On the second day of our Road Trip, we went to Viseu de Sus, which is a small village in Maramures area to ride the Mocanita train.
“Wood” and “water” are two words that best define Maramureş. The history, traditions and life of the people in Maramures are carved in the wood of the churches and gates, and numerous rivers and streams are spread along the land like a cobweb, forming famous valleys: Mara, Iza, Viseu, and Vaser.
Among these, the Vaser Valley is of special interest for tourists. It crosses the Maramures Mountains in the middle of one of the wildest and most beautiful landscapes in Romania. The Vaser River is about 60 kilometers long, forming a spectacular canyon-like valley, where precipitous cliffs alternate with dense forests, beautiful clearings and mineral water springs.
Here you can find a steam train called Mocanita that climbs the beautiful roadless Vaser valley for 20 km, deep into the forests of the Maramures mountains. It leaves every morning from March to October, around 9.00 am, so it is recommended to stay the night before in Viseu de Sus and to make sure you arrive on time. The city, although located in a beautiful county, does not impress much, and besides Mocanita you do not have much to see, but the ride in the steam train is a must.
It was built after World War I to transport wood from the remote forests of the Carpathian Mountains. Today, Mocanita is still used – surprisingly – for the original purpose. In spite of its advanced age, the steam locomotive has been given a task: to transport tourists.
It is for sure an adventure and a unique thing to do, so, we had to try it.
We woke up very early in the morning and after a quick breakfast we went directly to Mocanita train station.
Mocanita train is the only means of accessing the settlements upon the valley. You can go by train all the way up to the end of the valley and back, enjoying the beauty of nature. It is also possible to stop on the way, get off at one of the several halts, and start a hiking trip in the mountains.
It all starts at the Viseu de Sus railway station (Căile Ferate Forestiere Vişeu de Sus, or simply CFF Viseu de Sus). Since this is not a regular railway station, but a forestry one, there are no passenger platforms. The place looks more like a lumberyard than a railway station, smelling of freshly cut wood.
Very early in the morning, Mocanita is prepared for the trip. Both the tourist wagons and the forestry wagons are attached to the steam locomotive. After that wood and water provisions are made – they are the fuel of the steam engine. After a while, a long whistle announces the departure and the train starts puffing along the way.
Following the cascading river, the train first passes among the houses of Viseu de Sus, then, after about seven kilometers, the tracks start to go deep into the wild forest, passing among the steep cliffs of the gorges.The silence of nature is broken not only by the train’s puffs but also by the sharp whistles of the locomotive. Mocanita goes slowly up the slopes, whistling from time to time. The journey is about two hours long. Moreover, a fuelling stop is required, as new provisions of water need to be made.
We had a very relaxing journey where we enjoyed the views of the natural and virgin forests. Once arrived on top we had a small picnic and a walk in the forest while the train was loaded at the terminus. But there is a small place where you can buy some food and drinks and enjoy the music and the traditional dance.
In short, this is a tradition that has survived the test of time and it was worth a visit. It‘s a unique experience and you should definitely try it.
What You Should Know Before Getting on the Train
When travelling with the Mocanita up the valley one should keep in mind that this is like a journey back in time: after leaving the Viseu station there is no cell phone signal, and any contact with the modern times is lost; the train is pulled by an antique steam locomotive; along the way there are no shops, and provisions of food, water and other consumables have to be made before departure. “Unforeseen” is a key word in the mountains, and it is advisable not to plan anything for the afternoon, as there is no certainty about the return hour: something might break (one has to keep in mind that the line is more than 70 years old and the locomotive can be even older!), and there might be either trees or rocks on the tracks. As the weather in the mountains is very unstable, appropriate shoes, warm clothes and a waterproof coat are necessary. The Vaser Valley is in the border zone, and a valid identity card or passport has to be brought along.
The train operates: May through June: selected weekdays and weekend July through Mid-September: daily Mid-September through beginning of November: selected weekdays and weekend March, April, December, January: selected dates.
You can find more schedules and fares on: www.cffviseu.ro/content/en/timetable
Tickets can be purchased at Mocanita – Steam Train Station in the Viseu de Sus. Ticket booth opens at 7:00 am, but I advise you to buy it online so you avoid the risk of not finding a seat.
More information and reservations: Web: www.cffviseu.ro/en/index.html Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: (011 4) 0262 353.381 or (011 40) 744 686.716
How to reach it
The access point to the Vaser Valley is the town of Viseu de Sus.
By rented car: If you want to experience the country in a liberating, yet comfortable way and you’re more like the wanderer type, visiting Romania by car could be a blast. Renting a car in Romania is not difficult and you will have a safe drive. The only thing to keep in mind is that the road conditions are not that good and that the Romanian drivers will try to overtake you. Driving at a high speed while being close to the car in front of you is a common practice here and also a public concern in most of the big city centers.
This is a guideline to our road trip: https://www.google.ro/maps/dir/Bucharest/Vi%C8%99eu+de+Susemail@example.com,22.6982875,7z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x40b1f93abf3cad4f:0xac0632e37c9ca628!2m2!1d26.103889!2d44.4325!1m5!1m1!1s0x473640cd018ddce7:0x6d16377a372926be!2m2!1d24.423889!2d47.709167?hl=en
By train: you can start your yourney from Bucharest, but it will take about 11 hours and will cost around 15 Euro. For more details and more connections you can check the national Romanian railway: https://www.cfrcalatori.ro/