Budeşti & Around
Heading south on the main road from Sighetu Marmaţiei, bear left onto Hwy 186B at Fereşti, which leads to some of Maramureş' more remote villages. If starting out from Baia Mare, you can approach this area on Hwy 184 through Cavnic and the Neteda Pass (1058m).
Corneşti, the first village along this stretch, has a small 18th-century church with interior paintings by Hodor Toador. It is about 250m west of the main road and over a very shaky bridge. Călineşti, 4km further south, has two churches; to distinguish them they are called the Susani ('upper-dweller') church and the Josani church ('lower-dweller') church. The Susani church (1683) is on the right side of the road at the end of the village if coming from the north. The Josani church, built 20 years earlier, is 1km to the east on the road to Bârsana.
From Călineşti a road leads 8km to Sârbi, inhabited since 1402. Its two churches are built from oak. The Josani church, the first on the right and dating from 1665, has two icons by Radu Munteanu. The Susani church (1667) is at the other end of the village and 100m off the main road. Below this church there's a collection of buildings associated with traditional industry that used the waters of the Cosău River for power: a flour mill, a distillery and a fulling mill. The last of these is something like a natural 'laundrette’ and used to clean and prepare wool for processing into clothing and blankets.
Budeşti, 5km to the south, is a larger village of intricately carved wooden gates and cosy cottages stacked with firewood. There are a couple of shops scattered about and a pension. The village also has one of the most beautiful (and largest) wooden churches in Maramureş. Budeşti Josani church, built in 1643 and measuring 18m by 8m, features four small turrets surrounding the bell tower. Among the church’s wooden and glass icons is a prized 18th-century painting of the Last Judgment.
Giuleşti & Around
Heading south from Sighetu Marmaţiei on Hwy 18, you first reach the tiny village of Berbeşti, famed for its large, 300-year-old troiţă, a wayside shrine of a roofed carved crucifix with solar symbols. It stands by the roads at the northern end of the village. Traditionally, travellers prayed – or at least blessed themselves – by the cross to ensure a safe journey.
Continuing south you’ll find Giuleşti, the main village in the Mara Valley, notable for its crumbling wooden cottages with ‘pot trees’ in their front yards, upon which a colourful array of pots and pans signify the eligibility of a daughter. It was here in 1918 that the revolutionary Ilie Lazăr summoned delegates from all over Maramureş prior to their signing of Transylvania’s union agreement with Romania. Ilie Lazăr’s simple three-room farmhouse built in 1826 is preserved and open to tourists as a memorial museum. During the communist crackdown in the early 1950s, Ilie Lazăr was arrested and imprisoned at Sighet prison.
The village of Deseşti is a few kilometres southwest of Giuleşti on the road to Baia Mare. Its Orthodox church, built in 1770, was struck by lightning in 1925, destroying much of the outer walls and the steeple. Fortunately, its interior paintings, to the right as you enter the porch, have survived. The work of Radu Munteanu, they date from 1780 and feature a harrowing glimpse of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Close to the church is a 400-year-old oak tree measuring almost 5m in diameter. It has been preserved as a monument to the extensive oak forest that once covered the area before people felled the trees to build their homes.
Mara, just a couple of kilometres south of Deseşti, is known for its elaborately carved wooden gates (porţi de lemn). These are a unique architectural feature of the Maramureş region. In more recent times, their spiritual importance has been overridden by the social status attached to them.
Sat-Şugatag & Around
Four kilometres south of Giuleşti is Sat-Şugatag, home to a wooden church dating from 1642. The church is famed for its fine, ornately carved wooden gate and 18th-century interior paintings (though they are not very well conserved). Sat-Şugatag was first documented in 1360 as the property of Dragoş of Giuleşti, a voivode and probably Moldavia's first ruler.
Mănăstirea is 1km east of Sat-Şugatag. Its tiny church, about 150m up the hill from a gravel road and a very rickety bridge, was built by monks in 1633. It was dissolved in 1787 during the reign of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II. The original monks' cells are on the northern side of the church, which can be seen through the window if the church is closed.
Three kilometres south of Sat-Şugatag is Hărniceşti, home to a marvellous Orthodox church dating from 1770. A footpath from the main road leads through a graveyard to the hillside church.
Four kilometres southwest of the village and resort of Ocna Şugatag, famed for saltwater thermal pools, is Hoteni, known for its folk festival, Tânjaua de pe Mara, held in early May to celebrate the first ploughing.