Vatra Dornei. Also known as Dorna and Dorna Watra (the latter is the old German name). The town got its name from the river Dorna.
Vatra Dornei lies in the middle of Northern Romania, some 300 km north (as the crow flies) of the capital →Bucharest. It marks the western border of the Southern Bukovina (Land of the Beeches) and concentrates around the confluence of the small river Dorna and the larger river Bistriţa. The town is surrounded by up to 2,000 metres high mountain ranges - namely the Calimani, Suhard and Bistritsa Mountains. Because of that, Vatra Dornei is a famous place for winter sports and makes a perfect base for interesting climbing and hiking tours.
Around 19,000. Vatra Dornei once had a strong Jewish community, but almost all Jews were killed or moved to other countries during the Second World War.
The town is many kilometres long, stretching along a river valley. However, the centre of town is very small and compact. The railroad runs parallel to the river Dorna and divides the centre into a northern and a southern part. Most of the restaurants and shops concentrate in the northern part. In the southern part, you will find some interesting buildings and a nice park. The mountains already start right behind the centre. The bus station is located in the southern part next to a large bridge. The fact that there are at least two train stations might be confusing. When coming from →Suceava, you should get out at the second train station named Vatra Dornei - hence, when coming from →Cluj-Napoca, it's the first station.
Getting there / transportation
There are several long-distance buses from destinations all over Romania, but it's also convenient to go by train. Express trains (accelerat) run from →Cluj-Napoca (4½ hrs, around 25 Lei) to Vatra and continue via →Suceava (3 hrs, 12.4 Lei) and →Iaşi (4½ hrs, less than 20 Lei) to Galaţi. Halfway, the same trains stops in Gura Humorului, which is the perfect base for exploring the nearby →Cinci Mănăstiri (the famous monasteries of the Southern Bukovina).
If you want to pass the mountains direction Borşa and →Sighetu Marmaţiei in the north-west, you will have to take the bus. The bus passes →Prislop Pass and runs all the way to →Vişeu de Sus. The route is very scenic. There's only one bus a day (probably not in winter, because the road will became impassable, esp. for the old buses). The bus leaves at 1:30 pm, the trip takes 3½ hours. The fare is 10 Lei (€ 2.5).
Vatra Dornei has never been an historically important place, but its location is just marvellous. This is what the Habsbug monarchy thought as well, and so the place was already used as a mountain resort during the Austro-Hungarian period. At that time, starting in the 19th century, a nice park, some luxurious hotels and a splendid casino were erected. Unfortunately, not much has been done to preserve the former beauty during the communist times. And so many of the old buildings are crumbling. Nowadays, Vatra Dornei is trying hard to restore the town.
|The river Dorna and the dilapidated casino|
The first thing you will notice in the centre is a large church and the park around the church. Many other buildings clearly show that the Bukovina has once been a part of Austria-Hungary. There's a public mineral spring behind the church, and the tasty mineral water is worth a try. Vatra Dornei is quite famous for its mineral water as well as for dairy products - stockbreeding is very popular in the area around the town.
|One of the old buildings on Str. Republicii|
There are several museums in town - among them the Ethnographic Museum. Unfortunately, the museum was closed when we went there (2004) - it didn't look like it would re-open in the near future. Not far from the old town, a ski lift whisks visitors up to the ski slopes of more than 1,600 m high Mt Dealul Negrii. Of course the lift doesn't operate during the summer months. All in all, Vatra Dornei is a pleasant small town in an idyllic setting.
|Rodna Mountains near the Prislop Pass|
Halfway between Vatra Dornei and →Vişeu de Sus there's the Prislop Pass - with an altitude of 1,416 metres it's the highest pass (on a major road) in Romania. It also separates two historic regions, as there are the Bukovina (lit: Land of the Beeches) in the east and Maramureş in the west. The villages and churches of the Bucovina look completely different to those in Maramureş. The closer you get to Prislop pass, the tighter the forest gets - and the less people or houses you will see. Forestry is quite common here (and it seems to be sustainable forest management, since there are many reafforested slopes). Most of the vehicles passing the road seem to be timber trucks. Close to the pass there are the Rodna Mountains with the 2,302 metres high Pietrosul, which is the highest mountain in Northern Romania. As you can see on the picture, taken in June, there can be snow even in summer.
A new church is being built near the highest point of the road. Additionally, there's a monument commemorating the last invasion of the Tartar hordes. A place not far from Prislop pass stages the famous Hora de la Prislop, a huge folk festival taking place annually in August.
Vatra Dornei is a mountain resort and therefore it offers a great variety of hotels and pensions - for prices below average (at least in summer). Two pensions on Str. Parcului are only 300 metres away from the centre. The one on the right side (when coming from the centre) is called Villa Zimbrul (rechte Seite). Usually, the landlord? landlady? is not present. Instead of that, there's a public phone next to the door so that you can call the owner. It's easier to cross the street and try Villa Căprioara. The family is very nice, and so are the spacious doubles with all the amenities you need. The price per person is 20 Lei (€ 5). Here's the address: Str. Parcului 29. Tel.: 372 643, Fax.: 373 844.
Between the church and the casino there's the restaurant and hotel Euro Intersport. It's not the real name and the hotel has nothing (or not much) to do with sports, but that's what's written on the board. The restaurant inside is excellent and the service can't be better. My recommendation: Try the Caşcaval Pane (breaded cheese) and the steaks!!! It's less expensive than you might think when you come in.
In the south-west of Vatra Dornei, a few hundred meters away from the centre, there's a shop and an attached restaurant called Camy-Lact, selling regional dairy products. The restaurant specialises in dishes using dairy products, too, and it's well worth a visit.
And here comes another one:Les Amis on Str. Luceafarului 15, the small shopping street close to the train station, is a very cheap, modern restaurant serving Romanian and Italian food. The meat & mushroom filled crêpe are quite tasty.
- www.geocities.com/bucovina01 Obviously still under construction: A website about Vatra Dornei and the area around it, incl. some pictures. In English.
- www.rennkuckuck.de/php/klettern Useful information for hiking and climbing tours around Vatra Dornei. In German.
Do you have or do you know a good website about Vatra Dornei? Don't hesitate, let me know! After checking it, I would love to add it to the link list. You can submit a link by using the →contact form. Note that commercial websites will be treated differently.