In May and June, 2019, we cycled the Eurovelo 6 (EV6) across Romania from Constanta to Serbia. We being me, my partner and our 16-month old child. We had folding bikes, a Croozer Kid+ baby trailer and a Radical Designs Chubby gear trailer. Following are some general thoughts and tips from our trip.
DOGS – there is lots of worry about dogs on forums and from potential tourers, but we didn’t really have any major problems. Many are very protective of their territory and will bark; some will chase you at a distance and a very few will come quite close and be pretty fierce, but we never had any experiences where we felt they would actually bite. Some French cyclists told us that the Romanian government had a culling program of the wild, dangerous dogs a few years ago, which was why the dog problem wasn’t like it used to be.
ACCOMMODATION – in most parts accommodation is fairly sparse and we spent a fair bit of time planning coming days, trying to find out what was available coming up. But there’s much more than you will find online; sites like booking.com have very poor coverage and many places don’t have an online presence at all.
Camping is legal in Romania and we heard differing views on its safety – there weren’t suggestions of physical harm, but many Romanians thought we could be at risk of theft, though that could also be because they hadn’t ever camped themselves. We met some cyclists who’d camped either sometimes or exclusively and not had any problems. The biggest issue is where? Many stretches are cropland with even side tracks rare, so just finding somewhere to pitch a tent could be difficult. They are certainly not scenic, so if you want anything beyond just a place to sleep, camping might not be the best option. As far as paid campgrounds go, we only came across any in the far west – we stayed at one just west of Eselnita (about 30km west of Drobeta-Turnu Severin) which was basic but really nice (Camping Mala).
We found Romanians in general very nice and willing to help – on more than one occasion when we asked around about accommodation people took it upon themselves to ring around and find options for us. On one occasion the owner of a pizza place arranged for us to stay that night at his grandparents, on another we camped in the front yard of a shop.
If you are flexible and willing to ask around you should find something most of the time, even if that is on someone’s floor. We heard from others that directly asking at the little grocery stores that proliferate (Magazin mixt or Magazin general) if they could rent a room out for the night was a successful strategy.
In terms of paid accommodation, the general rate at a pension/guesthouse (pensiune) was around 120 lei (about A$40 / €25) for a double/twin room, though this varies a bit in each direction – we found some places as cheap as 80 lei and nicer hotels were more like 150 – 200 lei.
Generally, the rooms were clean and well-kept, usually, but not always, there was a fridge and often there was a kitchen, often very well appointed, for guests to use. On rare occasions there was a washing machine or they’d let you use theirs on request, but usually we did hand-washing in the bathroom. It was reasonably common for places to have an attached basic restaurant or to provide breakfast as an extra. A few places had breakfast included in the price.
SUPPLIES – almost every little place has a small shop or three, called Magazin mixt or Magazin general or similar. These almost always have hot coffee, they always have beer and usually a modest selection of fruit and vegetables as well as basic groceries, but sometimes they might be out of things like bread or milk, though there’s usually good quality plain yoghurt. So it’s always a good idea to have some food and water with you, in case there’s not much at the next place you come to. The fruit and veggies, though limited, are mostly local and good quality – we always got lovely tomatoes! The bread is generally awful – white, dry and crumbly and goes stale very quickly.
As far as prepared food goes, there are long stretches where you won’t find eateries of any kind. Pizzeria are fairly common and the pizza is usually good to very good, but they rarely have more than just pizza; restaurants of any type are generally very rare outside of larger towns.
VILLAGE CHARACTERISTICS – apart from the small grocery shops, some places have little supermarkets, generally the Profi chain, which have a better range. The Magazins will generally have one or more defeated prematurely aged men sitting out the front quietly drinking beer from early morning on.
Almost every village and town will have a kids playground of some sort and often these are a reasonable place to stop for a picnic.
There will also be a Primaria building (local government, what in Australia we’d call the Council), which is usually very well kept and sometimes has a small park in front where you can have a picnic. We generally found these good places to ask for information and advice.
LANGUAGE – we found that few people spoke English. You might have more luck with Italian and Spanish given the huge numbers of Romanians who have worked in Italy and Spain. We learnt some basic Romanian and found it invaluable, not just for practicalities but for breaking the ice – though having a toddler was also a massive bonus as it’s a very kid-friendly culture. We used the Pimsleur audio lessons which, though expensive, are fantastic for giving you basic speaking and comprehension skills with good pronunciation – I would strongly recommend investing in them, or at least making a serious effort to gain some basic language skills, it will make your trip so much better.
TRAFFIC – despite what most people said, we found traffic to be excellent. Romanian roads have a large variety of users, including horse-drawn vehicles, so I think the average driver is used to reacting to varying situations. Driving behaviour is often appallingly risky, for instance overtaking around blind corners, but I very rarely found it deliberately dangerous or aggressive in the way that it is in Australia. That said, we had trailers, with safety flags, side reflectors and mirrors and rode well out in the lane. This is not the place for a long discussion on safe riding techniques, but I would strongly recommend taking the lane – we found drivers responded to that well, like any other obstacle, and slowed right down until it was safe to pass. Sticking right to the side just sends a signal that there’s room to squeeze by and encourages risky drivers to take a risk.
THEFT/CRIME – we generally found Romania very safe and were repeatedly assured by people that we didn’t need to worry about theft from accommodation or when parked at shops or restaurants. However we encountered a shocking level of racist attitudes towards Roma / Gypsies, with people routinely warning us that they were thieves and tricksters and generally not to be trusted. With attitudes like that and the marginalisation those people are subjected to it would be understandable if there were higher numbers of people who resorted to petty crime to get by. We ourselves didn’t have any bad experiences whatsoever.
THE ROUTE – the route is mainly along through roads, though generally with very light traffic. It is rarely close to the Danube and for many sections it’s rarely even within sight of the river. I was expecting for some reason to be travelling next to the river, always within sight, but it often just felt like a ride along country roads with the odd glimpse of the huge river in the distance.
The route could be roughly divided into three sections – the Dobruja region (i.e. the greater delta region to where the Danube forms the border with Bulgaria at Silarasi / Calarasi); between Calarasi and the Iron Gates (a little east of Drobeta-Turnu Severin); and from the Iron Gates to the Serbian border.
Dobruja is pretty hilly, much more so than I’d anticipated. We were also at the beginning of the trip, so not cycle-fit yet, so that probably played a part in our perceptions, but be prepared for some effort. We followed the Danube from Constanta north through the Delta and then south to Ion Corvin. I believe the shortcut route from Ion Corvin to Constanta is also pretty hilly.
From the Iron Gates to Serbia there are sections that are somewhat hilly, with the odd steep hill, but it’s generally fairly flat – the scenery from a little east of Drobeta is lovely and the main Iron Gates section is stunning.
Between Dobruja and the Iron Gates it’s largely, though not exclusively, fairly flat, with large expanses of cropland to ride through. You are often well away from the river.
An important area to be aware of is the 30km stretch west of Drobeta-Turnu Severin to Orsova. This is part of the E70, a major east-west European transport route and heavily trafficked. This stretch is narrow, with little or no shoulder, mostly single lane in each direction and generally has a reputation as very unpleasant for cyclists. There is at least one train a day between the Drobeta and Orsova and though they don’t officially allow bicycles I got the feeling that in practice you’d get away with it. The map also shows a detour on a very quiet road, but with a very big climb. Our warmshowers host in Drobeta insisted we not ride that section with a child and gave us a lift in his car – and it did look pretty tough going. I think this section is one of the major reasons people choose the Serbian side of the river here. After Orsova the road is far quieter and safer and about 25km on is in very good condition and with very light traffic – and no tunnels, of which there are a great abundance on the Serbian side.
SUMMARY – all in all we loved Romania and the people and had a great time. The route itself was a little disappointing in that it was mostly on roads and often far from the river. Much of the scenery is pretty cropland rather than stunning and some people might find it monotonous after a while.