi range which was filled with lots and lots of tents. There was no picking here, so we camped right on the side of the road then started on the Cetatile Ponorului track. There’s been a dry season as we had weeks in a row without rain, so many caves here in the Apuseni are partly practicable without any special equipment. We entered and crossed the fortress without getting wet, jumping, dodging, watching and listening. We enjoyed it a lot and I only regret that I did not spent more time taking pictures, as we had the entire space for ourselves, the whole time.
Day 6, by feet, Circuitul Galbenei
The night was filled with songs and fires, but I was reasonably tired and the songs were guitar and camp songs and not radio hits so they reminded me a bit of my youth in a pleasant way. They ended only near the sunrise so when we woke up everyone was sleeping. I had not walked this much since before my knee problems so I was not sure how I would handle a long track but finally it was ok. In about 7 hours we visited the Galbena Gorges, the Evantai waterfall and finally, on the return, the Living Fire Cave.
A long and nice walk, finished with the local mushroom soup which seemed delicious and gave me the required energy to start the long, long drive towards home.
I enjoyed a lot this trip to the Apuseni Mountains, it was filled with positive excitement and everything we did I would have regretted not doing it, especially the cave crossings. Maybe we will come back sometime on 2 wheels and 2 legs since both ways are needed to really enjoy and explore everything.