In the heart of the Banat Mountains, on the smooth tops of the Locvei and Almăj Mountains, there are six Czech villages: Sfânta Elena, Gârnic, Ravensca, Bigăr, Eibenthal şi Şumiţa.
The isolation and the long distances from other localities as well as the difficult access allowed the Czech communities to keep their culture, traditions and language alive.
In the same time, this isolation and the mine closure, where a lot of Czech had worked, contributed to the migration of most of the Czech in the Czech Republic.
The locals name the Czechs from Banat “pemi”, a word deriving from “Bohemians”, Bohemia being the region of origin of the Czechs.
In the Banat Mountain their colonization was made in two stages, in 1832 and in 1827. Those who arrived in 1823, around 750 persons, founded the villages Svata Alzbeta and Svata Helena (Saint Helena). The first one does no longer exist because of lack of water. The second wave of approximately 2,000 persons arrived between 1827 and 1828 on barges on the Danube. They were brought here to serve in the border guards regiments. The Czechs in Banat were the last colonized populations by the Habsburg Empire. The intention was to assure the border guarding and to populate the border regions.
If in 1992 there were around 6,000 Czechs, in the present, in the Banat Mountains live about 2,000 people.
In the 6 villages, the Czechs are the majority, constituting over 90% of the population. Most are located in the villages Gârnic and Saint Helena, around 500. In Eibenthal, there are about 300 people, the fewest living in Ravensca and Șumița, a little over 100. The Czechs generally deal with agriculture, animals, and lately with agritourism.
The Czech State as well as the Democratic Union of Slovaks and Czechs of Romania financially support the Czech communities. Investments are made for road asphalting, renovation of schools, churches and cultural facilities, ensuring current water, the organization of socio-cultural events or for the improvement of medical care. Also, the Czech State sends teachers from the Czech Republic to teach children from these localities.
The Czech villages attract travelers due to the wildness of the area. Vast forests of deciduous trees alternate with glades where the views over the hills are vast, some with visibility on the Danube.
Next to Saint Helena and Gârnic there are karst plateaus with sinkholes and limestone pavements and the karst valleys near these villages hide natural bridges and caves.
Four of the villages, namely Gârnic, Saint Helena, Bigăr and Eibenthal are located on the territory of the Natural Park Porţile de Fier.
Ravensca is located at the boundary of the park, on a central ridge of the Almaj Mountains, at an altitude of 740 m. It is the village at the highest altitude but also one of the most isolated villages. Although three roads lead to this settlement, in the winter the village can remain completely isolated. These are mountain roads, more difficult to cross with a small car.
The village Șumița is also isolated, being the furthest from the other villages. A recently paved road was built in order to prevent the complete depopulation of the village. The road crosses the ridge on which the village of Șumița is situated, from Putna to Lăpușnicel.
The area is currently much more known among the Czechs tourists who come in large numbers to discover the “Land of the Czech Banat” in Romania.
The Czechs, through the Club of Tourists from the Czech Republic have marked the connecting trails between the villages and a number of trails in the circuit. The trails are near the villages and lead to different sights (caves, karst formations, water mills) or lookout points.
You can find the routes here.
The Czechs also helped the locals to open their homes to tourists, offering accommodation and local food. If you see on some gates the sign “Ubytovani”, it means accommodation in Czech. The locals are very hospitable. You can find here a site with detailed information on the villages, but in Czech.
A part of the connection routes between villages, marked for hiking, can be crossed on a mountain bike as well. The routes are of medium difficulty.
These trails will offer you a journey of cultural and landscape unique in Romania. Here, you will find the track the route of the Czech villages in Banat as well as other biking trails that lead to these villages. The trails are part of the collection of maps with biking trails from the Banat Mountains.
The ethnic route of the Czech villages in Banat is 109 km long and goes to 5 of the 6 Czech villages.
It also has technical areas, with rocky roads, areas with steep slopes, where you are forced to do some push-bike, in particular between Sf. Elena and Gârnic.
Between Gârnic and Ravensca the trail passes by a few unique water mills, the mills of Pătru (U Petra). From the ridge, near the village of Ravensca the trail offers great views over the Danube.
Between Ravensca and Bigăr there is also a wilder option of the trail, without descending to the Danube according to the track. The other option follows a series of ridges either forested or with clearings. At first, there is a blue line marking which leads to Șumița and then an unmarked trail up to the Debeliliug Glade.
Between Bigăr and Eibenthal, of the two connecting trails, red line and yellow line, the latter, which is longer, 26 km, is more suitable for mountain-biking.
You can do some less difficult circuits that lead to the 6 villages, as each of them is reachable on at least two car roads. These are mostly roads in bad condition, difficult to cross by car, but good for your mountain bike.
- You can climb to Eibenthal from the Danube on the paved road (7km) and you can go down on the unpaved road (6km).
- There are two unpaved roads that go to Bigăr, good for mountain bike. One starts in Berzasca, one in Cozla and each has about 17 km. Bigăr is the village with two streets laid out in a cross, the church standing at their crossing,
- You can reach Ravesca from 3 directions. From the north, on the roads from Bârz (14 km unpaved road) and from Şopotu Nou through the Răchitei Valley (18km recently paved road) and from the south from Liubcova (18km unpaved road).
- There are different options to reach Gârnic by bike. The main access roads to the village, partly paved, are those from Sichevița (13km) and the one from Moldova Veche through Padina Matei (20km). Other options to get to Gârnic on bike is the road that climbs from the Danube, from Liborajdea (12km) or the one from Şopotu Nou on the Cârșa Roşie (8km paved from 13km).
In the village of Saint Helena there is also the possibility to rent bicycles.
On the plateau next to St. Helena there are a few wind turbines, the area being favourable to them because of the wind locally called “coşava”. It is a warm wind that comes along the Danube and beats mainly during spring and autumn.
Access ways in the area:
– from the south: DN 57 Oravita – Pojejena – Moldova Nouă – Orşova (153 km). You can reach Orsova from DN6 – either from Drobeta Turnu Severin or from Plugova – Herculane.
– from the north: DN57B linking Oraviţa to Plugova through Bozovici. From Bozovici the road in bad condition Bozovici – Dâlboșet – Şopotu Nou (22 km).