Eastern Apuseni Mountains – Free Track
The eastern part of the Apuseni Mountains cannot be overlooked, because the limestone cliffs make the landscape idyllic, but it is also an easy off-road route. It starts from the Alba Iulia fortress, crosses a wine-growing region between Șard and Galda de Jos, the Întregalde Gorges and climbs the mountain up to Mogoș. Back to the east it returns through some picturesque villages of the Trascău Mountains, descends on a slope of the Mănăstirii Gorges, passes through the Aiud Gorges and through the entire Rimetea basin. The last section before Cluj-Napoca is the most difficult, passing through several villages from where you can see the Turzii Gorges. Feleac Hill is the best place to admire the city, but you do not have to descend it to continue to the next route.
Links to other routes at the starting point.
From Alba Iulia two routes start: no. 5, which follows the Mureș river (p. 52) to the springs and no. 7 that reaches the most beautiful fortified churches and cities in Transylvania (p. 72).
The shape and the gates of the citadel of Alba Carolina are the ones that will remain in your memory. It has 7 bastions separated from the rest of the construction by 27-meter wide ditches and seven access gates. Now the wooden bridges provide easy access to the inner courtyard, gate number three being the most spectacular. A walk through or around the fortress can take up to an hour. The history of the place is very complex because there were found traces of Neolithic dwelling and artifacts of the old Roman Military Camp Apulum. The Great National Assembly was also held in the city in 1918, after that the provinces of Basarabia, Bucovina, Transylvania, Banat, Crișana, Maramureș and Sătmar were united with the Kingdom of Romania. The whole space has been renovated recently and has a very modern look with many bars and restaurants, but still the fortress is loaded with history.
From the city the route goes to the wine-growing region Ighiu-Alba, located on the right bank of Mureș river, right at the foot of the hills, through the villages: Șard, Ighiu, Craiva and Cricău. The wines produced here (Fetească, Sauvignon blanc, Grasă de Cotnari or Muscat Ottonel) have been mentioned since 1622 and are generally golden-yellow, fine and slightly velvety.
In the village of Galda de Sus the direction is changed and DJ 107K takes the route to the white limestone massifs visible on the horizon. The Gălzii Gorges descends over the tarmac road, from here, you must ride 10 more kilometers until you reach the unpaved road and the Întregalde Gorges. The valley changes gradually, it becomes wilder and the houses become simpler. A whirlpool built in the riverbed is still functional and can be visited by taking a short detour of several hundred meters at the intersection with DJ 106H towards the village of Necrileşti. This is a primitive form of the washing machine, used especially for carpets or other large fabrics.
Ghioncani is the last settlement before going up to Mogoș. The slope is steeper, but it should not cause problems, even in the rain. Geamăna Peak dominates the entire landscape and beyond these two massifs is the copper quarry of Roșia Poieni and the well-known Roşia Montană village. The descent is unpaved and twisted, the road will remain the same for the next 45 kilometers. Geoagiu stream is the one who accompanies the road and also the one who has carved the gorges that follow. Valea Barnii is the last village, further you can meet smaller settlements called hamlets that can be temporary: Cojocari and Bârlești-Cătun.
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The tourist information point in the Valea Barnii, located just on the side of the road, is hosted by a traditional wooden house. It is a perfect resting place, where you can find out more about the region you are in now.
Crossing to the parallel valley is a little more difficult due to the slope, the dirt road and the ditches dug by the rainwater. The abandoned houses from the hamlet of Măcărești are the only ones on the side of the road, otherwise the whole crossing is through the forest. The next ascending section leads to the most spectacular peaks of the Trascău Mountains: Râmețului and Monastery Gorges. We cannot overlook the village of Brădești, which is situated on a watershed at an altitude of over 1000 meters.
A short detour, but very difficult after the rain, can take you to a magical place: the karst region of Vânătările Ponorului and the river that emerges from the Huda lui Papara Cave. Here are a few sheds with straw roofs, still used by the locals and an impressive landscape with the high cliffs of the Bedeleului plateau. The dirt road up here has a lot of clay in it, so after rain it is difficult to travel even by bicycle.
The altitude remains at around 1100 meters for as long as the limestone mountain is crossed. The Râmeț Gorges are visible in the distance to the south. Along with the cliffs of the Monastery Gorges and other homes lost in the Trascău Mountains two hamlets appear: Uzea Valley and Râmeț. The best time of day for this segment is when the sun is about to set. The white rocks, grasslands, green forests and deep valleys will create a special contrast. The small rock walls on the edge of the road mark the place where the Mănăstirii Gorges (Monastery Gorges) are crossed and from here a footpath leads to a viewpoint over the valley.
A gravel road remains on the heights until entering the Sloboda forest, where it descends into twists and then deviates along the edge of a valley through Măgina village. From here until crossing the Arieș river (31 km) there will be a modernized road.
The last representation of the performance offered by the limestone is the most beautiful: the Rimetea Depression. There is a portal to be crossed to get here and one to exit. The portal has the form of high rocks of almost 450 meters, with a wild brook in the middle that bears the name of Vălișoarei Gorges. The highest wall (Răchiș peak - 779 meters) is highly appreciated by mountaineers, but it is also the most impressive to admire along the way. A castle-shaped guesthouse completes the image of the portal from the entrance into the depression.
Immediately after, the Piatra Secuiului massif (1228 meters) will be visible to the east, but also the peaks of Ardașcheia and Cornul, both with heights of over 1500 meters. Between them there is a wide plain, cultivated almost entirely, completing perfectly the four villages: Vălișoara, Izvoare, Colțești and Râmetea. The ruins of the Trascăului fortress are, however, hidden from the picture described. The purpose of this was to give time for the villagers to take refuge during the Mongol invasions. It was built in 1292 by the Thoroczkai family and is a perfect example of using the steep landform to enhance the defense function.
After the last mentioned settlement, the limestone rocks seem to take on a human form, a head and body of a man lying on his back can be identified here. The locals even have legends about this: it is said that Piatra Secuiului (Szekler’s stone) is in fact a giant, that now sleeps but, in the past, has defended this region of invaders.
Rimetea is a story-like village, due to the surrounding landforms and to the way in which people renovated their houses, giving them their original appearance, they had a century ago. Tourism is the main occupation here and it is difficult to find a free place of accommodation. If you succeed, we recommend staying for one night and trying the delicious local food.
The exit portal is before the village of Buru (on DJ 107M) and the route goes uphill along the Arieș Valley for 1.4 km, then heads to Iara. Impressive slopes of the valley are all along the Iara river. An unpaved road ascends in four steep twists to the village of Măgura Ierii. The forest covers everything up to the village and the road turns into a dirt one from the first houses.
Difficult section with high slope, mud and ditches.
The slope is already high, but after the last dwellings there is also a ditch on the middle of the road that will make advancing more difficult. Sometimes the road is covered with grass and does not change its status until Plaiuri village. The first watershed is in 3 kilometers and the road between pastures avoids the villages Livezeni and Valea Agrișului.
To the east you can see something that interrupts the straight line of the horizon: Cheile Turzii. These gorges are dug in the most northerly limestone bar, which is followed on this route. If the perspective seems interesting, you can reach the base of the gorges and admire them in more detail from the village of Petreștii de Jos (on DJ 107L).
Plaiuri has a normal access road, but we chose the unpaved road that goes over another peak and reaches the entrance to the Pădureni village, which you can bypass to the east, heading to DJ 107L.
The last climb of the route is in front, after the A3 motorway, through the village of Pruniș and Săliște. The route remains unpaved and after the second settlement a new element appears: the sand. The geology of the places changes and now the route begins the climb on the sandy hills of Feleacu.
Difficult section after rain with sand and mud.
The horizon opens, but only the forests are visible now. A section that has a lot of sand is after the intersection with DC 71 which leads to the Casele Micești hamlet. Even if the tread surface is a new challenge, the whole area may become inaccessible after rain. There are no slopes or ditches, but a longer battle with a heavy motorcycle in the mud is not always pleasant.
From the first houses the road will be in a better condition and turns into gravel until the end. To the west is Făgetul Clujului, a protected forest area and before the end, on the right, an astronomical observatory. The final point is reached when the city of Cluj-Napoca is visible from the huge radio-broadcasting antennas.
Links with other routes at the final point.
Starting from Feleac Hill, the Peaks of Transylvania route begins (p. 46), and from the north of Cluj-Napoca the Northern Transylvania route (p. 38).