Valcea County

Valcea County

Author: Simona Bejenariu

Valcea county lies in sourthern Romania, in the historical province of Oltenia, with mountains (the Meridional Carpathians) and hills (the Sub-Carpathians) dominating its geography. Although well known as a tourist destination for several of its balneary resorts along the river Olt (Olanesti, Calimanesti, Caciulata) and for some of the most widely recognized symbols of the Romanian folk crafts (the Horezu pottery), Valcea county is still mostly an undiscovered touristic jewel of Romania. Wandering in Valcea county, you will be overwhelmed of the energetic ”valceni” (people of Valcea county), who, as the saying goes for all ”olteni” (people of the historical province of Oltenia), are talkative, friendly and helpful all in the superlative. However, perhaps the highlands in which they live have tempered their southern spirit a little and made them hard working and organized, with a deep respect for tradition and values. Wherever you go in Valcea you will find astonishing, unspoilt nature and a deep sense of peacefulness, coming from the traditions which you see alive everywhere and the friendly spirit of the people. Below you’ll find several less known destinations and ”to do”s in Valcea county to serve as a welcoming invitation to this beautiful land.


Arts and crafts


Horezu is one of the most well known villages not only in Valcea, but in Romania. With a long history dating back to the 9th century, Horezu is now a small town recognized for the traditional craft of clay pottery, which makes it one of the most visited touristic destinations in Romania -which is why you will probably find it in most (if not all) tourist guides about Romania and Oltenia. However, if you get to Horezu you must make sure to wonder in the less known neighboring villages, which, away from the tourist hustle, preserve much more of the authentic way of life and of doing crafts. Olari, an UNESCO World Heritage site, much less known than Horezu, is a great example. You reach Olari following a winding road which offers breathtaking views of the hills of Valcea; there, the folkmen of Olari welcome you in their yards, where they work the magnificent pottery and make their livelihood, raising animals and cultivating gardens. There is no sense of commercialism: the craftsmen do not have shops and do not run businesses, they sell directly their and theirs family’s work. These are kind people who sense the importance of their work, and pass it on to their children, who, despite working in big cities or studying at university in the country’s capital, come home over the holidays to work the clay, just as their fathers. “This is my daughter’s, she made this last winter. She’s an officer with the Romanian Army, but she still does pottery. She likes it. I don’t have her patience, look at these lines!”.


Source: own collection

Weaving of natural silk

Cristina Niculescu of Stoenesti, a very small village in the hills near Ramnicu-Valcea, is the only natural silk producer in Romania. She and her family grow, in their own garden, the silk worms, which then they process to obtain “borangic”, the natural silk thread. Cristina then weaves it using traditional techniques on wooden looms to obtain the natural silk fabric. As this entire process is not enough, she and her family then create beautiful, hand sown “ii”, the traditional Romanian celebration blouses. I visited her home in a Sunday afternoon, without knowing her beforehand and in no capacity whosoever other than an interested and curious tourist. Friendly as all valceni, she opened her work-shop and showed us the processes involved, from the silk worm cocoon to the final, exquisite ii. We have even seen the loom functioning, and understood the endless patience required to weave the delicate patterns on the fabric. Of course, I could not let myself leave without a ie, and the offer was plentiful!

Cristina Niculescu is now involved the “Borangic” project, an ambitions multi-disciplinary collective work of graphic designers, architects, fashion designers and film-makers which aims to promote in a novel way the traditional Romanian craft and and the Romanian natural silk ( However, it all starts in the yard in a small village surrounded by hills, where she will welcome curious travelers and show them a glimpse of this ancient craft of weaving.


Source: own collection

Folk traditions– “Festivalul Cantecele Oltului”

Each summer, Caciulata resort hosts a folk festival, “The Songs of the River Olt”, showing local traditions, folk dances and national costumes from counties in which Olt, one of the major rivers in Romania, flows through. It is not surprising to encounter a folk festival in summer days passing through Romania, as traditions, for most part, are generally well kept and such festivals are very popular among the locals. But meeting a group  of women and girls from Barbatesti village in Valcea, who, without being professional folk artists, designed a program for this festival showing wedding tradition from their village, gave me the impression that traditions here are kept because of a deeply rooted belief that traditions and customs are not devoid of meaning, that they are not just a duty to be carried on.  They wore their own authentic clothes, prepared weeks in advance, and had genuine emotions before performing! So if you ever pass by one of these festivals in Romania, stop for a minute and admire the performances, there are genuine traditions there! As for the “The Songs of the River Olt”, it’s a wonderful display of costumes, traditions and joy!


Source: own collection




Valcea, as all Romania, is a deeply spiritual land, and marks of that are found throughout the county, with monasteries big and small, by the waterside and in the forests.

Hurezi Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is said to be one of the most beautiful monasteries in Romania. Built in 1690, it is a masterpiece of the only original Romanian architectural style, “Brancovenesc style”; incidentally, the monastery was established by Constantin Bancoveanu himself, who also gave the name of the well known architectural style in which the monastery is built. Although a major touristic attraction, the serenity which the monastery conveys is overwhelming. Its depictions of hell and sinners on the outer front wall is one of the most surprising clergy paintings. This is certainly a place not to miss in Valcea county.


Source: own collection

Cozia Monastery, on the banks of the river Olt in an impressive natural setting, is perhaps one of the most well known monasteries in Wallachia. Established in 1388 by Mircea cel Batran, a grand historical figure in the Romanian history, the Monastery attracts tens of thousands of visitors. Such a landmark cannot be missed, but it requires a careful eye to see the true beauty and spirituality of the place, which are plentifully there, and not be carried away by the agitation and mundanity created by the fellow tourists.


Source: own collection

In contrast to these two touristic landmarks, deep in the forests of Valcea, reached by following a narrow road towards the village of Francesti, there lies the “Dintr-un Lemn” Monastery (The Monastery of One Wood). Secluded from civilization, this Monastery, like no other I have ever seen, gives out a feeling of warmth and Christian embrace. The peace and communion with nature is embodied by the old church up a small hill, said to have been carved out from the single trunk of an oak tree by a monk who found a miracle-working icon of Virgin Mary in that oak trunk. The icon, 1.5×1 m large is still in the main church of the monastery complex.


Source: wikimedia commons

The fortified houses (cule) from Maldaresti

In the rural settlement of Maldatesti you will find a peculiar architectural site: fortified noblemen houses are in contrast and in the same time in perfect harmony with the surrounding wooden houses of the folk-men. The fortified houses in the village of Maldaresti, close to Horezu, were build by local noblemen starting with the XVI century to defend themselves against both internal and external threats. In those times of hardship, “haiducii”, the Romanian version of Robin Hoods, were raiding rich local lords to give to the poor and hiding in the woods. In the same time, invasions from south of the Danube were common in Oltenia. Facing threats to their wealth and lives, the local lords build fortified houses resembling towers, or very small provincial castles. The Greceanu “cula” is one of the oldest and most solid of the fortified houses, built in 1516. Visiting the Museum, you will be impressed not only by the fascinating stories of the fighting it withstood, but also by the traditional yet elegant interior architecture and decorations, which preserves the style of feudal noble houses.


Source: own collection



Trovantii from Costesti

The trovants are very rare and peculiar geological formations of sediment, referred to as living rocks. They are in fact formations of cemented sand which add layers due to raid and wet sand (and hence appear to grow); due to the spherical nature in which layers are added, they may have empty space between layers which makes them have a strange sound when shaken or even roll unaided. Their dimensions vary from a few centimeters in diameter to 6, and even 10, meters (yes, meters)! Why this phenomena happens in the sand of only one sediment pit in Valcea, at Costesti (in a rather unexpected place by the side of a road between villages), and nowhere else, is still a scientific mystery, presumably having to do with concentrations of certain minerals in the soil. This is indeed a natural curiosity that must be seen in Valcea!



Buila-Vanturarita National Park

In the northern part of Valcea county where the hills turn into mountains lies the Buila-Vanturarita National Park, the smallest and one of the least explored natural reserve parks in Romania. Less traveled by tourists but well known by shepherds with their flock, the mountain hides monastical settlements, such as Schitul Patrunsa, and offers breathtaking views over the Valcea county and the Carpathians Mountains.


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