THE SULTRY MOUNTAINS. A thousand meters above the river, the Mehedinţi Mountains scour the sky, the utmost outpost of the Southern Carpathians. Sheer. White. Thorny thickets, pathless precipices, serrated steppe grasses, the rarest and prickliest of which is Achnatherum calamagrostis – silver spike grass. Gleaming white cliffs blanketed in Banat pines and strange southern flora. Plants are fragrant and cicadas sing. Only after an arduous climb to the ridge by way of Seven Springs will you truly have encountered the Mehedinţi Mountains.

The remarkable Ţasna River ravine empties into the Cerna at the fourteenth kilometer. Steep, deep, black and white.  Black pines, white bluffs climbing stepwise hundreds of meters up. Like a Japanese ink drawing. An impassible white-water canyon overlooked by Indian prairies – what a place to grow old. You lay watching herds. Sheep, little black, squealing hogs, thick-coated goats. A beautiful land where you can lie amid sheep droppings and not look a fool. Above the herds, water vanishes and mountains regain their ivory sheen. Mehedinţi peaks sparkle like ancient silver as the sun sets faithfully on distant limestone crags. Nights are warm and fragrant with southern tranquility.

Below the mountains lies an old spa where you can rest your path-weary body in Herculane waters. You first catch sight of it from unimaginable heights, descending from Domogled, the tallest mountain, and oldest Hungarian nature preserve. From White Cross, you get a bird’s eye view of Băile Herculane. Fly down and alight for a while at the hot springs. Seven swirling springs bubble up at the base of bluffs. Free for all to enjoy. In the largest of them, a stony grotto below the path, you will find yourself at one with humanity’s suffering. Be not discouraged or repulsed. Immerse yourself in the warm water with the most afflicted: limping shepherds, scabrous old women. Gipsy ladies take off their blouses and descend into the mikvah, stripped to the waist. Their skirts billow in the water like great pink airships. Take your cure wildly in the smelly springs. Don’t be afraid to gargle. And when you emerge, you will find yourself strong and healthy once more.