STAFF / EUROPE / Historic/Museums

Riding The Carpathian Forest Steam Train

By staff writer Estrella Azul. Photos Copyright © Estrella Azul.

SOMETHING YOU HAVE to know, right off the bat, is that I do not do well with waking up early. I feel it’s flat out mean to put me through that. However, this particular trip was worth waking up to the sun being on the wrong side of the sky.

When visiting northern Romania it’s easy to plan a short stay near Vişeu de Sus, so that the Mocăniţa—the forestry heritage railway—is more accessible. We natives, on the other hand, had to wake up at 4 a.m. so we could leave our house in Cluj-Napoca and drive 4-5 hours to Vaser Valley in time to purchase our tickets.

The Carpathian Forest Steam Train, otherwise known as Vaser Valley Railway (which I am proud to see on the list of heritage railways), runs on a narrow-gauge railway. From spring until autumn, three tourist trains leave the station several mornings a week, half an hour apart.

Carpathina-Steam-Train-Vaser -Valley

Vaser Valley

We managed to get tickets for the first train, leaving at 9:00 a.m., with enough time in hand to take pictures of the station and the rest of the trains and wood-burning steam locomotives. Our train’s locomotive was the Elveţia (Romanian for Switzerland), a loco built in 1954.

It was such fun to read each locomotive’s info and see how the oldest one still in service, the Măriuţa, was built in 1921. As the conductor told us, today the Vaser Valley Railway is the last forest railway in Europe which still operates for (limited) timber production. Also, with no other means for transportation through the valley, villagers there have actual cars that run on the tracks.


Steam trains and some cars on the tracks in the stations

The (in total) nearly six-hour long steam train ride wonderfully recreated scenes of the past, and with no cell phone reception it was almost like a trip back in time. The train followed the Vaser and Vişeu rivers’ many curves, twists and turns, leading us through Vaser Valley, a romantic and wild valley near the Ukraine border.

We passed through a few small villages, by old caves used as field hospitals and ammunition depots, and through a traditional carved wooden Maramureş Gate. The right to build monumental wooden gates at the entrance of a household was a mark of the social position of the inhabitants of Maramureş. They are, to this day, a lovely sight for visitors.


Following the river

Vaser Valley is part of the Maramureş Mountains Nature Park and is under European protection, and it filled my heart with joy and hope to see pine plantations along the tracks. Because of this protection, these “baby pines” will later be planted to replace the pines cut for timber production.

What also struck me was how clean the water was. I’ve never seen rivers with such clear, blue waters. The meeting point of the two rivers was actually visible: the Vişeu River’s water was muddier than Vaser River’s.


Our train making its way through Vaser Valley

The steam train stopped for an hour and a half in the middle of the wild, wonderful valley, at Păltin Station. This station is as far as the tourist steam trains will go. We decided to follow the tracks and go explore the surroundings. The view was as picturesque as it was during the train ride. Tall pine trees stood proudly lining the forest and the sun-drenched valley; the river’s flowing filled the air with its live white noise sound effect.


Exploring the valley by foot

By the time we arrived back at the station, the other two steam trains had caught up to ours. We had about twenty minutes to spare before out train headed back, which gave me the perfect opportunity to take more pictures of the steam trains and leave a love letter behind in one of the other wagons.

The railway is so narrow the trains have no way of turning around, so only the locomotives turn. That makes what was the last wagon on the way to the valley, the first wagon behind the locomotive on the way back to the station. This was a wonderful opportunity to experience the trip “backwards” so to say, and to take some lovely pictures of the whole train.


Nearly the whole train

As I wrote to my love letter’s recipient: this amazing steam train ride reminded me of the Hogwarts Express in my favorite book series, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. It reminded me of times past and of how there is magic in everything—in every thought, every act, every feeling and every moment.

There is magic in every train ride. But this one, a steam train ride, seemed even a little more magical than the rest.


Estrella in the Greek Amphitheatre ruins,
Taormina, Sicily

Estrella Azul is a young emerging writer, passionate about reading, floral art and photography, with an artistic personality and a soulful outlook on life. She is a Hungarian girl living and writing from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the capital of historical region Transylvania. Estrella is our European correspondent, and she dreams of embarking on a round-the-world trip. To read more of her creative writing, her thoughts and daily happenings, visit Life’s a stage – WebBlog©. Read more of her stories on Milliver’s Travels by visiting Estrella’s story index.

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  1. Pingback: More than just a train ride | Life's a stage – WebBlog

  2. Pingback: More than just a train ride | Life's a stage – WebBlog

  3. Well written article and beautiful pictures! Even the idea of a magical train ride like this is great…. wish I could go. It is nice to read about things like this still being around and not just the chaos of what can be everyday life.

    • Thank you, Mark!
      Your last observation is exactly what made me love this place and train ride so much. An escape from the chaos that everyday life can be.

  4. Steam trains do have a way of taking you back in time, don’t they?

    Your pictures are lovely and your article brings Romania’s beautiful wilderness to people like me who may never get to experience it in person. To me nature is magical, and places untouched by progress give a small taste of what it must have been like before it all.
    Thank you.

  5. Judith Shaw says:

    How I wish I’d been on that train with you. Your photos are lovely, and the writing brought your entire day to life. The Youtube video of the gates was very special. I’m working on my husband to visit Romania on one of our European ventures, and the railway would be a perfect outing.

    You have a real knack for travel writing. I enjoyed every word.

    • There were so many tourists, wish you could’ve been one of them when I visited. I have a feeling your husband will also like this outing, the conductors are really nice and will give you all sorts of mechanical info if he’s into that 😉

      Thank you for the compliments, I do enjoy travel writing a lot!

  6. I agree that there really is magic in every train ride — it’s one of my favorite modes of transportation. That said, I’ve never gone on a long steam train ride, and now after reading this want to even more! Lovely photos and a beautiful romantic story to go along. Thank you for taking me with you on this journey!

    • How fun that I sent you to read it and train rides are your favorite. You would love the steam train ride, there’s really no better train ride, in my opinion 🙂
      Thank you for leaving a comment, Julia, and for coming with me on the journey!

  7. Your pictures are so great, Estrella — I always feel as if I am there with you riding along viewing all the scenery as it passes.

    I can’t believe how much it looks like Pennsylvania, so green an picturesque.

    Looks like it was worth getting up that early for 🙂

    • That is such a nice compliment, Cathie, thank you!
      It makes me so happy that you felt as if riding along with me viewing the lovely scenery.

      Looks like Pennsylvania? Maybe it’s something to do with the name as this is in Transylvania 😉 (Silvic means forest, so that’s probably why?)

      Yes, I may not say it again despite the written admission in the first paragraph, but it really was worth waking up so early for.

  8. I love steam trains! Looks like you got the best deal on scenery though.
    Did enjoy your opening your opening paragraph, made me chuckle 🙂
    Thanks for sharing Estrella.

    • 🙂 I love them too, Jo. And yes, amazing scenery all around us that I am so, so happy to have caught on camera.

      Thanks for enjoying, I love the opening line myself 😉

  9. I seriously had no clue there was such a beautiful train tour through this area of the country. Your pictures make me feel like I was there and weren’t just of the outside view but views of the train, the wood storage and things that really got you “inside” the trip. This looked like a fantastic trip and served me well as I’m now dreaming of going on the Carpathian Forest steam train in the future.

    • I hope you will get to travel here and with the steam train, as it was truly an amazing trip. Thank you for letting me know you’ve enjoyed the ride through my article and photos – it means a lot to see I managed to transfer the magic!

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