An epic adventure in Romania, ski touring required

by Jessica Zen
Stripes Europe

With ski season in full swing, the plethora of available ski resorts from which to choose is overwhelming. While traditional skiing is truly wonderful, have you considered taking your skills to the next level? Romania, a little thought of country for skiing, is home to a magical place called Bâlea Lac in the Făgăraș Mountains. Between the fantastic local cuisine and the demanding but thrilling ski touring, where you ski off of the groomed runs in the backcountry or unpatrolled areas, it is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. 

The closest airport to the Bâlea Lac area is in Sibiu, a city in central Romania. My husband and I found the best way to travel around this area after arriving at the airport is with a guide that includes a hired transfer. While you could certainly rent a car, this area was entirely unfamiliar to us. We opted to play things safe by utilizing a travel agency called Sibiu Reisen. We could not have been happier with our decision! From hotel recommendations to a ski guide for my husband, this agency had it all. 

We kicked off our Romanian vacation with a walking food tour of Sibiu. Our guide picked us up at the airport, brought us to our hotel, and then walked the short distance with us toward the city center for the food tour. For each of the four courses included in the tour, we walked to a different location. This was an excellent way to not only experience the sights, but also get a varied taste for the local food. We started our tour at Kulinarium for appetizers. Not knowing what to expect, we were surprised that cold vegetable salads were served in the winter. Think potato salad, Romanian style. The three types of cold salads included various root vegetables and a mild sauce served with bread. Of course, they were delicious! From there we went for our second course, soup, at Hermania. Our guide recommended traditional tripe soup, but I opted for a nice vegetable soup, since angus stomach just didn’t sound appetizing to me, while my husband tried the chicken noodle. Though nothing special, the soups certainly hit the spot. We then went to Crama Sibiul Vechi for our main course. 

This was by far the most interesting restaurant, including both the food and the ambiance. Our guide informed us that the chef who was currently working there is the same chef from the day the restaurant opened! This farm to table location serves traditional Romanian food, and lots of it. The menu was long and we were thankful that our guide recommended the cabbage rolls filled with pork. They were very tender, full of flavor, and served up quickly. The restaurant itself was a half-arched brick room and bursting with charm. A must see if you are in Sibiu! 

Finally, we ended our food tour with my favorite part of the meal, dessert. We stopped at Hochmeister for some truly delightful papanasi (Romanian dumplings with cottage cheese). Sounds weird, I know, but they were covered in cherries and oh so fabulous! If you decide to create your own food tour, you might as well just start here! 

We only stayed one night in Sibiu, as our ultimate goal was to get to Bâlea Lac for my husband to ski. The next morning, our guide and ride picked us up and we headed towards the mountains via the famous Transfagarasan Highway. Up, up, up we went through all the switchbacks to get to our destination. We finally arrived at the literal end of the road, due to excessive amounts of snow in the winter. The next leg of our journey was to be by cable car! The fifteen-minute cable car ride took us to our final destination, the glacier lake known as Bâlea Lac. 

Though perhaps a little outdated, the cable car glided along and delivered us safely to our hotel. We had reservations for the first night at the Cabana Bâlea Lac, and the second night in the Hotel of Ice. The cabana was cozy and had a great restaurant to relax in. While staying in an ice hotel was certainly an experience, I can’t say I would ever do it again, or recommend it for that matter. We were never cold, but you’re literally sleeping on a slab of ice. It’s uncomfortable. The Hotel of Ice also had a restaurant, bar, igloos and a church. The intricate details in the carvings were astounding! The only downside was that this was a tourist attraction, so we couldn’t go to our bed until 9 p.m., and then the bathroom was of course in another building, and all of our belongings in a different building. Not a deal breaker, but not particularly convenient either. 

All of that information aside, we truly did make the trek to these mountains for my husband to go on one of the most epic skiing adventures of his life. Since there were no groomed runs and he was unfamiliar with the area, he opted to go with a guide. The guide was incredibly knowledgeable about skiing the area and safety concerns in regards to the high avalanche warnings. 

The mountains surrounding the lake were nothing short of breathtaking, as they were covered in snow and dominating the landscape. In order to go ski touring, my husband needed special skis, ski touring boots, climbing skins, a transceiver, an avalanche airbag pack and a lot of energy! He spent two days first hiking up the mountain and then skiing down completely untouched runs. There were perhaps five other skiers in the area the entire time, making it an absolute winter wonderland, with nothing but glittering slopes as far as the eyes could see. For skiers who want to take their skills to the next level and challenge themselves physically, this is the sport for you! However, that being said, this type of skiing is not for everyone. It is incredibly demanding and requires an extreme amount of skill. If you want to get into this type of skiing, hire a guide and start slowly, don’t hike up a random mountain and fall down it! 

If you’re ready for fabulous food, stunning scenery, and a ski trip that you won’t soon forget, head to Romania. Be sure to bring your appetite and all your skiing gear! Don’t forget to get in contact with travel agency Sibiu Reisen to make the trip an absolute breeze to plan.

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