The Danube Gorges

The Danube Gorges

From its headwaters in Germany’s Black Forest, the Danube winds its way through ten European countries to drain into the Black Sea. For much of its course, the river moves lazily through wide valleys, but as it enters the border region between Romania and Serbia, its banks narrow into a series of high cliffs. Here, the river carved a passage through the lower Carpathian Mountains to its north and the Balkan Mountains to its south, creating a series of four steep gorges. The narrowest passage of the Danube, the most important river of Europe, creates a fabulous natural landscape. The river breaks through high walls of stone, creating several gorges with luxurious wild vegetation, that also give water a green shade. The mountains bordering the Danube on the Romanian side ( Almăjului and Locvei Mts.) are home to a multitude of interesting sites, both natural and human related: a multitude of water fowl, land turtles, cool birch forests, beautiful caves and limestone gorges, secular villages of a mix of ethnic groups (Romanians, Serbians, Czechs), water mills, churches etc.

Our proposed tour is intended to give you a comprehensive knowledge of the area and its people. Along these 12 days we will cover the entire length of the Iron Gates National Park with visits to the most important natural reserves here.

Day 1: Transfer to Baziaș
On this day you will be transferred from your arrival point to the small village of Baziaș, the place where the Danube enters Romanian territory and where our tour starts. If the time allows it we can make a short trip to the confluence of Nera river with the Danube, a place with a rich variety of wildlife.

Day 2: Baziaș - Divici - Belobreșca - Pojejena - Moldova Veche - Coronini - Sfânta Elena
We start our journey on the road between the Danube and Locvei Mts., with a 37 km easy ride that will get us acquainted with the geography of the land in this part of the country and also with the history of the settlements in the south of Banat region. After leaving the night's accommodation, we head south for about 3 km skirting the westernmost part of Locvei Mts. and then east on their southern side. At this point we can already see Ostrovul (island) Călinovăț, which we will reach in another 15 min. The island is a protected area and fauna reserve where we can observe some very rare species of birds such as the white-tailed eagle, the osprey, the hen harrier, the black stork, egrets etc. As we move on, a few hundred meters before entering the village of Divici, on the left side of the road we can see the honeycombed loess escarpments of "Râpa cu lăstuni" protected area, where sand martins, crag martins, red-rumped swallows and alpine swifts nest together. In Divici we can visit the remains of an ancient Dacian settlement. The road continues with the village of Belobreșca and its church built at the end of the 18th century; and the village of Șușca, the first village with a Romanian majority since we started our trip. We pedal on through the villages of Pojejena and Măcești and we arrive at Moldova Veche, a small village and port at the Danube. In the waters of the Danube in front of the village lies one of the most amazing places on the Danube, Ostrov island, a natural reserve where wild horses roam freely. We move on towards Coronini, where the Danube enters the Iron Gate Gorges, and we can observe the famous Babacaia cliff rising from the Danube waters and Golubac castle on the Serbian side of the river. From here a 4 km climb and 200 meters gain in altitude takes us to Sfânta Elena, one of the six Czech villages in Romania and our lodging place for the next 3 nights.

Day 3: Sfânta Elena - Coronini - Ostrov Island Tour - Ladislau Citadel - Sfânta Elena
This day we will be taking a boat trip with the Iron Gates Natural Park rangers to Ostrov Island reserve. Before reaching the island we will pass Babacaia cliff and learn about its legend as we move on towards Ostrov island. Once there we will take an island tour on "Attila's trail" scenic path. This trail also passes several hotspots for bird watching as the island is home to 72 bird species, out of which 28 are included in EU's directive for the conservation of wild birds, so make sure you bring along your cameras. One of the most iconic sights here is that of the wild horses that live freely on the island's marshy grounds. The trail shouldn't take more than 3 hours to walk across plus an extra hour for the photo sessions. One the way back to Coronini we will pass the Game of Thrones backdrop scene of Golubac fortress on the Serbian river bank. We end our day with a hike to the ruins of the 15th century citadel of Saint Ladislau on a hill overlooking the Danube just outside of Coronini. From here there's and easy one-hour walk to Sfânta Elena.

Day 4: Sfânta Elena - Liborajdea - Martinovăț - Gîrnic - Sfînta Elena
Day four takes us on a 35 km loop in the eastern part of Locvei Mts. This is actually a limestone plateau around 400-600 m of altitude, dotted with sinkholes and caves at its edges. We start by descending to the road bordering the Danube and then head downstream for about 9 km where we meet the road heading north towards Gârnic. During this stretch of the road we stop to visit two caves: Gaura cu Muscă and Gaura Chindiei II. These are short caves that do not require any special equipment except for a source of artificial light. Gaura cu Muscă cave was used as a defensive point in the medieval age when cannons were installed in the window overlooking the Danube. It also contains some speleothemes such as montmilch, odontolites and stalactites as well as two bat colonies. Gaura Chindiei II cave is very short (18 m) but impresses through the rich cave paintings some of which date from the Neolithic age. At the mouth of the small Vrela stream we turn left on a forest road that takes us through the small hamlets of Liborajdea, Martinovăț and Curmătura and up to Gârnic, another one of the six czech villages and the largest one of them. From Gârnic we continue our loop to Sfânta Elena with a climb of about 3 km followed by a very beautiful descent of about 10 km back to our destination. On this last stretch we also stop for a visit to Valea Ceuca cave and the natural arch located close to it.

Day 5: Sfânta Elena - Gornea - Sichevița - Brestelnic - Liubcova - Berzasca
We begin with some easy riding along the Danube for about 20 km from Coronini to the road taking us north to Gornea and then Sichevița. In Gornea we make a short stop to visit the small Village Museum Ion Dragomir with two rooms presenting archaeological finds from the settlement and ethnographic items from the area. Sichevița is the next village where we can admire 10 water mills that are classified as monuments of folk art. The next 10 km we ride on country roads, among fields and meadows to the small hamlet of Brestelnic and back on the Danube's sunny shores at Liubcova. From here there's a short ride to Berzasca our final point of the day.

Day 6: Berzasca - Poiana Debeliliug - Bigăr - Cozla - Drencova - Berzasca
Our objectives for the day, Zamonița cave, the village of Bigăr and the waterfalls on Sirinea stream, take us on a pleasant ride on gravel roads in the shadow of the ancient oak forests of Almăjului Mts. The day kicks off with a meandering ride along the Berzasca stream from its confluence with the Danube for about 15 km up to Zamonița cave. The cave, although quite short at 64 m in length impresses through the beauty of its interior. Next we are headed to Bigăr, the czech village situated on top of the limestone plateau between the streams of Berzasca and Sirinea, where we can visit the museum of naive painter Josef Řehák (1920-1921) in his house No. 91 . From here we descend on to Sirinea valley and its waterfalls (Pișătoarea, Bobot and Jgheab), which we will use to get back towards the Danube. We end the day with some easy riding on tarmac back to our lodging in Berzasca.

Day 7: Berzasca - Trescovăț - Șvinița
The day is mostly dedicated to hiking up the Trescovăț volcanic neck for one of the most awesome panoramas of the Danube in its lower reaches. We start with a short, 13 km ride to get ourselves heated up for the coming climb to the peak of Trescovăț. The trail to the peak and back down on its other side will take around 7 hours to complete, and it will give us the opportunity to fully enjoy the ancient oak forests, amazing views from several points on our way and also the protected land turtles found here in large numbers. Once our trek is finished we head to Șvinița on an easy descending ride for another 10 km.

Day 8: Șvinița - Trikule - Ponicova - Ciucaru Mare - Dubova
The day is a combination of easy bike riding and short but surprisingly interesting hikes. We start on our bikes and easily ride down the Danube to Tricule Citadel, of which only the top of the towers can be seen in the Iron Gates lake's waters. After Tricule we move on towards Dubova and as we approach the village, after a short climb we reach Ponicova valley where we will leave the bikes and head out on foot downstream, through a small gorge and to the entrance to Ponicova cave. Besides the beautiful galleries, the cave has another interesting particularity as its other entrance is right at the Danube's level and you can exit through the cave straight into the mighty river's waters. From Ponicova valley in a few minutes we arrive at the entrance to the itinerary taking us up Ciucaru Mare peak, a huge limestone cliff face overlooking the narrowest part of the Danube Gorges - Cazanele Mari. After spending some time on the top of Ciucaru Mare we return to the road and head down to the small village of Dubova where we will spend the next three nights.

Day 9: Dubova - Baia Nouă - Eibenthal - Dubova
This will be our last mountain biking day on forest roads in Almăjului Mts. We start on gravel and then forest roads, climbing up from Dubova (100 m) to a maximum altitude of almost 800 m as we cycle our way through the cool forests to the mining villages of Baia Nouă and Eibenthal. Here we will make a short incursion in the history of these places and into the Czech cuisine as we will stop for lunch in Eibenthal, at a very nice pub recently opened here. From here we head to the Danube and back to Dubova to close our nearly 50 km loop for the day.

Day 10: Ciucaru Mic and Dubova bay - Mraconia bay
The only day without cycling takes us on a hiking trip to the peak of Ciucaru Mic, where we have a great panorama over Dubova Bay and the Danube's exit from Cazanele Mari. During the day we will also take a boat trip to Mraconia bay where king Decebal's statues overlooks the Danube waters and to Veterani cave, which you can only enter from the Danube.

Day 11: Dubova - Eșelnița - Orșova - Băile Herculane
We move on along the Danube from Dubova to Eșelnița, passing Mraconia monastery and Decebal's sculpture. From Eșelnița the road leaves the Danube bank and goes northwards uphill only to descend on its other side in the town of Orșova. The town was relocated once the Iron Gates dam was built, as the old town now lies under the lake's waters. After visiting the town and the well-known Saint Anne Monastery we leave the Danube and head North to the small spa resort of Băile Herculane for our last night of the trip.

Day 12: Farewell
Photo sharing sessions, delicious breakfast and see you next time.

Tour Pricing:
Prices start with 750 EUR/pers. and they have a 25 EUR/pers. discount for group bookings (for example if you book for 2 persons the price will be 725 EUR/pers.; if you book for 5 persons the pricewill be 650 EUR/pers. etc.)

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The tour price includes return airport transfer (from Timisoara, Oradea, Sibiu and Cluj-Napoca) to the tour location, any National Park fees required, all accommodation fees and guiding fees. MTB cycle hire and boat trip fees included in the tour price. For Budapest and Belgrade airport transfers 20 EUR/pers. return transfer is charged extra. The price does not include flights, visas and travel insurance.