As a Romanian, I like to brag to foreigners about the beautiful things my country has to offer and one might expect that, when you start traveling, you start in your own “back-yard”, but I admit, shamefully, that I did not get the chance to visit the Danube Delta, located, mostly, on Romanian territory. Until now, that is. And, believe me when I say that I did not expect for it to become a place where I definitely want to come again. Here’s how to spend a week-end in the Danube Delta, starting from… well, the start 🙂
When you begin to plan for a visit to the Danube Delta, you might want to consider a larger period of time. I had 4 days to spend in the delta and I felt I only got to see less than a quarter of what needed to be seen.
Since many of the trips that you will make in the delta are by boat, choose a period of sun and warm weather, as boats are not allowed to sail the delta canals during rain or wind. And, trust me, it is a pity if you do not get to see how sweet water Danube joins salty water Black Sea, in a beautiful combination of different shades of blues and greens – which, by the way, I did not get to see IRL, as it was extremely windy on the day we planned for this particular trip and I only got to see it in a picture of our guide :(.
I started my trip on a Friday afternoon, after an entire day of meetings in the office. You can set out to the delta from Bucharest (our small, though mighty airport welcomes airplanes from many, many locations – no idea how many, but it sure feels like a lot when I check the arrivals lists 🙂 ).
If you absolutely love to drive, like I do, you will be happy to note that you have mostly national roads to drive on (it’s about 400 km to the delta, out of which you get to drive on a highway for only 100 of them!).
The advantage is that you can stop and take pictures of the amazing scenery of the Baragan fields (a part of Romania that haunted me as I was a high-schooler, since there is a lot of literature on the subject that I needed to read 🙂 ).
My advice is to set out to drive in late afternoon – you will catch the sun setting behind those small hills – despite the fact that you will get to the delta a bit later in the evening (no worries, you will have time to see it in day light in the next days 😀 ).
My accommodation was in Murighiol – this is, so to say, “the final frontier” of land. Most of the other settlements in the delta are reachable only by boat.
My guest house was called “At the quiet willow” (in Romanian, La Salcia Linistita). Must admit, the willow was anything but quiet, since there were a lot of tourists staying here, but it was an enjoyable place, with good food and, most of all, good coffee. It had a really nice patio, with tables, willows (of course!) and some chaise-longues, where I enjoyed my coffee each of the mornings that I spent there.
We were able to create our own schedule, so, in the first day there, after a very looong morning coffee, we got in our cars and travelled to the nearby villages. Most of the local people in this area are boatmen and fishermen, so you have to make sure that you have enough time to listen to their stories. They are stories about history, traditions, goals and dreams – I can assure you that you will not want to leave them so soon behind, as you will most likely hear genuine life stories. Most of the houses are painted bright blue, bringing put the true connection between the local people and the sea, a connection that can never be broken (if you are to believe the stories :D)
Upon our return, we ate in the guest house’s restaurant and we were served a traditional dish, called “icre” in Romanian (“icre” are the fish’s eggs– no idea how they are called in English 🙂 ). I ate so many of these, in addition to all the fish dishes that you can think off, during these days, that it’s a wonder I did not grow gills (!!). The food in the Danube Delta is (who would’ve guessed!) based on fish – the locals know how to cook fish in so many ways that, at one point, you do not realize you are eating fish anymore. One practical advice: never tell a local you are not hungry and never refuse food. They might not consider it a big offence, but they will look at you differently, for sure! We, Romanian, usually serve fish with polenta (if you haven’t heard of it by know, you literally lived for nothing!), so all dishes automatically have a side of polenta.
After its trip throughout Europe, the Danube flows into the Black Sea, through 3 branches – Chilia, Sulina and Saint George. The delta is formed around these branches and all of them are open to navigation.
Depending on your location, you can learn more about each part of the delta – you will, for sure, find tour guides, willing to take you on boat rides, in every corner of the delta and with an entire arsenal of stories to tell during those boat rides.
Because we were close to land, we got to navigate on the Saint George branch that is the most southern branch. Our boat trip took about 4 hours and led us from Murighiol to the middle of the Danube Delta biosphere, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Due to the many varieties of birds and fish, this is a heaven for bird watchers and fishermen, especially in the summer. Such types of birds include gulls, pelicans, wild ducks and cormorants. The fishermen make their living catching catfish, perch, pike or carp (apparently, I was actually paying attention to what Gabi, our tour guide was saying! ). Along the banks of the canals that form out of the main St. George branch, you can see fishermen’s nets and wooden watchtowers.
Also, you can admire the beauty of the white and yellow water lilies, which are species protected by law – since I am not a connoisseur, I can only suggest that, if you are interested in this kind of things, the delta is a perfect place to visit, to enhance your knowledge. All I know is that I enjoyed immensely the boat ride through the water lilies and seeing what strong plants they are, despite their fragile exterior.
As we were heading back to the mainland, we passed through the fishermen’s village of Uzlina – actually, the village has only one inhabitant, Mr. Michea (“nea Michea”, in Romanian), who is 84 years old. Back in the ’70s, the fishermen moved to the mainland villages, as requested by the communist regime.
Only nea Michea came back, after the regime fell (told you the people here are more than happy to share their life stories with you!). Today, the others inhabitants of the village are the seasoned travelers, who have built vacation homes on the portions of land that are part of Uzlina. The village is entirely reachable by water, so if you do not have a boat, I feel sorry for you.
Remember I told you, you cannot sail on wind – I found that out during our last day in the delta, as it was too windy for any boat trip. We did, however, visited some archaeological sites, filled with history and knowledge, from around the village of Jurilovca, which is also a fishermen’s village (they have a lot of these around here, go figure!), on the shore of lake Razim – another beautiful natural habitat for many species of flora and fauna.
Just before Jurilovca, as you travel from Murighiol, you can visit the medieval fortress of Enisala, which has been strategically placed and historically recognized, as early as the 13th century. The ruins are now a touristic attraction and are perfect for a family trip.
Jurilovca’s surroundings also include the ruins of the ancient citadel (castra) of Argamum. If you are willing to take a short walk up the hill, the view and the ruins are worth the trip. For those of you who enjoy ancient history, it is a very interesting experience, as the legend says that the Argonauts took shelter here, after having taken back the golden fleece.
I left the Danube Delta with an inkling to come back. My next trip will take me even further inside the delta, by boat and I am excited to experience even more the traditions, the way of life of the locals and to gather even more knowledge on this extraordinary place. As the sun was setting behind me, I could not help but feel proud of my beautiful country.