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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Orsova - Danube River Hiking & Places to Explore

We have experienced the Danube River in two previous locations on our trip – Budapest and Bratislava, so it only seemed fitting that we visit it in Romania as well. On the western side of Romania, the Danube River is the country border between Romania and Serbia. This area is also one of the most scenic parts of the Danube with the river carving through the river gorges. We really enjoyed Orsova's Danube River views and the various things you could around the area, including hiking.

Getting to Orsova

We drove 3 hours from Oravita to Orsova, which was a little bit out of the way for the other areas of Romania we planned to visit. However, we wanted to see this part of Romania, so it was worth the extra driving for us. If you’re coming from a similar direction, we highly recommend taking Route 57 that runs along the rivers’ edge - although it takes a bit longer than the inland route, it is really beautiful. From it, you can also view the tunnels and bridges along the Serbian side, as well as monasteries and castles that edged the river. We even came across a few Gypsy tent sites where they just pitched a tent along the river as their home – some of them had quite the tent set-up. It is also the first border area we have seen in Europe that was actively monitored. We saw several border agents parked along the river and using binoculars to make sure that no one was sneaking across the border via the river. In Orsova, I even came across an area where the border dogs were housed overnight when off duty.

Visiting Orsova in October

One thing we quickly noticed is that because we were traveling in the off-season, it was very quiet in the towns along the Danube. We never had issues finding places to eat, but one of the main ways to enjoy the Danube River is to take a boat tour. The boat ride takes you by many of the main sites of the Danube, including some caves and the rock carving of Decebal Rex in the Danube Iron Gates area, as well as the boilers in the river gorge area. However, it was hard to even find anyone at their boats to arrange anything. Several of them had phone numbers that we could have inquired; however, it was rainy and windy the 2 days we were there and Clara had the beginning signs of a cold, so we decided to just let things be. However, from the things we did see, it looks like most of the boat tours started around 50 RON per adult (1/2 price for kids) and the boats did have coverings on them. However, it looks like a fun way to explore the Danube, so if you’re there during nicer weather, make sure to check it out!

Rock Sculpture of Decebalus – “Chipul Regelui dac Decebal”

Luckily, we were able to see some of the sites that the boat tour would have went by from the road – including the rock statue of Decebal Rex. This rock carving was actually carved between 1994-2004 and was built to honor Decebalus, the last king of Dacia (AD 87-106), who preserved the independence of his country, which is present-day Romania. The rock face is the tallest in Europe at 180 ft. high and 82 ft. wide.

Europe's largest rock sculpture on the River Danube
Rock Sculpture of Decebalus - 'Chipul Regelui dac Decebal' on the Danube River
St. Ana’s Monastery

Some of the boat tours also highlight St. Ana’s Monastery, which we were able to access by driving 8 minutes from the centre of Orsova. The monastery was beautiful with the flower beds in front and the beautiful Romanian Orthodox churches & altars with their paintings and mosaics. There is also a great view of the Danube below. When we arrived in the late afternoon though, there was an Evening Vespers service happening, so we were unable to enter the church, but one of the nuns came out to ring the bell as part of the service, so the visit was still special that way.

Ciucarul Mare – Cazanele Dunarii Hike

This hike was definitely the highlight of our stay in the Orsova area. We arrived in the mid-afternoon from Oravita, but the forecast showed rain for the next couple of days, so we squeezed in this hike before dinner.

Trail Stats & Info

The trail starts just on the edge of Dubova along DN 57 Highway – right across from a former soccer field. There is a signpost along the road that has a yellow triangle to mark the trail as you proceed. The trail is a 4.7 km loop trail that starts off with a steep incline, but then flattens out to take you along the loop portion of the trail through the trees and grassy areas. The trails are well marked and there are warnings of viper sightings, so we made sure to stay on the defined pathway (although we never saw any). At the top, there are several viewpoints around the edges that give you spectacular views of the Danube River flowing through the River Gorge.

Man taking photo of Danube Boilers - Romania.
Taking in the views from the top of Ciucarul Mare – Cazanele Dunarii Hike of the Danube Boilers below.

Our Unexpected Trail Guide

When we arrived at the start of the trail, we were greeted by several dogs. They were all friendly, but we just started to proceed up the trail; however, we had one dog that headed up the hike with us. He led the way and seemed to know exactly where to go. The kids are 'in heaven' when there is a dog around, so they quickly followed him up the trail. Even during the steep section, the kids didn’t complain; they were literally running up it! They quickly assigned the dog the name of ‘Pup’ and continued to trek up the trail with him. When he started to run, they would run, and vice-a-versa. We were even having a hard time keeping up and had to jog to stay with them.

The trail said the whole hike would take about 2 hours, we were literally up the mountain in 40 minutes as they were running up the whole time. I’ve never seen the kids have this much energy on a hike. If having a dog is the secret to keeping them engaged and hiking then I think I’m sold! I’m not even sure the kids really paid attention to the view, as 100 percent of their attention was on Pup. At one point, Pup took off in a different direction than we were headed and didn’t seem to want to come the same way as us. The kids were absolutely devastated and I thought it was going to take us just as long to get down the last ¼ of the hike as it did the previous ¾. Luckily, Pup reappeared a few minutes later and all the energy and excitement was restored. However, all three of them slowed down a bit on the way back down, as I think they tuckered each other out.

Dog joins us for hike along Danube River.
The best 'lil dog 'Pup' who joined us for a hike on the Ciucarul Mare – Cazanele Dunarii Hike.

The views were absolutely amazing, but this dog made the hike one of our most memorable hikes ever.

Afternoon Visit to Baile Herculane

This Romanian spa town cutely sits in the middle of the Cerna River valley between the Mehedinti Mountains and the Cerna Mountains and is only a 25 minute drive from Orsova. Archaeologists believe that this town goes way back – and may have been inhabited since the Paleolithic era. There are even findings of stone carvings that show Roman aristocrats turned the town into a spa or leisure centre during the time. There was also proof of the town being ruled by the Ottomans and then the Austrian-Hungarians.

View down the Cerna River at the Primaria Baile Herculane in Baile Herculane, Romania in the Banat Region.
View down the Cerna River in Baile Herculane - Romanian Spa Town.

We had two different local Romanians suggest to check out the town, so we thought we should definitely hit it up during our time in the area. Today when you explore Baile Herculane the town is mainly private hotels. However, as we were visiting in off-season it felt VERY quiet and several cafes weren’t open in the old part of the town where the historical buildings were located. The biggest thing we noticed was the number of abandoned or derelict buildings and bath houses. These were originally from the Austro-Hungarian era that weren’t upkept over time and today are identified with signage as a monument. However, we later found out that as of 2010, that there is currently the Herculane Project that is underway to help restore and stabilize these historical buildings. We did see evidence of this as well, with many of the buildings having scaffolding and work done on them. Eventually we could see this town becoming like the Czech Spa Town of Karlovy Vary where it has all been updated and refurbished.

Stray cat sits on bridge that is closed off to pedestrians in Baile Herculane.
A cat enjoying the blocked off bridge that leads to Primaria Baile Herculane on an October day.

Although it was quiet, one of the parts we enjoyed the most about our 2-3 hours there was watching the locals utilize the natural springs. The Izvorul Domogled near the Old Town, was a water spring, available for people to fill up their water bottles. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any bottles on us to try it, but within the 10 minutes we hung around there was probably about 5-7 vehicles that pulled up and had locals come out their large plastic bottles to fill. Then along the Cerna River we discovered people sitting in the thermal pools on the river’s edge – they must have been thermal because it was chilly out. If we would have known about this ahead of time, we definitely would have brought our swimming suits along!

There are several hikes up the side of the hills you can take for different vantage points of the town. We just took a short next to the Primaria Baile Herculane, which took us for a quick 30 minute hike to a viewpoint. There are options to continue on the trail, but the kids were getting tired, so we headed back.

There was so much to explore and see in the Banat Region and around the town of Orsova. While we wish we would have had the opportunity to do the river cruise, we still made some pretty incredible memories and visited some unique places. Now, it’s back to Transylvania!

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