THE TARN MOUNTAINS. Black bison and white sheep traverse mossy pastures, a rapid river rushes as clear-green as glass, embracing the entire range. The main mountain path is but a cattle track that winds its way upwards to meadows of wild grass beneath craggy precipices. You can tread where you wish and build your shelter as you see fit. Dwarf pine, juniper, and rosebay burn merrily in pilgrim fires. The faces of wild-roaming horses reflect off evening waters. The silence of mountain lakes is so deep you would gladly give up your life to remain there forever. Rare Festuca grasses on great rocky hillsides nod their heads in the wind, not a soul nearby. What you don’t bring with you, you must do without.

There are many paths to the Retezat Mountains, princesses of South Carpathia. But the southeastern route from the Jiu Valley is best. Oil lamps gleam in Buta lodge where bread-laden horses ascend southerly slopes. From there it’s a steady upward climb through forests, red heaths, and wetlands to steep, sheep-scaled crevices. Breathtaking views from ridgetops await, the tarn mountains are in sight. There on a wind-buffeted saddle far above equine lakes, the Retezats lay before us. Do not follow the ridge left through dwarf pine thickets, you will arrive in the “Little Retezats”, looming, pearly limestone summits, magnificent airy plateaus and a palette of low-growing flowers. That is where the Godeanu Mountains have their start, you will admire their beauty yet. Descend into a granite valley where flows an emerald river with no bridge across it. From there it is a skyward climb again up to the mountain lakes. There is nothing to give away that this is a national park. Shepherds leave behind charred stumps, sheep bathe their hooves in clear waters. Though not entirely deserted, there is no one to disturb the starry silence of evening fires. Soy patties cooked on a blaze of dry manure – food for the hardiest of travelers. Buffalo cheese from an unwashed shepherdess – only those who ate it with garlic were spared ailment.