Ecotourism in family in the Southern Carpathians

Our travellers are the best ambassadors of our rewilding message. It is with great joy that we read the amazing posts, reviews and blogs that European Safari Company travellers write after they have travelled with us.

Last August Imke travelled with her family to the beautiful Southern Carpathians to see the bison reintroduction efforts with her own eyes and enjoy an adventurous family holiday.

This is her account of the fun and sustainable family holiday.

Photography and text: Imke Van Herrewegen (Original in Dutch)

A long time ago I read about beautiful projects where animals got their place back in nature. You could visit a number of those projects and thus support the project: that's called ecotourism. Before I read the whole article, I was looking for a place in Europe. Somewhere we could travel by car so we didn’t have to take a plane.

And there it was shining. The reintroduction of the bison in Romania. After a little search I ended up at the European Safari Company . Their customer service quickly made it very clear to me what our trip could look like. And before we left, we could already dream. 

But this time reality was even more beautiful and valuable than what we could have imagined.

A week before we left I already received a message from our guide Matei from We Wilder. He introduced himself and provided his contact details. That way we could certainly reach him on arrival. 

When the time came, we arrived in Armenis and Matei brought us to our first overnight stay in Sat Batran. This house was a gem. Everything was restored so beautifully and authentically. The owners of the house came to bring us a feast that evening. Vegetables from their garden, meat from their animals. Local, ecological, traditional, you name it. 

Although we didn't really speak a common language, the hospitality was immediately very warm. The neighbor immediately waved at us. When we waved back enthusiastically, the daughter, son, sister, aunt and everyone in and around the neighbor's house also came to say hello. I was fascinated to watch passers-by chatting, cars stopping, even more chats arose, and it turned out to be very pleasant on the street. A taste of what awaited us in this beautiful and hospitable country. 

After a very good night's sleep a fantastic breakfast was served. Then it was time for our first outing. With the 4×4 we went to our tented camp. Just bring some water and our backpacks and we could leave.

In the morning we went looking for the bison herds on one side of the mountain ridge with binoculars. No luck then. We searched but saw nothing. That is to say, we saw the beautiful butterflies and wildlife. But no bison yet.

Due to the high temperature, we took a rest after lunch. Afterwards we went back into the mountains. These were not easy walks, certainly not for the youngest bison tracker of 8 years. But luckily our guide had a sixth sense. He could sense very well when a rest point was needed.

In addition, he told us about all the tracks we encountered along the way. For example, we saw the droppings of martens, foxes and bears. And we also encountered the paw prints of wild cat, badger and wolf. The feeling you get is unbelievably beautiful. Because there, you walk, in nature, in a place that you share with the animals. Of course, it was very important that Matei guided us. As a Ranger, he knew the area by heart.

In addition to these prints, we also saw very recent prints of a mother bison and her young. Matei looked for the direction of the prints and thought aloud about where we could look for them without disturbing them. A few walking hours later it was time. We saw our first bison.

A mighty beautiful gigantic beast. And what was more, we heard the rest of the herd in the bushes. We were looking for a good spot and saw them all crossing a road a little further on. The mama bison and the minis. That was blissful. My reaction speed was unfortunately not always great but I'll let you enjoy a snapshot of an ass or two of the Romanian Bison anyway.

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we lingered a little later than planned. The trip down was short but steep and tough. But we mostly enjoyed after. We spent the night in a tent camp. Our beds were ready and the location was phenomenal. Local residents again came to cook especially for us. The shepherd and his dogs came by with the sheep of all the local residents. 

We heard from Matei about the life of the shepherd and got a few great stories richer. In the evening there was a campfire with a beautiful starry sky. I could see so many stars that I could believe there are more than grains of sand. I would like to show it to you, and of course I tried to take a picture but in vain. The fireflies are also not in the photo, but were present in abundance, which made the whole thing magical.

The next day we visited the place where the bison gradually get used to their life in nature. We were very lucky to see bison the day before. The area where they roam is immense. Now the chance to see them was even greater. And we were lucky again. Soon one was grazing not too far from us. We did our best not to disturb him. This is also the reason why the project does not target large groups of tourists. The small scale means that people and animals can be together in this area.

During the walks, Matei told us stories about life there. How animal and man kept each other in balance. Stories that stuck with the children. Because when I asked them afterwards about the benefits of the bison, they all started to tell in turn. About how they make puddles with their paws for the frogs. Or how they eat fast-growing trees so that the slow growers also have space. That makes them real landscape architects. 

After this great moment we went to our last place to stay. A shower and a delicious meal were waiting for us. Along with an incredible view. When I saw it I shed a tear. I thought it was so beautiful. So pristine too. I was so grateful that we could enjoy this.

The last day we went in search of the Chamoix. It was very hot and the climb to their area was tough. Although we often went to rest in the shade, our youngest son was no longer motivated to continue. And then we listened to him and his body. We didn't feel like forcing him. In addition, a swim in the pond was on the program and we were all looking forward to that. A gigantic lake, all to ourselves. The son of the house even offered to take our children for a boat trip on the lake. He was there for cabin that he rents out with his parents, but was happy to make some time for our children. As I wrote above, the hospitality was enormous. We were there as just a little piece in the greatness of nature, just enjoying.

The last night they had something special in store. A ride to the bear watching hut. With the 4×4 we drove deep into the forest. Completely off-road. And the further we drove, the more the magic of this place overtook us. We crept into the tree house as quietly as we could. For our safety accompanied by our guide and the Ranger of the site. His shotgun didn't feel like an unnecessary luxury. And there we were for 1 hour and a half. As quiet as we could. We saw a white owl flying overhead. We heard movement in the forest. In the end, the bears did not show themselves. But that didn't feel like a downer. The evening had been great. A unique experience. And the little fox we saw afterwards was also a very nice moment. The Ranger Petru who took us home showed us photos and videos of the region. That was fun x10.

So that was the last night. It was also the evening we had to say goodbye to our guide Matei. We all found that a very difficult moment. We were going to miss him and his extensive knowledge. We had such beautiful experiences together. We cherish it immensely.

That is also the reason for this post. This is such a valuable project, and through this ecotourism we can give back to the people who have given the bison in this region a home. We would recommend it to anyone.

Text and photography Imke Van Herrewegen from her blog YERASI. Read it here in Dutch.