I fell in love with Breb on a frosty January day. Located in the heart of Maramures and hidden between hills and valleys, the village embodies te image of rural Romania: uncomplicated, delicate, profound. The sight of untouched snow and the strong scent of burning wood took me instantly back in time. For few hours I have been in a tale, one with beautiful nature, hard-working and kind people, people that respect their past, their ancient traditions and live humbly…
The road to Breb
I initially went to Breb because I heard that Prince Charles of Wales owns there some property. Well, I knew about his interest in Romanian culture and tradition, so I had to go and check out.
From Ocna Șugatag, I left Sârbi and Budești (two other beautiful villages) behind and got on the route towards Breb. At some point, the road starts going abruptly down the hill and, by the time I realised that it was rather icy and dangerous, the car was rushing down and there was no way back. Not at that point. While driving, I thought „My mom should never find out about this….”, after countless talks on the phone about how I should NOT travel solo in Romania during winter time.
But then I saw the first courtyards and the first wooden gateway (poarta maramureseana) and everything looked just…. perfect. Through the car windscreen, I had right in front of me the most accurate image of my country: delicate, uncomplicated, profound…
The art of simplicity
I left the car right where the village began, I just felt I would defile the place otherwise. The cold air hit me directly in the heart (there were about – 17° C) and, after overpassing my first instinct to complain, I raised my head and looked around. I was in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
It was exactly the raw beauty that I was craving for. The wooden gates (specific for the area of Maramures) were beautifully aligned on both sides of the alleys and the houses looked like they were made from gingerbread. In each courtyard you could see tools, chopped wood, and stacks of hay, here and there some animals eating quietly.
The modest, but well maintained houses, are all made of wood, something specific for this area. The colourful windows are a stain of coulour that give life to the little constructions.
Breb conquered me by its simplicity. Except for the electricity wires, nothing in this place reminds you of the century we are in. It’s a place where I think the time has stopped, in order to show us, the people that are uprooted, how wonderful it is to have less material things and more spiritual richness.
I realised that Breb is the embodiment of the art of simplicity.
Cold weather, always warm welcome!
In my walk through the little paths of Breb, ocasionally, a cart pulled by horses would pass by and smiling people would wave and take their hats off to salute me. I carefully looked at their faces: their features were hardened by the weather, but their eyes were the clearest eyes I’ve ever seen.
I just felt overwhelmed.
Breb seemed to be hibernating at the beginning. But as I went towards the heart of the village, things started to anymate. I met a lady, dressed all in black with a flower pattern skirt (again, something typical for this area). We instinctively started talking about the village and she became very curious on how did I end up in this place
– Where are you from, young lady?, she asked.
– From the region of Moldova, I replied
– Oooh, you came such a long way to visit us!!! Then you have to come and drink a horincă made by us…. (horinca is a kind of double-distilled plum brandy)
This is how I was welcome in the village Breb. I had to refuse respectfully the horinca (I was driving), but I did go into her courtyard to meet her husband. What impressed me about these people is the spiritual warmth they are emanating and how natural they connect and care about people they simply don’t know.
By the time I left the village and after hearing so many kind voices and seeing so many pairs of friendly eyes, I was literally in tears.
Prince Charles & Breb: myth or reality?!
Some is myth, and some is definitely reality.
When you ask on the street, everyone will guide you to the houses “owned“ by Prince Charles. In reality, these are the property of a foundation (Mihai Eminescu Trust), which did restore two houses in Breb. At the time of the work, the foundation was under the patronage of the Prince of Wales, but himself or the British Crown never actually owned the houses in Breb.
In 2004, Charles of Wales visited Breb and stopped for few hours in the village. The locals are very proud of that and a dozen claimed they have pictures with him. “It is a pity he did not come back since then, it seemed like he enjoyed being here“, said a woman in a disappointing tone.
The crooked little house with blue windows
While I was there, I could not visit the rehabilitated work, but across the street, in a courtyard I spotted a little treasure: a wooden house, crooked and faded, but with such a character. The porch was thoroughly carved with perfect geometrical details. Suddenly, I had this crazy urge, took out my gloves and caressed my hand on the old wood. It was like I had contact with the past and I just wished I knew what was the story of the family that lived in the little crooked house with the blue windows.
The understanding I got is that this house will also be restored soon by the same foundation. But if it is not, still go and see it, it is a little piece of art, a monument of the passing time.
The sunset in Breb
And then made few steps further in the same courtyard and watched how the afternoon sun was transforming the sky into a dusty pink colour. The smell of wood continued to be somewhere in the background of this whole experience. The snow was shining over everything.
I left all equipment aside (camera, bag, selfie stick) for a while and sat down, alone and quiet, in the snow. On my right, the crooked little house with the blue little windows, in front the valey with few houses, on the left, a haystack covered in snow and few lonely trees. Everything was reduced to silence …
Yes, this is what I was looking for: a place to bring me to absolute peace, even if only for few minutes. And I found it, and it did bring what I needed and I feel grateful for all that.
Forgotten by the world, blessed by God
This place seems intentionally forgotten by the world, but for sure not by God. Such a blessed community, I thought. As I went back down the valley towards the car, I took a deep breath, to charge myself with the energy of the place. ”The eternity was born in the village”, said Lucian Blaga, and I just got a taste of that.
What can you do in Bred
- See the old wooden church of Breb (built in 1531)
- Check the reconditioned houses
- Admire the locals dressed in traditional clothing (usually on Sunday or big holidays)
- Visit the new church of the village
- Take a walk on the little paths and simply admire the beauty of the place
- In the summer, you can help the locals with different chores around the house or in the fields.
Where to stay
But I personally preferred to stay in more strategic places and from there take 1-day-roadtrips to different villages or sights. For example, I stayed in Ocna Sugatag at the Guesthouse Marea Alpina and I simply loved it. Breb is 8 km drive from there, about 15 minutes. Actually my hosts told me about this amazing village and this is how I got to see it.
Breb is also reachable from Sighetul Marmatiei (26 km) or from Viseu de Sus (64 km), which are 2 other bigger cities from the area.
Want to learn more about Maramures?
Maramures is one of the most beautiful areas in Romania and, might I add, in Europe. It is known for pitoresque landscape and for preserving the traditions as they were in the past. I travelled in Maramures for about 2 weeks and I did blog and will do some more about what have I discovered (places, traditions, routes, people). Check us out more often!