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Cycling in Sureanu Mountains: Discovering the Ancient Dacian Land

Gradistea Muncelului - Cioclovina Natural Park: Sarmizegetusa Regia ancient capital city, Blidaru Dacian Fortress, Costeşti Dacian Fortress, bike trip on the surrounding hills and (as a bonus) bike trip around Gura Apelor lake on our way back home.

Sarmizegetusa Regia - Retezat Mountains

Sarmizegetusa Regia: Once upon a time...

More than anything I think we, Romanians, should be proud that at some point we have been Dacians and I would like to think that in our souls there is still a little bit of them left. Even though we know little about this wonderful, courageous and innovative hand of people their legends live on and make their way into our hearts.

For those who don't know the Dacians are the ancestors of the Romanian people who lived in this area before they have been finally conquered by the Roman Empire around 100 AD.

This trip made me rejoice at the though of going outdoors, breathing some clean air and going for a bike stroll but it also made me anxious as we were going to discover something that was on my list of objectives for a very long time - Sarmizegetusa Regia - the ancient capital city of Dacia and one of the most emblematic sites of the Dacian culture (a Machu Picchu of this old and sometimes forgotten tribe). Sarmizegetusa Regia is part of the UNESCO world heritage sites and in short it used to be the strategic and spiritual center of Dacia and its capital city - before the Roman wars around 100 AD. Along side the military fortifications at Blidaru, Costeşti, Piatra Roşie, Căpâlna and Băniţa this vast complex has been the heart of Dacia and its main defense system.

Sarmizegetusa Regia - Capital City

Getting to Sarmizegetusa is finally something you can easily do as the road is in top shape with recent renovations. It used to be really bad to the point no one was really visiting the complex but hopefully this will change in the future. The road was opened within days prior to our trip.

The asphalt is flat and smooth and there are plenty of parking spots build along side the road but also close to the ruins. Most of the road has two lanes with only the last few kilometers being one lane and a half (the sections that goes up the mountain).

Before reaching Sarmizegetusa the last kilometer of road is made out of cobblestone and it is closed to cars but you can go on foot or on bike. We made our way to the entrance where we had to abandon our bikes as access with them is prohibited. This was no problem except for the fact that there is no bike parking spot and we left them under the protective eye of one of the park guards stationed there.

The entrance fee is symbolic I would say, with a bit over 1 Euro per adult and the site is opened all day between March and November. I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of guards that were patrolling around making sure tourists don't climb on the relics or damage them. The whole site is really clean, the walking paths are well marked, the grass is cut and everything looks as it should be. Really impressive!

Sarmizegetusa Regia - Capital City Ruins

Sarmizegetusa Regia - Ruins

Track Info

  • Distance: 37 km
  • Time: 5 hours, 3 hours of pedaling
  • Altitude difference: + / - 1000 m
  • Altitude height:  400 m - 1200 m
  • Max speed: 60 km / h
  • Average speed: 12.6 km / h
  • Road: asphalt - top shape
GPS Track

  Bicycling alongside hills

After we happily returned from our visit at the capital ruins we set to the road again, but his time just me and Alex as the others had abandoned us. At the advice of the owner of the camping we sat sail through a "secret portal" that transported us all the way to Switzerland.

From the camping we took the car with the bikes inside and went uphill for 7 kilometers because we were not sure exactly where we should end up. In a tight corner we found a small parking space where we abandoned the car and we got the bikes out. We left the asphalt road behind for a dirt / stone road that was going uphill and that was slowly revealing the beauty of the land to us. 

The quiet tranquility of a mild sunset with the Retezat mountain range in the distance while riding between willow trees on the top of the hills was simply magic, a sight I have problems fully reproducing in words!

Leaving the dirt road behind we end up in a brand new asphalt road that makes you feel like you are at the footsteps of the Alps. The way is clear, with low traffic taking you uphill and downhill.

On the way back Alex was kind enough to drive the car back to the camping spot and to let me go downhill on bike, taking full advantage of the one and a half lanes of asphalt all the way to Costesti village. It was amazing!!! There were parts where I was breaking as hard as I could without locking the wheels and I was still going with 38 km/h. Great adrenaline, I recommend it!

Track Info

  • Distance: 17 km
  • Time: 1 h 20 min
  • Altitude difference:  + 300 / - 500 m
  • Altitude height: 900 m - 1000 m
  • Max speed: 50 km / h
  • Average speed: 12.7  km / h
  • Road: asphalt - top shape (the dirt road section can be done on asphalt as well)

GPS Track

Costeşti Fortress

To reach the fortress from the main road in Costesti village you need to cross the bridge and to continue by car (or by foot) along side the river and at some point to do a left turn on the gravel / dirt road that goes uphill. There are plenty of markings indicating the right way so you can't get lost. You will leave the car close to the last houses where you will also find a small parking spot and from here you will continue on foot.

After a few minutes climb you will reach the outer defense system made out of mounds of dirt and from here you will continue on the inner paths to discover the whole site.

Costesti Fortress - Ruins

We had a few surprises on the way, one pleasant and one less pleasant to the "critic" eye. The pleasant one was that we found a "long vehicle" pup that escorted us on the whole tour - he clearly had a owner but he clearly didn't care about that. He was really smart and had good manners :)

The second one is with no pictures because I'd like to stick to the pretty parts of our visit, but lets say that as a tourist you don't expect to find two beached up whales sunbathing on a blanket besides some historic and ancient walls... no comment.

(Hiking) Blidaru Fortress

If we are in the area we won't just leave without visiting Blidaru Fortress also. We didn't really know what to expect but we saw the indicators pointing the way to the fortress so we followed the route that starts in Costesti village (go over the bridge and at the Y intersection do a left into the forest). From here you have a 2.5 kilometer hike through he forest on a well marked footpath and in approximately 45 - 50 minutes you will reach your destination.

Blidaru Fortress - Ruins

Up at the fortress there are no facilities, you don't have any entrance fee but you can find some information panels and the grass is cut. If you are visiting this during summer pay close attention to vipers as the combination of heat and rocks is perfect for the little snakes that like to sunbathe on the walls.

We walked on the way up but we jogged on the way down! The first alpine run... downhill.. but it still counts! :)

And now for some love :)

Love sample 1 (Credits Iulian Gangal)
Love sample 2 (Credits Iulian Gangal)

Track Info

  • Distance: 5 km
  • Time: 1 h 20 min 
  • Altitude difference:   + / - 300 m 
  • Altitude height: 450 m - 750 m

GPS Track

King of the Road at Gura Apelor lake

With this we end our trails in the area but we feel it's to early to go back home. We thought it would be great if we could do one more short bike trip somewhere close by before returning to the city. Our destination came to mind pretty fast. As we were close to Retezat National Park we decided to check the road on the other side of Gura Apelor Lake.

We traveled there by car and when we reached the dam we got the bikes out and started exploring... just us, no other soul on the horizon. Perfect! After a short chat with the guard stationed there we found out that we can't do a full circuit around the lake as a small part of road is missing (basically you can go around the lake approximately 90%). Why didn't they build a road there no one knows.

The road is excellent for mountain bikes, with mild slopes that go up and down on dirt or rocky layers. Everything was perfect for a short and energetic bike run before going back home.

The lake had an amazing color and closer to the end it transformed in a canyon with a small river at its base.Yet again the area presents a lot of touristic potential that unfortunately is not explored at all.

Close to the end of our track we started running from the rain that was closing in around us and we reached the car just in time. On the road home we had heavy rains but who cares, we were already in the car! Gotcha!

Track Info

  • Distance: 15 km
  • Time: 2 h
  • Altitude difference:  + / - 600 m
  • Altitude height: 1000 m - 1220 m
  • Max speed: 30  km / h
  • Average speed: 7.5 km / h
  • Road: gravel / dirt- excellent for MTB

GPS Track


Low budget - check (no hotels for us today). Missing the wonderful nights in our tent - check! So let's find a place to camp. We couldn't find any information on the web about campings in the area so we set out thinking we will sleep wherever we will find a decent spot.

As we were going in the direction of Sarmizegetusa we stumbled upon a great place on the right side of the road just as you exit Costesti village. You will see a wooden gate that opens the way into a cute camping on the side of the river that has all facilities needed. Even though there is no personal at the location simply enter and call the number specified on the gate, the owner will give all instructions needed.

The camping looks really good, with covered eating places, garbage bins, toilets and hot water showers! The price for one night stay is 25 lei, approximately 6 euro, for 2 persons, a tent and one car, but the shower is payed separately with 1 euro person. I recommend this camping as it has great facilities and it is located perfectly for activities in the area.

Final words

We were pleasantly surprised by the potential of the area and we will surely return here to do some more exploring, but probably in the autumn or in the spring when temperatures are lower.

Cycling in Sureanu Mountains: Discovering the Ancient Dacian Land Reviewed by Karina Isar on 10:49 Rating: 5


  1. I have now marked down a couple of these places on our map. Hoping that we can make it to this area when we get to Romania in November. Thanks! :-)

    1. That is great Ruth, so you sealed the deal :) let me know if you want more suggestions for Romania. We can definitely help you with the itinerary, info, suggestions.

    2. Thank you Karina! We already have lots of things we want to see and to we are starting to think that we are not going to have enough time, lol. We are just hoping that the weather won't be too cold or wet. If you have ideas of cheap places to stay and any good hikes (day hikes only) you cold make some suggestions, either through my email or on facebook at Ruth Crowe Read, that might help. We like staying in the little villages or towns. We have been looking at couchsurfing and pensions and there does seem to be a lot of them available. Perhaps we could even meet up on day and have a hike together. :-)

    3. We can discuss to see when and what are your plans and maybe, why not, we hike togehter! :)

      All the best!
      Karina and Alex

    4. Other than arriving in Bucharest Nov. 2 and leaving Dec. 15th we haven't decided on our route yet. As it gets closer to the day I am sure we will have a rough outline in our blog. I know that we will only stay a day or two in Bucharest before we head out. I know we want to visit the Transylvania area and several things down in the Retezat National Park and Cheile Nerei-Beușnița National Park areas as well as further north where the wooden churches are. I think we are going to love Romania. :-)


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