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Here some of Europe’s largest remaining tracts of unbroken, old-growth forest and alpine grassland mingle with pasture once used for grazing, with the snow-covered peaks of the Retezat as a backdrop.

Stretching from Poiana Mărului in the north to Cornereva in the south, the reserve extends from rolling hills that rise to an altitude of 500-800 metres on the western side, to the main ridge in the east (maximum altitude 2,190 metres), bordering Retezat National Park and Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park. The impressive terrain includes many different rock formations, reflecting its geological complexity.

Tarcu Mountains Natura 2000 Reserve was established in 2007 by the Romanian Ministry for Environment and Sustainable Development. Within its protected area is an astonishing variety of virgin and quasi-virgin forest, much of which is still relatively inaccessible. Around one third of the area is covered by virgin forest, some 20% of which consists of trees with an average age of between 165 and 185 years – something that is extremely rare in Romania and elsewhere in Europe at this latitude.

Surrounded by a mix of protected area, virtually unused community land, state forest and farmland, the forests of Tarcu are home to a variety of wildlife (wolf, Eurasian lynx, brown bear, wild cat, red deer, roe deer, wild boar, chamois plus other rare, endemic and protected species), however numbers are unnaturally low, due partly to long years of hunting. Meanwhile the wholesale abandonment of farmland has created an urgent need to develop new revenue streams in this fiercely traditional area.

There is also a need to bring back the lost species that once helped maintain the diversity of these landscapes, and kept them rich in animal and plant species. The reintroduction of the bison, along with increasing the population of other wild grazers, will help restore the vegetation to its original balance, and pave the way for bringing back yet other lost species – such as the griffon vulture.

The primary objective of the reserve is to preserve the fragile environment and protect it from the threat posed by irresponsible human intervention, which may lead to highly visible and irreversible impacts on the natural surroundings. In recent years the area has suffered to some degree from deforestation and the building of forest roads; poaching – particularly of species supposedly protected by law; increased use of four-wheel-drive vehicles; forest fires – especially in areas of juniper woodland; unmonitored development of tourism infrastructure at hot spots and littering.

The conservation and rewilding initiatives now taking place will help to create new economic opportunities, and the region’s proximity to some of the world’s most famous caves, several spectacular locations (such as the Iron Gates of the Danube), and the famous Bailĕ Herculane (a spa that dates from Roman times), offer huge potential for it to attract for both domestic and foreign visitors. Responsible management of the Tarcu ecosystem will ensure its survival so that future generations may enjoy this remarkable natural asset.

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Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: black woodpecker, European bison, roe deer, brown bear, red deer
  • Where: Southern Carpathians, Romania

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itinerary:

Rewilding Bison in the Tarcu Mountains Reserve

In 2014, Europe’s largest living land mammal, the European bison, was reintroduced to Romania’s Southern Carpathians, after a 200 year absence. As well as learning about this exciting project, this weekend break also offers the chance to view brown bear and some of the forests’ other wildlife.

  • When to go: May-Jun, Sep-Oct
  • Duration inc. flights: 5 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £1,645 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea