The Auroch Country is the only area in Romania included in the Top 100 sustainable destinations in the world.
The Vanatori Neamt Nature Park was set up 19 years ago, in 1999, and has become tourists’ favourite spot in summer or during the winter holidays. In fact, it is perfect for any time of the year. The park, stretching at the foot of the mountains in the north of Neamt County, is home to wildlife species that are endangered in other areas. The most famous of these is the auroch. This area, in fact, is called Auroch Country, and is the only area in Romania included in the Top 100 sustainable destinations in the world.
Elena Curea, expert in environmental education with the administration of the Vanatori Neamt Nature Park, told us that the symbol of the park is the auroch. After an absence of almost 200 years, the aurochs have been successfully reintroduced into the wild in the Vanatori Neamt Nature Park in March 2012.
Elena Curea: “If you come to the Vanatori Neamt Nature Park in winter, you have the opportunity to see aurochs in captivity at the Dragos Voda Zoo, where we have seven of them, which can be seen all year round. At the same time, we have an acclimatization area 180 ha wide, where visitors can see aurochs being prepared for reintroduction into the wild. They can also be seen during winter. Because it is easier to get fed than to look for food, the animals keep coming to the feeding area, and that is when the tourists can see them. If you come during summer, you can only see the animals in the acclimatization area. There is no way to see the animals that roam free.”
A visit to the Vanatori Neamt Nature Park should start at the visitor center, according to Elena Curea: “Here we have a structure that is unique in Romania. It is called the Suspended Walkway. It is an arch built entirely of wood, which brings us closer to the remarkable biodiversity of the area. It was inaugurated in 2013, it is 200 m long, and has a maximum height of 15 m, offering visitors the opportunity of a panoramic view. The Visitor Center was opened in 2006, and hosts the Auroch Museum, as well as a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions. The Center venues events such as the ones included in programmes like the Tree Planting Month, Doing School Differently, European Park Day, Environment Day, Auroch Day, Auroch Night, and many others. The environmental education hall in the Center is the place where we hold exhibitions on environment-related topics, with works by students in the area, and it is also the place where the kids unleash their creativity by manufacturing interesting objects.”
Leaving the Visitor Center, we walked the Education Trail through the deciduous forest, heading to the Dragos Voda Zoo.
Elena Curea: “This is a place that everyone loves, irrespective of their age. After this visit, you can spend a few quiet moments at the neighboring Neamt Monastery. The Vanatori Neamt Nature Park offers an original tourists program. It is called Auroch Safari, and offers the possibility to watch the animals ready to be set free in the acclimatization park close to the Visitor Park, as well as the free roaming ones. Our park is the only of this kind in Romania, and one of the very few in Europe where there are free roaming aurochs, which tourists can take pictures of. The entrance fee is 1.1 Euro for adults and 0.65 Euro for children. In the case of groups, adults pay 0.65 Euro, and children pay 0.4 Euro. It is important to know that the ticket bought at the Visitor Center grants access to the Dragos Voda Zoo as well.”
The park is a popular destination with foreign tourists as well. Most of them come through Erasmus education programmes. They come mostly from Turkey, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Austria, and Hungary. However, there are partner tourist agencies that bring over tourists from Germany, the UK, Australia, the US, and even Hong Kong.
There are 19 tourist trails in the park, having a total of 130 km. Most of them cover the monasteries in the area. There are trails in the Neamt Fortress area, the resort of Oglinzi, and Slatina Spring, which has been used by people for 8,000 years. No matter which trail you pick, make sure you don't miss visits to local craftsmen, as recommended by Elena Curea, expert in environmental education with the administration of the Vanatori Neamt Nature Park.
Elena Curea: “The area has a rich tradition in terms of crafts: wood and stone carvings, embroidery, fabrics, thatching, and leather. One very old tradition in the area is weaving on a vertical or horizontal loom, with cotton warp, using hand spun, naturally died wool, which lends it added value. The monasteries of Agapia and Varatic are famous for their carpet workshops, but there are some locals making them in the villages of Valea Seaca, Valea Arini, and Baltatesti. If you're interested, there are souvenir shops near Neamt Fortress, but also at the entrance of monasteries.”
If you plan a visit, there is a full calendar of events taking place in Auroch Country: “This calendar starts early in the year, on January 2, with the Mask Parade. Events continue with the Medieval Art Festival in the Neamt Fortress area, early in July. You are invited to the Dance and Merriment event at the Vanatori Neamt Nature Park Visitor Center. It is followed by the days of various villages, as well as the Traditions and Customs Festival, taking place on 27 December.”
The Vanatori Neamt Nature Park is the third most visited park in Romania, after Bucegi and Apuseni Nature Parks, and in 2009 it was declared a European destination of excellence.