Reaching the Roman Hotel, a very attractive touristic sight, through its unique construction, we are in the realm of Iovan Iorgovan’s third fight with the dragon. The Hydra of Cerna tried to bathe in the abundant waters. The locals greeted it with boulders and the dragon could not enter the “pothole” near the hotel. In the subsequent struggle, Iovan Iorgovan cut another head of the dragon, and the dragon, remaining with only two heads out of seven, barely escaped rushing down the valley to the Danube.
The locals asked the mighty lad to bathe in the thermal waters to gain strength and dug in the rock a bas-relief through which Hercules urged the tourists to drink the healing water from the spring. It can be seen in the Roman Baths “embedded” between the concrete pillars on the ground floor of the hotel. Here, the traveller exhausted from the long journey, but reinforced by the balm of air, will drink the “Herculane Mineral Water” and will gladly exclaim:
“Indeed, Hygeia raised her throne here!”
The surroundings near the Herculane Baths resort are extremely picturesque. Wonderful trips can be made both on the right side, in the Cerna Mountains, and on the left to the Domogled Mountains.
With your strength restored by the “living water” from Hercules Spring and Hygeia Spring, you can visit the Outlaws Cave, situated on the slope to the right of the Cerna River, less than 250 m above the Roman Hotel. You have to climb in serpentine the slope of the mountain on concrete stairs and you reach one of the three apertures, due to which the cave is naturally lit through the galleries, except the Gururi Gallery. The apertures communicate with each other through galleries of 2-4 m high and are provided with a few hones. The cave, at the first glance, draws attention only through the inscriptions on walls crafted in different colours, but has speleological and historical value through the archaeological discoveries inside it: the bones of a cave bear, human traces of the Palaeolithic, 30,000 years ago, and ceramics from the Coţofeni Culture from the Neolithic.
The hike can be extended to the “Steam Grotto“, which impresses not only by its entrance constituted in the shape of a tall and narrow cleavage in the rock, but especially because at a short distance from the entrance, hot steams come out from the stone cracks (at 52-58 degrees Celsius), with a scent of sulphur, and underneath you can hear some deaf noises that give you the feeling that you are on a volcano that is about to erupt. The hot sulphur smoke have created here the conditions for the growth of a moss that you will not encounter elsewhere and you will have the feeling that you are somewhere in the cosmos. There are true original paintings on the walls.
From the Steam Grotto upwards you can reach the Elisabeth Peak (629 m) and the Elisabeth Spring after 2 and a half hours of walking. Half an hour later, you reach the Pear Glade’s Peak (768 m), a belvedere spot for admiring both the Cerna Valley and the Mehadia and Bolvaşniţa Valleys.
The Steam Grotto can also be reached from the Coronini Plateau, next to the Munk Spring. It’s a long way, but it’s worth making it, because the skyline of the Cerna Valley opens to the right throughout the way.
Also near the Outlaws ‘s cave lies the Adam’s Cave, located under the Ciorici Peak (413 m), which has “flexible” stalactites and stalagmites, unique in the world. It is a natural monument of great attraction for tourists. The cave is named after its discoverer, Nicholas Adam. The cave starts with an 11-meter-long hole. When there is no dense and hot steam coming out smelling like guano, the bottom of the pothole is well visible, through its circular opening with a diameter of 2 m. Those who are ready to descend into the cave will be rewarded by the beauties of a “tropical cave” in the three halls. Each room has unique features. The walls and ceiling of the Leopard Skin Hall are shaped as a “leopard skin”. In the Guano Hall the ground is covered by a 3m thick guano deposit. The Steam Room is unique through its stalagmites that are in the shape of a gelatinous yellowish crust, and the stalactites, also gelatinous, being 4-8 cm long and thick up to 1 cm, oscillates due to the blowing of the hot steam up to 45 degrees C.
Wonderful trips can be made from the resort and on the left side of Cerna, on the Domogled Mountain, where you can climb from two directions. The first and most common one is from the Cerna Hotel. The trail climbs in serpentines up to the White Cross, at a height of 530 m. A splendid panorama opens from the cross over the Cerna Resort and the Cerna Valley. The 2.5 km distance to the White Cross can be usually covered in 2 hours. A sad story is related to this place, about an Austrian baron who, wishing to marry his daughter and having many suitors for her hand, came up with the idea of putting them to a bravery and courage test. The young men aspiring to the girl’s hand had to climb up Domogled to a place where they could be easily seen from the resort. Some gave up from the start; others tried but did not have the courage to climb up the narrow path, and returned. Only one officer in the Border Regiment succeeded in climbing to the top. Out of joy, the lieutenant fired his gun to be heard, the horse got scared and jumped into the abyss along with the rider. Impressed by his courageous deed, the locals raised a cross in his memory.
Ascending the slope, you will see how the beech forest leaves the place in the favour of the Banat Black Pine and instead of the wide greenery trail a narrow path of limestone appears, on which you have to be very careful where you step.
A few tens of meters away from the White Cross, the Cat Path branches out, leading to Serban’s Cave (an outlaw of the place), then to Little Domogled Peak (1101 m). After several hundred meters you reach Big Domogled Peak (1106 m). The total distance of 4.5 km can be covered in about 4 hours.
Hercules‘ road continues on the trail of Iovan Iorgovan’s battle with the dragon and after 7 km of walking through Hercules Square you reach the Herculane Baths Station, from where it enters on the European road E70 in the direction of Orsova towards the Danube. The river was the only getaway of the Hydra from the Cerna Valley. Only 2 km from the railway station you can see the Banat Sphinx, where the fourth struggle between the mighty lad and the dragon took place. The struggle ended at Iorgovan’s Rock near Topleţ, where the brave Iovan Iorgovan cut another head of the dragon, after which the one-headed dragon fled to the Danube as the last way to escape from the fury of the mythological hero from Banat.
Stop at the Rock of Iovan Iorgovan and on the right of the road, which goes parallel with the railway line, you will see the Turkish Aqueduct, with a very interesting history:
“After the peace treaty from 1739 from Belgrade, when the Austrians lost Oltenia and Serbia, Cerna was to be the border between the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire. A clause of the treaty provided however, that if the Turks succeeded within one year in deflecting Cerna’s waters to the west from Orsova, this city would remain under their rule. They hired a French engineer, numerous labourers and invested large sums of money, managing to build a canal that crossed the valleys through walled-up aqueducts, the heights through stone carved channels, and so the Cerna’s waters were diverted. On the day when Istanbul found out that the Cerna’s waters had been deflected to the canal, volleys of cannons were fired, and great celebrations were held. But the joy was short-lived, for the waters of Cerna swelled and broke the dam and the aqueducts, and Orsova remained to the Austrians.” as Dr. Marius Bizerea describes with much charm. [Bizerea M., 1971].
The only traces kept with a few cuts in the rock are under Iorgovan, as well as the Turkish Aqueduct that is preserved to this day.
The last battle between Iovan Iorgovan and the dragon takes place at the Danube Cauldrons. The dragon entered a cave, where the mighty lad killed him, cutting its last head. As the legend says, shortly after the dragon had been killed, his head “kept running” and rolled up the Danube water to the cave called “The Fly hole” on the Upper Danube Shore, near Coronini, opposite the Golombac Fortress, on the Serbian bank. Since then, swarms of columbaca flies and mosquitoes have been coming out of this cave, particularly harmful to cattle.
During this time, Iovan Iorgovan returns sadly to the Cerna Valley, looking for the most beautiful girl, searching in the same time for his personal fulfilment. No one knew what to advice him, not even the lonely cuckoo. Seeking his shelter in the Outlaws’ Cave, the mighty young man was watching carefully the source of the “living water” from where he had received the power, to see “who came to drink water / shall not disturb it.” Until one day, when near the spring he saw a teary-eyed deer, as the ballad says:
“Oh, cuckoo! Oh, cuckoo!
This agile deer
To find out the truth, Iorgovan pretended to be hunting her. Then the deer shouted that “she is not a female deer” and turned into a “pure virgin“. Iovan Iorgovan kneeled, and with tears of joy in his eyes, he told her that she was the way he had dreamt about her and asked her to marry him. They celebrated a great wedding like in the fairy tales there, in the Cerna Valley, attended not only by the wedding guests, but also by the entire nature.
And so, like Cerna’s fairy tale, the Hercules‘ Road ends in the same place where it has begun: near the miraculous hot springs protected by the god of power, Hercules.
The rich imagination of humans created dozens of variants of the Legend of Iorgovan (aka Hercules), the hero who had roamed the whole scented realm of Cerna, after which he returned victorious and richer in spirit to the hearth of the springs. After a day of hiking in every corner of the world, you, wanderer, should watch a sunset and remember the call of the iorgovan flower (lilac): “Welcome back! … to Herculane Baths.
Theme Park no. 7. THE NATURE’S SPECTACLE
The Banat Black Pine Tree Festival
NATURAL SYMBOL AND CLIMATOTHERAPY
The Cerna Valley flora is just as famous for the scientist as it is for the tourist and is far more delightful than its fauna. “Because no matter how interesting can the salamanders, scorpions, black goats, mountain hoods, brown bears, land turtles, and especially horn vipers be, the garden of yellow irises on the top of Domogled are much more charming. And a lot of joys are offered as well by the primates, the orchids, the mountain gorges and all the other flowers that adorn the forest, dress the rocks and adorn the grass.” [Dragomir R. and Peia L., 1995].
Look at the Mount Domogled and you will see the natural “star” of the Cerna Valley – Domogled National Park: the Banat Black Pine. It is also the symbol of the festival that bears its name, which has been organised annually since 2005, at the Herculane Baths, at the end of August.
The Banat Black Pine Tree Festival, initiated within the Nature 2000 European project, is a “green” celebration of the Banat community for preserving and promoting this wonderful ornamental tree, a true relic of the “glacial era” and unique in Europe.
The Black Banat Pine is recognized by the “umbrella” crown, always green, with the branches pointing horizontally or upwards. Its shape is given by the air currents that “are blowing upwards” from the karst areas, where the pine grows solitary or in clumps. It climbs with much boldness on the steep cliff, edging the laced crest of the limestone. You will be delighted by the Pinus nigra Banatica girdles, crowning the rocks or hanging over the abyss and rooting in the cracks of the limestone wall, searching for a fertile soil. This very beautiful tree is found in four places, which constitute a bridge between the Mehedintean karst (Mount Domogled) and the Banat’s crystalline (Cerna Mountains, Almăj Mountains and Danube Shore, at “Tricule”). The spreading area of Black Banat Pine is on a very small area of only 780 ha, offering a special picturesque to the landscape, especially in the Cerna Valley.
The e Banat Black Pine Tree Festival is of particular interest to the young people up to 35 years of age and it is carried out under the form of a contest of photography and film, drawing and painting, poetry and songs, having its theme the “Nature 2000-Black Banat Pine”. It is the way in which the Mountainous Banat preserves and promotes the cultural and ecological value of the Banat Black Pine, as the locals of these surroundings have always done so. Thus, knowing that the pine wood does not rot due to the soaking resin, the Romans used it with great skill in the construction of the aqueducts for the thermal-mineral water. In the not too distant past, burning the well-dried pine wood in a particular furnace, a “catran” or “boaza” was obtained, a consistent substance having the colour of the heavy fuel oil. The peasants of Banat greased the carts’ axles with it; the fishermen isolated their boats, and mixed with pork fat or sulphur it was used to anoint the cattle, to heal the wounds. At the same time, the Banat Black Pine is the “binding agent” for the production of negative ions, well known and appreciated in the resort in combating stress. Traveller, come to the Banat Black Pine Tree Festival to write the legend of black pine yourself
Climbing the marked path that leads to the White Cross on the Domogled Mountain, you will see patches of black pine forests along with lilac, smoke tree and Turkish hazel bush. In summer, however, the eye is enchanted mostly by the “suspended gardens” of yellow irises.
But what is special in the Cerna Valley is the existence of the fireflies and the butterflies that make this area one of the most sought after. The flight of hundreds of fireflies burning up the sky after it went dark, gives the impression of a rain of falling stars, thus increasing the charm of the summer nights at Herculane.
The Cerna Valley is the “heaven” of butterflies in Europe. There are over 1500 different species according to their origins: Alpine, Pontic, Balkan, Central European and Mediterranean. There are daytime butterflies but mostly night butterflies.
In the darkness of the night, through the Domogled’s hazelnut forests, in the beech and fir woods of the Cerna Mountains or above the rocks, there is a real dance of richly collared wings. Look for Europe’s largest night butterfly called the “peacock eye” or Saturnia Pyri, whose open wings measure up to 15 cm. On its dark-red coloured wings you can see “sketches” of white, blue or yellowish-collared shades, in the shape of an eye, as a “mask of intimidation.”
During the day, the eye of the hiker arriving on Domogled’s trails can follow freely the richness of colours and nuances, sprinkled with such art in the wings of these gentle tiny insects. A harmony between the different shades of red and the black. A cheerful refreshing yellow. The pure blue sky is abundantly sprinkled with the wings of the butterflies.
Green is fairly rare in butterflies, but you can indulge yourself by watching double-sided butterflies. They usually have dark colours on the back and a purple colour with silver lines or multicoloured sparkles on the lower part.
Only in this paradise with rare species of plants, butterflies and birds you can benefit from climatotherapy. It means a cure of air, air and light, sunlight, rest and exercise for physical recovery and mental disconnection when stressed, as it was noted by the balneologists Iancu and Doina Gogâltan (1992):
- The air cure begins with staying in the room with open windows, lying on the bed. After a while you stay on the balcony, then on the terrace, in the park or in the forest. It is practised in any season, from half an hour to three hours, 2-3 times a day. It can be associated with short, effortless walks, and it has the effect of calming the nervous system: fatigue disappears and appetite appears.
2. The air and light cure is made by exposing the body to the air, totally or partially, on the balcony, on the terrace or in the woods, where you can walk in the shade.
3. The sun cure consists in exposure to the sun in the thermal springs (Central Park, Vicol Park, and Seven Springs) or in the open places like Coronini Plateau. The exposure time is 15 minutes on the first day and then gradually more and more (15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes).
4. The rest cure consists in lying in the armchair for relaxing the muscles.
5. The exercise cure is done by strolling uniform pace on the slopes of the resort, with a relatively small inclination angle (up to 200) and for a distance of 2-3 km. Three routes for this cure are recommended, according to the resistance level of the organism:
• Hercules Square – Vicol Park (mild slope up to 5⁰ and with a walking speed of 15 min / km);
• Hercules Square – Coronini Plateau or the Steam Grotto (slope of up to 10⁰ and with a walking speed of 30 min / km);
• Hercules Square – The White Cross or the Steam Grotto (up to 20⁰ downhill and with a walking speed of 45 min / km)
Cerna is the most thrilling river in Romania for its touristic rafting. The two touristic routes upstream of Lake Prisaca can be crossed according to the water level in two-person boats or in boats for 6 + 1 persons:
Route 1 of rafting: 4 km in 1.2-2 hours;
Route 2 of rafting: 8 km in 2-3 hours.
Rafting on the two routes offers an unforgettable adventure. The river bank is very narrow and full of curves and cliffs, and the river has a very large fall and small waterfalls appearing one after the other. At the start of the shift, each crew member is equipped with a neoprene suit, a helmet and a life jacket. Listen to the organizers’ advice on how to raft on the water and how to navigate safely on the fast sections. The routes will be gradually traversed, taking obstacles one after the other, with stops for rest. Success is given by the skill of choosing the options of passing among the rocks, but on certain portions there is only one line and this must be found instantaneously. Waves, thresholds, jumps, everything is fun and a lot of adrenaline.
Everything ends with a tasty meal and great accommodation at the Mountain Dew Guesthouse, where Komaroni Istvan is a welcoming host and a perfect guide for the rafting aficionados.
Theme Park no. 8. MAN’S REDISCOVERY:
The Slivovitz Festival of Banat
BRANDY -TASTING WHEN THE SLIVOVITZ IS AT ITS BEST
The Slivovitz Festival of Banat is organized annually, in October, in Herculane Baths arriving at its 15th edition in 2012. It is the feast of producers of plum brandy, apple brandy, pear and apricot brandy and also slivovitz made of berries, coming from more than 25 villages from the Timis Valley, Almăj Valley, Bistra Valley, Caraş Valley, Cerna Valley, Bârzava Valley and Danube Shore. You will see bottles filled with pure Romanian potion, exposed to the sunlight, having each a unique story from: Armenis, Băuţar, Bolvaşnita, Bucova, Carasova, Cornereva, Consatantin Daicoviciu, Dezeşti, Domaşnea, Fârliug, Feneş, Gârlişte, Glimboca, Goruia, Mehadica , Prigor, Radimna, Ramna, Sichevita, Soceni, Teregova, Vălişoara, Verendin, Zăvoi and Zorlenţu Mare.
The Banat producers show the tourists the entire circuit “of the process of the plum taken from nature, to the flow of the brandy in the cauldrons.” There are also some secrets of the trade, which they keep for themselves: the duration of boiling of the plums, how does the brandy get a golden colour, how to produce the best slivovitz from the village.
The fabrication of slivovitz in the Mountainous Banat is a true art, passed from generation to generation. Traditionally, it is obtained from summer and autumn plums, left to soak, after which the “comina” is distilled in copper (brass) boilers.
When the furnace is ready, first a low fire is lit, but only of oak wood. Then the fire must burn smoulderingly, not too weak or too strong, otherwise the slivovitz will get “smoked”, bitter and murky. The obtained slivovitz has no more than 45 degrees, but by keeping it in acacia, oak or mulberry wood barrels, it gets a unique colour and taste. Look for some “old” slivovitz that can be even 40 years old. Search as souvenirs the original glass bottles with slivovitz with a pear grown inside the bottle and with a “halm” cork. Try pulling the slivovitz from “buce”(metallic cilindre) or “jug” with the “tragula” (wine pulling hose) and put it in the glasses without letting one drop fall down, a traditional custom in the Banat households. If you succeed, you will be rewarded with a mug of “rachie profripta / double boiled slivovitz”, just as only guests receive at the different festivals of the village. If you are cold, being autumn, look for the bucket with “boiled slivovitz” and drink a sip with the “caugul” (ladle!) from the stalk.
The locals and tourists, young or old, all sit in queues to taste a little of Banat’s slivovitz, to identify what it is made of, how old it is and how many degrees it has. And as for the taste of the potion not to be confused from one producer to another, they eat from the offered traditional products between drinking, before they try the potion of another farmer: corn, bread baked in the jar, smoked bacon, cow cheese, sheep or goat cheese, sausage and onion.
Each edition has as its motto two master lyrics, which only the Banat poet Octavian Doclin was able to write:
” Oh Lord, please bless the season when the slivovitz blooms over the village ”
The Association of The Slivovitz Producers of the Mountainous Banat, unique in Romania, wishes that the Banat slivovitz to be a true “ambassador” of the pure tradition, and this unaltered symbol, along with the cheese and the bacon, to be known all over the world.
At the end of the festival, you will always have the proof that the Banat peasants have brought what they had the best at home, and although the slivovitz was as much as it was needed, it turned out to be not enough for the potion lovers.
Caught by the “smell of a plum seed”, you are going to say, “There is no bad slivovitz, there is only too little slivovitz!” It is good to know that the plum slivovitz will cheer you in a first phase, and then it will weaken your feet and numb your reflexes.
Like every feast about the Banat tradition, The Slivovitz Festival from Banat ends with Banat folk music and brass band music held in the resort’s gazebo.
The show of colours and flavours of the festival is complemented by the image of the autumn fruits, arranged in “cotarite” (baskets) and the slivovitz bottles arranged along the nearly 20 km long road by the Gugulan peasants, from Teregova to Domaşnea, on Timis-Cerna corridor of the European road E70. It is almost impossible not to be tempted to pull over to the right and to offer yourself the joy of tasting these wonderful delights of Banat’s orchards. Red or yellow apples, plums, walnuts and grapes invite you taste their flavour. The traveller can choose by tasting the best mountain slivovitz from Banat. Beyond the scenic nature of this “outdoors” sights, the tourist will understand the meaning of the words of the elderly locals: “We are and will always be peasants, and the production of slivovitz is the most beautiful occupation, since the beginning of time, which turns our work into joy “.
The sadness of the Banat peasant’s soul in the “mirror” of Banat’s slivovitz could not be expressed better than by the poet Octavian Doclin, who gave the festival a poetry of his own:
When the slivovitz is in blossom
Oh, Lord, bless the season
Does the twilight stand in the light today?
We will be in heaven, as we are on earth.