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September is our favorite time of year for visiting the Maramures area of Romania. Head for the Iza Valley, where ripe apples hang heavy in the orchards that cluster round every village and the fields are full of distinctive haystacks—little wonders of design in their own right. Fall colors already tint the oak and beech trees on the hills that line each side of the valley.
Visiting the Iza Valley
The Iza Valley is very special. Wood reigns supreme. Villages such as Bogdan Voda and Ieud are richly textured places that take their rhythm from the surrounding forests. There are wooden houses and wooden gateways, the latter often embellished with a wooden cross.
Wooden barns cluster in complex geometries which have as their pivot a wooden church. It is but a short step from the simple Maramures homestead to heaven. The churches, some Uniate and some Orthodox, have an almost miraculous energy, and, so we were told, are among the tallest wooden structures in the world.
Reflections of Heaven
The cosmos finds expression in Iza Valley homesteads too, with delicate symmetrical carvings on barn doors, porches and gates. Perfectly regular wooden shingles line the roofs to create powerful silhouettes against the early autumn sky. In the courtyards, cords of oak are neatly stacked, while next to one abandoned house, the unburnt winter wood of yesteryear is home to a riot of late summer clematis. If rural perfection is ever to be found in Europe, it might be in the artistic delicacy of the wooden villages of the Iza Valley.
This region of Romania lies just south of the border with Ukraine. A daily overnight train from Bucharest takes 12 hours to reach the Iza Valley, and in our book there’s no better way to start the morning than by pulling back the curtains of a sleeping car to reveal a dewy mist over the orchards of the Iza.
About the authors: Nicky and Susanne run a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine and write often about rail travel across Europe. You can read more of their writing in their regular e-brief and in the Notes section on their website.