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The Danube and the Iron Gates: all you need to know for a good trip

Travelling to the Danube while visiting Romania is a mandatory experience. If you think about it, the Danube crosses 10 countries and 4 capitals, and out of the many km it goes through Romania, it majestically carved the Iron Gates and the Delta.

You cannot go to the Danube and not taste fish. There’s fish available under all its forms. Fish soup or mamaliga with fish, or fish in brine! Taste the hospitality of the Danube people and the strange stories they have to share. But above all, be open to taste new experiences!

Feel the breeze, but also, feel the wind in your hair during a boat ride, while walking up a hill and admiring both sides of the Danube! And feel the warmth of authentic water people!

The weekend trip to the Iron Gates was packed with everything: above expectation experience, moody weather, dishes with fish, and some adventure.

To begin with the beginning, I’ll tell you that I bought the 2-day trip a long time in advance, so I really couldn’t control weather. The package included accommodation and half-board at a guesthouse, together with an offroad experience that was a total unknown.

The Danube. View over Golubac, a fortress in Serbia; photo: Cosmin Odorescu
Sunset in the Danube; photo: Cosmin Odorescu

I visited the Iron Gates many years before and couldn’t recall much. I remembered an immense amount of water and some scattered villages. Now, the whole experience was superior (I grew older, I know! and hopefully wiser!), also thanks to our host. But, I’d like to create some suspense and tell you about that later!


Adventure is always a good start
Ostrov Island, Moldova Veche, home for wild horses
The Danube and the Iron Gates – the good old classic revisited
Offroad story along the Danube
Fish, fish, fish!

Adventure is always a good start

Me and my partner in crime had different expectations from the road. More exactly, our map applications showed a different number of km, but because his trip appeared faster and shorter, we just sticked to that. We set off from Timisoara, and the entire trip had to take no longer than 2,5 h, which I found totally reasonable. Only, that we discovered that travelling from Romania to Romania involved crossing the Serbian border! Thus, at the border we realized there’s no way back and had picked the shorter way in km! We still laugh saying how we visited the Iron Gates and also went abroad on a 2-day trip!

Like every respectable employee, we arrived on Friday at sunset. The Danube and the sunset are a killer combination. In fact, it looked much better than I could capture it in the photos. Right away, we settled in at Tarabostes Guesthouse in Coronini, right at the entrance of the Iron Gates. So far, so good.

Rocky landscape over the Danube; photo: Cosmin Odorescu
Cross in the middle of the Danube and view over the Serbian shore

Ostrov Island next to Moldova Veche, home for wild horses

Boat tariff: 50 lei/p, around 30 minutes one-way

The guesthouse from Coronini accommodated a few couples, so we had established to take a boat and go to a mystery island. We set off from Moldova Veche, situated close to the guesthouse and headed to Ostrov island, a sort of Banat delta full of birds and horses.

Yes, horses!

In 1910, the island was mainly inhabited by Serbians, but after Banat region united with Romania, the place was colonized with Romanians. The horses remained on the island and started breeding. Thay say that nowadays there are around 100 wild horses, but no-one keeps exact track. The horses initially belonged to the Serbians who raised the animals on the island and carried them by ferry. After 1989, when the ferry disappeared, the remaining horses started breeding freely and became wild. However, no need to panic, they are likely to run away from you. On the island we faced some remains of a horse, sign that only the strong survive!

Wild horses on the Ostrov island; photo: Cosmin Odorescu

In terms of nature, Ostrov island has 1,600 ha of land and showcases two inside lakes that aren’t connected with the Danube. You’ll also encounter birds, most probably swans, but there are also black egrets, red herons or cormorants.  

To confirm that Romanians are legend-lovers, they say that Ostrov island hosts the remains of merciless ruler Attila the Hun, who was buried on a Danube island. Still, nobody knows exactly. But the presence of horses on the island emphasises the strength of the myth. They also say that a black stallion found his grave.

The Danube and the inside lakes that add charm to Ostrov island
The Danube is full of swans

The Danube and the Iron Gates – the good old classic revisited

After lunch we jumped in the car to see the Iron Gates. Luckily, the weather looked good, but spring is sometimes moody… On our way from Coronini village to Orșova (around 100 km), we stopped many times. To admire the landscape and take pictures, of course! But the winding Danube is so much better in reality!

Stopping at Berzasca was more of an inspection. I wanted to see for myself the Egreta Complex that looks so fabulous in pictures! So does it in real life! Optimal place for sunset and fishing!

View over the Egreta Complex bungalows from Berzasca

The Danube Boilers are special because, for 9 kilometres, the Danube narrows to about 230 meters, making circulation of boats difficult. In this narrow place the Danube flows much quicker and that’s why it is also called the Danube Boilers, since here you can see vortices that give you the sensation that the water is boiling. Here, the depth can reach 75 meters. Although tourists love the area, it is a nightmare for navigators who have to struggle with the changing water speed and the narrowness.

The Iron Gates and the Danube
Blue Danube is sometimes green, but looks nonetheless fabulous

At Dubova, you’ll find the Danube Big Boilers (Cazanele Mari), a picturesque area of the Danube with two huge rocks that create a pass. If you love hiking with a view, take the trip to Ciucarul Mare summit that offers a belvedere over Dubova gulf and the Iron Gates. The hiking is not very difficult and only lasts around two hours, but pay attention to the vipers lying in the sun!

Just a bit further, you’ll see the huge face of Decebal, the famous Dacian king, carved in a rock. You can’t miss it; it is the tallest sculpture in stone in Europe (55 meters high), measuring only 6 meters less than the Statue of Liberty. To carve it, they used a ton of dynamite. Besides, the area smells like garlic and fish from the ambulant traders. 

Decebal, the Dacian ruler, and his triumphant face carved from a huge rock

On the other side of the Danube, on the Serbian shore there is a memorial antique inscription, a monument raised by Emperor Trajan. The “Tabula Traiana” forged after the 105-106 fight AD marked the Roman imperial troops march towards Dacia, paying tribute to the victories of the Roman Empire over the kingdom of Dacia.

You’ll also find Mraconia Bay and Monastery, which has a rather sad story, full of endurance though. The original monastery was built in the 15th century, but along history, it knew many troubles and distress. It was flooded and swallowed by waters, to totally disappear when Iron Gates I Hydroelectric Power Station was built. It was decided then to leave the monastery for good under waters. What you see today is a recent building which bears the legacy of the past and houses today communities of monks. In the same area, at Ogradena bay, you can swim safely in the Danube, here the water is shallow. It looks like an open swimming pool with a recreation area around.

Mraconia Monastery; photo:

Here, the Danube is getting wider until you reach the biggest town in the area, Orsova, a good place to start a boat trip. But which place in the area isn’t good for a boat trip?

In Orșova we discovered a simple and plain Roman-Catholic church built in a very modern and minimalist style that I particularly liked! The socialist project completed in 1976 is a work of art unusual for Romanian churches.

Turning your head away from the water, the other side will captivate you by nature, hills and blossoming trees in spring. Settlements are scarce, so you can fully enjoy the view.

If you consider going this route on fast forward, you should set aside a minimum of 5 hours. But, if it includes boat trip and eating, you have to dedicate one full day.

The Roman-Catholic church from Orsova

Offroad story along the Danube

The offroad was the biggest surprise of the trip. And the best!

The story is the following: a couple of nice people run the guesthouse. As every respectable household has well-defined roles, the lady was the PR-person, while the gentleman, was in charge with the travellers outside the guesthouse. Cosmin was born in the village of Coronini, and returned there after many years. He not only had a Hummer to take us on dirt roads according to our own whim, but he also inherited the best stories from his grandparents and simple village people.

Insider tip!: If you go to the Danube, you must contact Cosmin for a tour! His knowledge about the order of things in the area and his availability to tackle any topic (in English) make him a reputed guide for the area!

The car that took us places…
Vista point close to Coronini, with the imposing Golubac fortress on the Serbian shore
Village and lots of water

Here, we visited Sfânta Elena village (saint Helen), a windy area that wants to take advantage of the power of wind, scattering some wind turbines around. The weather was not only windy, but also unfriendly and cloudy, but luckily, we avoided the rain. The hummer went on many potholes until we stopped, got out and walked/hiked for a while in the wild nature. I have never ever considered this area of the Danube, but a good guide can show you many things you weren’t aware of.

There are many vista points where you can take amazing pics (weather helping) and observe the nature that accompanies this majestic river. Besides, I looooved the colourful villages with pink or vivid blue houses, that were a great match to the blossoming trees and green water of the Danube. Moreover, Cosmin was a great guide and embellished the trip with some funny and unbelievable stories (like the one on moroi, the spooky creatures from Bran Castle) inherited from his ancestors! I also found out that around Moldova Veche, the Danube has the largest width! Around 5 km!

Blue house in Sfânta Elena
Wind turbines; photo: Cosmin Odorescu

Fish, fish, fish!

The lady of the house (guesthouse) was absolutely lovely and the type to please the customers. In terms of food, helpings were more than generous and tasty. This is the place to taste fish and enjoy fish.

If you are not a fish person, you can still find something on the menu that involves meat (in most of the cases). We tasted here the fish soup made according to Coronini village, which combines at least four types of fish. Or, fish in brine, or mamaliga (polenta) with fish! However, we also had spicy chicken wings or the pride of the guesthouse: ribs with chips and pickles! If you want to try a desert after the feast, make sure to leave room after the main dish!

Fish and mamaliga was one of the delicious dishes we had

Recommended by TTF:

  • Magic landscape of and along the Danube;
  • Boat trip on the Danube;
  • Explore the islands around; observe wild nature;
  • Traditional fish and Romanian dishes.

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