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  • Ilinca Stroe

Breathe, Walk, Sleep, Repeat. The Place Where Life Is Wonderfully Basic

Muntele Babeş, Cheia (Prahova)

Recommendations of tourist attractions usually call people to some sort of action: “explore the adventure park”, “visit the caves and waterfall”, “climb up the mountain”, “do some rafting”, “race an ATV on the dirt trail in the woods”... Well, at Cheia you don’t have to do any of that. (Unless you really want to.) To recharge your batteries, just go there and be splendidly idle. Sit. Look around at the symphonic display of colours on the hills and mountains. Taste the wholesomeness of that place’s water. Breathe in the vigorous ozone exhaled by the towering fir trees. Take a sweet nap in a blissfully tranquil environment. Take in the blessed silence with its many soothing undertones - the distant bark of a lazy dog, the witty peep and the vacillating buzz of the random bird or insect, the spellbinding rustle of autumn’s goldening birches and beeches.

The place is a mountain village (also referred to as a “mountain resort”) cuddled in a valley on the pleasantly murmuring Teleajen river, at around 900m altitude, surrounded by the Babeş (1,654m), Roşu (1,575m), Ciucaş (1,954m) and Zăganu (1,817m) peaks. A board showing up to 20 hiking trails around Cheia is posted downtown, with routes ranging from 1.9km to 9.5km, and corresponding trail markings are painted on fences and trees which take you gradually away from the centre of the village towards deeper into the abundant forest.

From 82 inhabitants at the end of the 19th century, the village reached a population of around 200 nowadays. People of the mountain. Taciturn, resilient and quite shy. Extraordinarily knowledgeable about the weather’s whims and the forest’s gifts or perils (the edible mushrooms, the therapeutic berries, the savage raids of wolves and bears which leave the village short of fowl, pigs and even dogs). And incredibly hospitable with (and tolerant about) the massive influx of sojourners who, ever since the 1960s, have flooded the place with their summer houses, cabins, villas, mansions and ranches.

In fact, one activity ideally suited for a marvellously idle stay at Cheia is house spotting. Walking around the village’s cement-paved streets but also dirt lanes can turn into a fascinating “house profiling” operation. For the myriad types of houses at Cheia do have their own distinct personalities: some are like wealthy corpulent ladies, some others seem creative thrifty hipsters or look like shy melancholy damsels, while the villagers’ houses give off an aura of stability and sound, well-managed domesticity.

Assuming, though, that you still want to “do” things at Cheia (besides the hiking options mentioned above), here’s what’s on: the charming monastery, with its thriving trout farm, peaceful cemetery and lovely little pond; the two local museums of anthropology (“Francisc I. Rainer”, also hosting the village kindergarten) and mineralogy (“Flowers of the Mine”, with 300 intriguing exhibits and a good collection of semi-precious stones for sale); the satellite communication centre (set up in 1976, the largest teleport in central and south-eastern Europe); the secret WWII trenches on the hill behind the Moş Martin camping site. And do your bit of shopping at the three convenience stores which service the village: at the Buzoianus’, at Laurenţiu’s and at poppa Dumitraşcu – where you can find anything, from batteries to feta cheese and the locally adored Ciucaş lager. And, by all means, do pat and stroke (and perhaps feed a bit?) the heart-melting population of village dogs and increasingly more cats.

And should the place capture your heart and senses, as it’s prone to, consider this: go back there for short stays regularly or... get one of the properties for sale (whether land only or a house), and become one of Cheia’s sojourners yourself. That way you fuel the modest economy of a wonderful place which fully deserves more development opportunities, plans and investment.

Where it is: on the DN1A road to Braşov, 136km and a +2 hour-drive from Bucharest

How to get there: By car. There’s also a minibus departing from Autogara IDM Basarab at 6.30am, 8.45am, 1pm, 3.15pm and 5.20pm, while return buses to Bucharest leave Cheia at 9.45am, 12pm, 4.40pm

Places to stay: The 3-star Hotel Cheia used to be the top-of-the-range choice, and it’s still a very convenient option, with its outdoor sports court, spacious parking lot and good ground-floor restaurant. Also popular with tourists seem to be Vila Redford, Pensiunea Medina, Pensiunea Casa cu Har or Pensiunea Nico’s.

Places to eat: downtown, Hotel Cheia’s restaurant and La Butuci. But finding the restaurant of Pensiunea Nico’s (drive up along the road past the monastery and look for it on the right-hand side) is well worth the effort: they have the creamiest and smoothest tripe soup in the country!


Picture & video credits

Ilinca Stroe, International House Bucharest

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