As I wrote in a previous article, from Bucharest you can easily reach several mountain resorts in the Valea Prahovei area, one of which is the small mountain town of Bușteni. This 18th century settlement is very popular with tourists especially for the beautiful natural setting and the great hiking and sports activities available.
To get to Bușteni, you can use the same means of transport as mentioned in my post about Sinaia (basically, Bușteni is the next train stop after Sinaia). So you can get there by train / buses / personal car, but besides these, Bușteni is also included in many hiking routes in Bucegi mountains area, so it can be reached from several other spots preferred by mountain hikers.
What to see in town
Bușteni may not be as rich in monuments and castles as Sinaia, but it does have a charm of its own, and a few in-town objectives. I adapted this great map of Buşteni created by cartographer Florin Nastasa, to include English translations of the main points of interest:
If you arrive in Buşteni by train, the first thing you will see as you exit the train station is a small square with the statue of a soldier in the middle. This monument is known as „Ultima Grenadă” (The Last Grenade) and it depicts Sergeant Constantin Muşat throwing a grenade towards the enemy lines, using his remaining right arm. Constantin Muşat had lost his left arm during a battle in Soveja (in the context of World War I) and demanded to return to the battlefield instead of being released from duty. He died heroically at Oituz in 1917, while throwing a grenade.
On the right side of the train station, there is a road (Strada Griviţei) where you can spot a sign that reads „Castelul Cantacuzino”. Cantacuzino Castle (on Strada Zamorei Nr.1) is by far the most impressive building and the most interesting tourist attraction in town (you can see it from the train as you enter the station). If you follow Strada Griviţei, past the railway lines, in about 15 minutes you will reach the beautiful castle complex.
The location now hosts various events and exhibits and can even be rented for weddings and other such events. It is also a very interesting museum. To enter the private premises, you must buy a museum ticket or a combined ticket (in case there are other exhibits hosted). In 2016, the basic museum fare was 20 lei and the museum + gallery fare was 45 lei.
Cantacuzino Castle was built in 1911 in neo-Romanian style, as requested by prince Gheorghe Cantacuzino, also known as the Nabab (who also owned the impressive palace in Bucharest now accommodating to the „George Enescu” museum). It seems he picked this gorgeous location for his castle to rival the location of Peleş Castle, as he wanted to prove to everyone he was better than the king (Carol I), whom he despised due to the fact that he was a foreigner. And the location is, indeed, beautiful, so beautiful you could spend hours looking at the mountains covered in mist and the colorful town spreading at their feet.
A legend says Cantacuzino was so eager to prove his wealth, that he wanted to pave the courtyard of his castle with gold coins. To stop him from doing that, king Carol I said that it was fine with him, but if he placed the coins with the monarch’s effigy upwards, it would have meant to walk all over the king, if he placed them with the country’s blazon upwards, it would have meant stepping on your country, and if he placed the coins on their edge, it would mean stepping on the „Nihil sine Deo” (Nothing without God) slogan, which meant stepping all over God and religion. And so, he gave up the bold project, which otherwise would have been possible, even with coins stacked together on their edge, thus big his fortune was.
The castle is surrounded by a park with alleys that take you to several man-made cascades, fountains and caves. The entire surface of the estate is 3148 square meters.
The interior is characterized by Italian ceramics, ceilings decorated with woodwork and/or paintings, Carrara marble stairways with iron or wooden handrails, beautiful fireplaces and stained glass windows. Unfortunately, from 1948 the communist regime took over the castle and most valuable things, furniture, precious books, art objects were taken and probably sold, so now the mansion is almost empty. Still, you can appreciate how shiny and rich it would have looked, especially with an owner that was so proud and wealthy that he must have spared no money to make a point about his status.
Caraiman Monastery (at the end of Strada Palanca) is not a very old religious establishment, it was built just 18 years ago through the efforts of father Gheronţie Puiu, seemingly, after he had a vision of Virgin Mary telling him where to build it: in a place with a fir tree with six branches (the fir tree that is now inside the small polygonal building holding the Holy Water basin), near a running water (you will see a small water course ending in a pond, right near the big church), on a spot from where you can see the great cross (the Caraiman Cross). Although a young monastic complex (two churches and their annexes), it has developed at a fast pace, now offering visitors (besides a place of prayer and pilgrimage in a beautiful setting) hotel rooms, conference, training and sports amenities (talk about being blessed by God!). Their very professional website provides detailed information, images and a virtual tour of the premises. And whether you’re a believer or not, you can’t help but admire the entrepreneurial spirit of these people, as well as the beautiful buildings they have set up.
And speaking of the Caraiman Cross, while walking around Buşteni and admiring the mountains, you will surely notice a cross somewhere on a mountain peak. This is a monument officially known as the Heroes’ Cross on Caraiman Peak and was built between 1926 and 1928, at an altitude of 2,291 m, in honor of the railway heroes who died on duty during World War I. The cross, which is illuminated at night and can be seen from several locations and distances, has been deemed by Guinness World Records the highest cross in the world placed on a mountain peak. You can reach it by foot, by taking one of the most popular hiking tours in the Bucegi mountains, from Buşteni to Valea Jepilor to the Caraiman Cross (about 2 hours or less). But I will give more details about hiking tours from Buşteni in the end of this post.
In town, you can also check out the Aurel Stroe cultural center (right near the town hall), especially the beautiful half-timber building, but also the events inside (the center very often hosts classical concerts, traditional and foreign music and dance events, art exhibitions, etc., and you can just pop inside to take part in these events, for free or for a reasonable entry fee).
Another interesting building, though mostly for Romanians, is the Cezar Petrescu Memorial House (Strada Tudor Vladimirescu nr. 1), a beautiful 1918 building in classical Romanian style, which displays the personal belongings of famous Romanian novelist Cezar Petrescu, who lived in it during 1937 – 1961. Perhaps a foreign visitor might be interested in seeing a traditional Romanian interior, that is still found in many Romanian countryside houses even today.
One of the places I like visiting while in Buşteni is the local cemetery. Not because it holds great artistic monuments, but because it is located basically at the edge of the forest. The very tall fir trees are quite a site and from there you are just steps away from the cable car area. Be careful though, not to come here at night, as the bears often visit the cemetery after dark.
The Buşteni cable car has got to be one of the most frustrating pieces of equipment existing in a mountain town. The facilities and the cable cars themselves have not been modernized in years, which leads to their inability to serve the many tourists eager to get to the Babele station. The problem is that each cable car only holds 25 people, but there are hundreds waiting in line, so getting to Babele can take several hours, instead of just 15 minutes, which is the actual time the cable car needs to get there. So if you want to see Babele or Sfinxul, I recommend being there as early as possible (the cable car starts at 7:30 a.m. in summer and at 8.30 in winter) to make sure you will not wait for 1-2 hours in a long line. The price for a trip is 35 lei (70 lei for a return trip).
But what are Babele („Old Women”) and Sfinxul („The Sphinx”) you ask? Well, scientist say these are rock formations shaped by frost-defrost, rain and wind to look like, well, mushrooms (Babele have been named this way due to their resemblance to a group of old women, but most people agree that they look more like mushrooms), and the Egyptian Sphinx, respectively (this one is closer to the actual thing 🙂 and some believe that it is actually man-made). This article gives you more interesting info about the rock formations in the Bucegi mountains.
A local attraction in winter is the Kalinderu ski slope. There are actually two ski slopes and both benefit from 4-seat chairlifts. Kalinderu Fun Park at the base of the ski slopes provides equipment and space for winter sports such as beginner skiing, tubing, sledding, and is mostly preferred by families with children.
And since I was writing earlier about mountain hiking routes starting from Buşteni, I will give you the most popular ones:
Buşteni – Cascada Urlătoare. This route starts from the cable car area and takes the forest road. It is marked by a red round shape and takes about 1 – 1.5 h, although it might take longer if you stop to admire the nature. It ends at a picturesque cascade, or it can continue to join other marked routes.
Buşteni – Valea Jepilor – Cabana Caraiman – Cabana Babele (Babele, Sfinxul). The route, marked by a blue cross, also starts near the cable car station and takes you through Valea Spumoasă (an area with many cascades), Valea Jepilor (with amazing scenery), Caraiman Cascade and Caraiman Cabin at 2025 m (2 h from Buşteni to the cabin). Here, hikers can rest and have something to eat/drink, then continue towards the Caraiman Cross or towards Babele and Sfinxul. Another resting point is the Babele Cabin (2206 m), from where you can easily reach the cable car station to get back to town, if you are too tired to walk back.
Cabana Babele – Peştera Ialomiţei. You can also take the cable car to the Babele station, and from there, get to Peştera Ialomiţei. This route too is marked by a blue cross, as it is a continuation of the previous one. It takes around 1.5 h and culminates with the beautiful Peştera Ialomiţei (Ialomiţa Cave), where you will also find Mănăstirea Ialomiţei, a monastery founded in the 16th century, built right at the entrance to the cave (the current monastery dates from 1996, as the previous buildings were destroyed by fire several times over the years). The cave was recently modernized using European funds, and visitors (the ones who are not claustrophobic as yours truly) can now safely travel for 400 m inside it.
The area around the cave and monastery is very beautiful and rustic, and there are some accommodation variants allowing tourists and hikers to pass the night in the area, in case they want to complete a larger route in the Bucegi mountains (the area is well connected to Padina, Bolboci Lake and Sinaia, of which I have wrote in my previous post about Sinaia).
From Peştera Ialomiţei you are very close to Bolboci Lake (see my previous post), as well as Cheile Tătarului (Tatar’s Gorges) and Grota Ursului (Bear’s Den). Cheile Tătarului are placed between Bolboci Lake and Padina Plateau and they are crossed by Ialomiţa River. The site is absolutely spectacular, with the majestic rocks opening the view towards Bolboci Lake.
The nearby Grota Ursului is an abandoned tunnel, apparently built in 1905 to somehow serve the forest railroad that was under construction (although very little coherent information exists about it). Digging was abandoned and the tunnel remained only 150 m deep. It seems that, because of the low temperatures inside, visitors are not able to get very far inside it.
Now, I will also tell you about another possibility to see all these amazing places around Buşteni, but this one’s a bit tricky…
As you approach the cable car area, you will stumble onto various characters trying to show you some colorful pictures. They present themselves as tour operators and offer to take you on minibus tours for prices ranging from 120 lei to 80 lei (the closer you get to the cable car station, the cheaper it gets 😀 ). Why do I say this is tricky? Well, for one, I’m not sure all these people are actually authorized to do these tours or that they register their income. So if anything bad happens during the drive, you might not be able to file any complaint… Secondly, they don’t leave unless they have at least 4 people in the car, so you might have to wait around for a while before the tour takes off. Lastly, they won’t give you much information about what you’re seeing, they’re just drivers taking you to interesting spots and waiting for you to check out the area. You can’t count on a fixed schedule either, they’ll basically try to leave before noon and return before sunset. I have tried this twice and had no problems with them, but you should know what to expect before agreeing to this.
This being said, if you ever come to Romania, I hope you do visit the quaint town of Buşteni with its breathtaking mountain views, its chickens in courtyards, its horses grazing quietly and its bears that come at night to search through the garbage cans. Maybe you will also experience standing in line to take the cable car, renting sports equipment that is not in its best shape or eating at a restaurant where the most exquisite thing on the menu is pizza or sausages and fries. I’m not saying it will be a 5-star experience, but I’m sure you’ll like it somehow 🙂