Romania’s epic trail hopes to revive rural Transylvania

Welcome: Moldovan farmer Radu outside his guest house in the remote village of Sapartoc

ȘAPARTOC (ROMANIA) – Europe has an epic new trail to rival the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

The Via Transilvanica through Romania is so long that it took its founder Alin Useriu almost two months to celebrate its official opening this week.

Four years ago, the 52-year-old came up with the idea for the 1,400 km (870 mile) path through the wilds of Transylvania.

Useriu wanted to create something similar to the ancient pilgrim route to Santiago or the vast American Pacific Crest Trail.

Little did he know then that more than 10,000 people would help turn this dream into reality, volunteering to mark the route through the Carpathian Mountains and some of the continent’s most spectacular landscapes.

“My only goal was to revitalize rural areas, and all the friends I spoke to were delighted with the project,” he told AFP.

– Rural exodus –

The Romanians embraced the idea enthusiastically.

“It’s the first project since the revolution (of 1989) that really brings us together, that allows us to discover landscapes and people that we wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Sergiu Paca, covered in mud, met in AFP cycling in the region. remote village of Sapartoc near Sighisoara.

Nearby, Radu Moldovan has transformed one of the old abandoned houses in the village into a pretty guest house.

“We wanted to put into practice all the great theories we had learned at university and be a living example,” said the farmer trained in environmental issues and rural development.

“I couldn’t have asked for more for Sapartoc,” said the 35-year-old, hoping it will be a major boost for the 22-soul village.

Despite strong economic growth, Romania has experienced an exodus of young people from rural areas, with some of the country’s most beautiful regions suffering the heaviest depopulation.

In Archita, another village on the route, truffle grower Gheorghe Silian – who sports a traditional felt hat – also hoped the trail would help bring the area back to life.

“I came back here after several years in Italy,” said the 58-year-old, one of millions of Romanians who emigrated to Western Europe in search of a better life after the collapse of communism.

– First baby in 47 years –

“For three years (after the trail was built), tourists have reappeared, coming here for a meal or to rest at night,” he said as he surveyed its oak and almond trees.

“It also means that I can sell them my truffle products and my palinka”, the local plum brandy.

The ecotourism the trail hopes to encourage also involves preserving local architecture and traditions.

It’s not that Useriu sees much danger in mass tourism of the kind seen on Romania’s Black Sea beaches.

“We set the maximum traffic at 300,000 people per year, and we’re still a long way from that,” he said.

But already Useriu’s dream of a trail helping to revitalize mountain villages seems to be bearing fruit.

“My wife gave birth to our son a few months ago, the first birth in the village of Sapartoc for 47 years! Moldovan says.

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