THE WILDEST GORGES IN ROMÂNIA
The “Poiana Gropii” (Hole Meadow) Pothole – the deepest vertical cave in Banat, 235 m
The Caraş Gorges stretch over 19 km, between Caraşova and Comarnic Valley and are part of the Semenic – Caraş Gorges
Although they are not as famous as the Nera Gorges (22 km), the longest and most beautiful in Romania, the Caraş Gorges impress not only by their picturesque aspect and wilderness, but also by the large number of caves and potholes, over 50, through which the karst landscape intertwines with the vegetal carpet. National Park.
At 12 km from Reşiţa, from the Reşiţa – Anina road, above Caraşova, the Caras River has cut a marvellous karst corridor in the limestone, like an uninterrupted succession of steep cliffs, glades, caves, valleys and waterfalls: the Caras Gorges.
Although they are not as famous as the Nera Gorges (22 km), the longest and most beautiful in Romania, the Caraş Gorges still impress not only through their picturesque and wilderness, but also by the large number of caves and avenues, over 50, through which the karst landscape intertwines with the vegetal carpet that reminds of the Mediterranean regions. The Caraş Gorges stretch on a length of 19 km, between Caraşova and Comarnic Valley, and are part of Semenic – Caraş Gorges National Park. They delight the eyes of any visitor in any season, especially in the summer, through the abundance of vegetation and the moss on the riverstones in the riverbed.
A day spent passing through the wildness of these places is worth the effort, and those who just stop out of convenience on the Carasova Bridge do not even know what they are missing.
If they do not climb the gorges, they miss the beauty of the wild landscape, they miss the limestone cliffs with the deepening caves or they miss seeing the crystalline river that “rolls” on a bed of rocks and pebbles and only two meters away, the sparkle of a bluish-green trout shining like silver in the waters.
The proposed starting point is the viaduct over the Caraş River in Caraşova, where the car can be parked in the “Perla Caraşului / Caraş Pearl” guesthouse. From the bridge you can descend down to the water level. The Caraş River, contrary to the other major Banat Rivers that spring from Mount Semenic, has its spring in the Anina Mountains. The Caraş spring is unique in Romania, being especially spectacular grace to its flow. During the 85 km, out of which 74 km situated on the territory of Romania, the aspect of the Caras Valley changes continuously, depending on the crossed relief, the most beautiful part being that between the spring and Carasova.
The entrance into the gorges is done under the archway of the viaduct and starts on the less visible trail on the left bank of the water. The layout of the gorges is very varied and the route has three distinct travel sections (sectors) depending on the difficulty of hiking:
• Carasova – Poiana Prolaz (4.5 km on the trail to the left) – 2 hours of hiking;
• Prolaz – Ţolosu (2 km on trail to the right) – 1 hour of hiking;
• Tolosu Cave – Gura Comarnicului (3,5 km without trail) – 6 hours of hiking.
Moving down the path covered with ivy, the slopes approach and the horizon narrows. The valley is guarded by steep slopes, which end up at 100-200 m, “above the agitated waves of the Caras River with pebbled peaks and scrubs, with strange shapes like the giant rooster-shaped rock near the ruins of the Caraşova fortress.“[Bizera M., 1971]. In summer, the abundant vegetation does not fully allow you to see the peaks of the gorges, while the steps on the trail must be taken carefully like “on a beam”, having the steep slopes of the mountain to the right, and the rapid river waters to the left.
After a series of sharp peaks, at a 20-minute distance from the departure point you reach a small meadow. The smooth ground, covered in grass, surrounded by tall walls and crossed by the creek bed invite the hiker to make a first stop.
Looking up, at 15 m from the river, you can see the opening of the Bats Cave in the rock wall, with its well-known shape that copies the outline of Africa.
The name comes from its inhabitants, the cave being the shelter of thousands of bats, which blacken the sky in the evening when they go out to feed, and during the day they hang on the cliff upside down like heavy gray clusters. Although it is not easy to climb to the cave hole, it is worth visiting, having a unique gallery with a succession of halls, like a 640m long labyrinth.
If you continue the hiking, the Caras Gorge is constantly changing.
The wild slopes of the gorges with vegetation clusters are getting closer and closer. Down, under the ground, you hear the sound of water struggling with the rock. On the corners of the cliffs, rich vegetation is found, containing the most surprising floral species adapted to the ecological conditions of the surroundings.
The beauty of the Caraş Gorges vegetation is formed by the wild lilac trees on the large stone terraces, turning the Caras Gorges into a magical place of fairy tales every May, when blooming. Among the lilac bushes, in more sunny places, other Mediterranean shrubs grow as well, like for example the smoke tree and the manna ash tree.
From place to place, gigantic blocks and limestone gurgles, completely devoided of vegetation, magnify the picturesque of the gorges.
Portions of crawling with a “suspended” trail among the rocks at 5-10 m above the water alternate with broad grassy lawns, such as Walnut Glade.
After a large river bend, the path passes through a narrow forest cut.
“In some places, the forest descends from the top down to the water. It is composed of beech, hornbeam, many maple species, lime and elm, apple, and wild cherry, hawthorn horns, yolk, horn and bloom. “[Bizera M., 1971].
Crossing the cut, on the right bank of Caraş, above the steep wall of rock, 200 m from the water level, the ruins of Caraşova Fortress can be seen. According to a legend of the place, Turkish Aga who passed through these areas during a war, looked at the river from the fortress and kept calling it Kara Su (black water), hence the name of the Caras River. Hikers then reach the largest Caraş’s bend on this sector, where, on the right bank, the vegetation masks the entrance to the Cave under Fortress II. To enter the cave, you must cross the river on an improvised deck.
After two hours of walking, the valley becomes wide, the trail approaches the water, and the most beautiful of clearings opens before the traveller’s eyes, the Prolaz Clearing.
Prolaz is a wonderful place for rest and recreation, in a very pure air, with scented meadows, near clear water and in the midst of natural beauty. The plots of land have begun to be bought by the inhabitants from Timisoara and also by the foreigners who intend to build their own holiday cottages here.
This is where the shepherds from Crasova lead their herds to water, preserving the meaning of the Croatian word “prolazie”, meaning “place to cross”, the Prolaz Clearing being almost in the middle of the Caras Gorges. You can rest in the thick shade, and your thirst can be quenched by a spring with cold and crystalline water.
The clearing is even more beautiful in autumn, when bunches of grapes are hanging out on the fences, when wild peaches and scallops have been ripped, and walnuts are falling, while all the heights are glowing in the fire of the red and yellow shades.
Prolaz is also a crossroad of the different tourist routes, from where you can climb to the Iabalcea Plateau or to the Comarnic Cave.
From Prolaz, we follow the upstream trail to the second gorges’ sector, this time on the right bank of Caraş. The crossing of the river from one side to the other can be done on an old suspended bridge, which greets the hikers with the message “Cross one by one”. But it is quite risky, especially when the water is very high. And the risk is part of the adventure. You get to the Gorges’ Mouth, a place where the Caras is mute. There is no sound of water. The stones are immaculate white. And, in its course, the water seems to tell each stone a story:
“Sometimes every corner of the world seems to tell us that it wants to be visited. But without harming it, without altering its image with garbage or unsupervised fires. There is nothing modern in the Caraş Gorges. But it is in the wilderness that lies the splendour of this corner of heaven. “[Curiţa N., 2005].
In the meadow, on the bank of the river, where the materials carved and carried by Caras River have been deposited, the willow trees, the walnut trees and aspen trees grow.
Here, you can have the luck to observe how the birds and animals have adapted to the special conditions of life of the Carpathian Gorges in the natural park: some unique species of butterflies, rare insects, birds with beautiful colourful plumage, like the grass-green tanager and the blue rock trush. On the branches near the Caras water, sometimes you can see the blue giant silhouette of the river gull, watching the fish that fly in the river waves. Your eyes will be attracted by the agile squirrels, leaning from branch to branch in the hazelnuts and walnuts trees, and in moments of tranquillity, you can see timid and agile deer descending on the narrow paths which they have beaten during the time.
There are many fish in the river, especially trout, which make a very attractive “morris”. But you have to be masters in the art of throwing the flipper.
If the squirrels start a pair chase, the show is guaranteed.
After 10 minutes of “walking through the meadow” where the Caras river is too quiet (the calm before the storm!), an extremely narrow portion follows, of only 2-3 m, with cliff walls over 30 m, suggestively called “The Throat of the Devil “.
Water flows violently over larger or smaller stones. It also apparently formed immobile meshes that “point” the course of the river. They are deep holes down to 10 m, traversed only by the twinkling of the trouts. That’s why a straight journey on the creek bed does not offer too much chances of success without a pneumatic boat.
The landscape is becoming wilder and wilder. The pathway cut in stone is only half a meter away. To the right there is the rock wall, and to the left there is a 20 meter hole. But the emotions of the road are chased away by the wide horizon of the gorges, and the view from the height is delightful. Above the forest, the white limestone rocks contrast with the green vegetation. “On a few corners of the steep walls of the gorges we can see specimens of heat and drought loving plants, such as the beautiful pimples with large purple capes, wild palms, rock-cloth carnations, and scented white carnation cloves.” [Bizerea M., 1971].
The Caraş River dug deep between the Socolovăţ hill (on the left) and the Crno Pole hill (part of the calcareous plate of Iabalcea, on the right). The river slips through the 150-200 m high walls and approaches 2-3m away, having to make numerous bends to avoid the calcareous spruces called “curvatures” by the locals.
On the northern slopes of the twists of the gorges, where coolness and dampness prevail, the stones are covered with a thick carpet of moss, rocky curtains are hanging from the edges of the rocky steps, and from the cracks of the rocks the finely laced, clenched leaves of the ferns appear.
Many caves in the gorges are all set in the direction of the valley and almost at the same altitude.
Thus, after an hour of walking, you can see the entrance to the Cozos Cave, being all year round under water. Next to it, a big waterfall “whips” the rocks covered in moss.
That’s why the Ţolosu Cave is quite difficult to visit; climbing to the mouth of the cave being possible only in the dry season. To arrive to the entrance, you must reach on the base of the largest “marmite” in Romania, following each other the slope, on a 50 m level difference from the riverbed to the cave. The three marmites are in the form of funnels, deep down to 7 m, in which, during the floods, the water of the streamers gives the impression that it boils in huge “boilers” or “cauldrons”, as the inhabitants from Crasova say. Hence another cave name: The Cave of Three Boats. The cave impresses with the grandeur of the main gallery and the halls whose walls are marvellously sculpted by water, polished like marble and coloured by oxides in red, white and black shades of great effect, as is the “canopy.”
From the Ţolosu Cave, the gorges continue as far as the confluence of Caraş with the Comarnic River, not far from Comarnic Cave, and although there are only 3.5 km, the most spectacular part of the gorges are reached only after 6 hours of hiking, because there is no trail. The trip is extremely tiring. A tourist without a good physical condition, experience and training cannot go through this area, ideal for finding a local guide or a connoisseur of the area.
But the hikers will be rewarded by the greatness and savage aspects of the landscape, with fairytale scenery, cascades and mysterious caves.
If you choose to walk through the water, there are 12 deep holes. To get past them, you’d better have a pneumatic boat. Otherwise, they can be avoided by climbing the side walls. It is necessary, however, to weigh well on which of the two walls, through which the water stagnates, we shall climb to escalate the gorge through the virgin forest above and then descend again into the river.
In this sector, near the river, it is the most beautiful cave of the gorges, the Popovăţ Cave, declared a monument of nature.
Being on the water course, look up a few yards ahead and you will see a large stretching of limestone hanging like a curtain over the Caras River. Caraş’s riverbed, entirely covered with a greenish moss, is a very special area. It is a scenery specially created for the end of a route.
The Caraş Gorges are a real pearl of the Banat tourism, grace to the variety of objects and the beauty of the places. At any time a tourist, or even a traveller passing through Resita, who stays here for a few days, can visit the Caras Gorges in one afternoon.
In order to preserve the beauties of the Caras Gorges unaltered and intact for the future generations, all these places have been declared a monument of nature.
1. The most adequate days for visiting the gorges are in May, when the lilac is blooming, in August when the water is shallow, when all the caves can be visited, and in early October when you can admire the multicoloured mosaic from the beginning of autumn;
2. For hiking should not get too difficult, at 200 m level difference from the entrance to the exit of the gorges, you must wear thick-sole footwear or boots, because of the sharp stones on the trail;
3. While admiring the landscape, do not forget that we are in the realm of the vipers. The two species – the common viper and the horned one – can be encountered from April to September. They can be found either on the bare rocks or in the tusks of grass, lying in the sun. Even if they are near the trail, there are no problems if we do not disturb them.