Carpathian Mountains

In 2019 it felt as if I was running out of interesting mountain ranges in Europe, but luckily the Carpathian Mountains came to the rescue after a tip from my friend Max Wenzin! I looked at maps and decided they began in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. I travelled there by train and brought my newly renovated LeMond with all new Shimano 105 components. My biking started through what is called Malé Karpaty, a rather dense forest with rolling hills. Around midday I made a wrong turn, and soon after I had to carry my bike down a scary steep slope, through 100 meters of dense nettle and barefoot across two streams. Don’t be afraid of losing control, that is when the adventure begins!

Not exactly biking, but adventure!

The Carpathian Mountains in Slovakia are rather gentle, so when I got closer to Poland and its much higher Tatras Mountains (part of the Carpathians) the temptation was too big. Plus that I got to add yet another country to the list of places I’ve been. These mountains are gorgeous, but also crammed full of poles on vacation. The number of cars standing still in queues out of Zakopane were just ridiculous.

Tatras in Poland, 1000 cars standing still in queues just to the right of where I took this photo

Another few days of biking through Slovakia brought me to Ukraine, a country still at war with Russia, so I was a bit worried. But in this part of Ukraine nothing of this was visible, except roads in sometimes terrible conditions.

My road bike tires weren’t made for this
One afternoon was like this after the rain

I then rolled into Romania, yet another new country for me, where I spent two days biking east to Vatra Dornei, from where I decided to go home by train. I didn’t have enough time to do all of the Carpathian Mountains that summer. Then came Covid-19, and Romania was off the map.

Northern part of Romanian Carpathian Mountains

In the summer of 2021 I was fully vaccinated and continued my quest, this time with my Mosso bike. First I had to spend three days going by train back to Vatra Dornei, then continue biking from there. In Onești I trusted Google Maps too much and spent a futile half day trying to bike across the mountain ridge south, eventually giving up after wading through thick mud. Instead I biked west from Onești. Some zig-zaging across the mountain range got me to the charming and touristic city of Brașov, where I rested a full day. I also replaced my 23 mm wide tires for 28 mm, which ended up being a very good decision. Two days later I biked over the Transfăgărășan pass at over 2000 meters, most likely the stiffest bike challenge in Romania.

The road north (down for me) from the Transfăgărășan pass

Next day I made a futile attempt to bike down the Olt river, which in a remarkable fashion flows straight through the Carpathian Mountains from north to south. I had to turn around in Boița. The road is very narrow, absolutely crammed with lorries, plus there was a sign forbidding bikes on the E81 road. I decided to bike north to Sibiu and take the slow train to Lotru where I stepped off the train and found a gorgeous illuminated bike path leading west along the Lotru River. About 10 km up this bike path I was stopped by this heard of sheep and goats.

Please note the sheep that stops in front of me and is bewildered.

The last two days was gorgeous and adventurous. Mostly great road, not too much traffic, and beautiful mountains. But again Google Maps was extremely misleading. The 66A road west of Câmpu lui Neag goes from gorgeous asphalt to really bad gravel. I ended up pushing my bike for roughly 10 km, biking through mud and gravel for 30 km, and on badly broken concrete slabs for another 10 km, before I rolled through the hot baths in Herculane, and finally to the Danube river in Orșova, where I in traditional fashion dipped my feet in the water.

My feet in the Danube

Interestingly enough, my trip started by the Danube, then a 2400 km arch through eastern Europe, and ended again by the Danube.

The Carpathian Mountains is an adventure, unfortunately for me too often from dangerous traffic. I think they can and should be done better on a tougher bike, avoiding the main roads and instead go rough on gravel. Hotels are plentiful and cheap, food is available most everywhere, with some planning, and pitching a tent is easy.

Tour details (grading from 1 to 5)

  • Time of year: April to September
  • Difficulty: 3 (a few days are tougher)
  • Duration: 3 weeks
  • Scenery: 3
  • Comments: Beware of heavy and very dangerous traffic in Romania
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