Until now, it was just another sign on our old map, an isolated blue dot deep in the heart of the mountains. There wasn’t even a road mapped but, since we were already in the area, we thought it can’t hurt to ask one of the locals about this place. There was indeed a gravel road going up there, 11 km long, crossing a long valley and reaching the Ighiel Lake at the top.
Throughout Romania, the Carpathian Mountains hide many natural wonders and some of them aren’t even in the guidebooks. Close to Alba Iulia, a historic site in the center of the country and once the most powerful fortification in Transylvania, the mountains are not as tall but do compensate for this with their karst topography, abounding in caves, gorges and other interesting formations. It is here, at 920 m, that the Ighiel Lake was born as the result of a land slide that formed a natural dam. Water from melting snow and massive rains from the surrounding slopes are gathered in its 10 m deep basin. The Ighiel Lake is the only natural lake in Romania that took shape in limestone layers. The water gets lost in the underground through a sinkhole, only to reappear further down in the form of the Ighiel stream. The lake is filled with fish, especially carp, but only sport fishing is allowed because this area and its specific flora and fauna are protected inside a natural reservation.
Ighiel is the nearest village to the lake. Here is where the pavement gets lost in the gravel and we slowly begin to gain altitude. There are a lot of vacation homes on this valley and our curiosity is deepened by the thick forest which simply makes it impossible to see far ahead. After the last houses, the road suddenly gets steeper and each serpentine becomes a challenge. Every turn seemed to be the end of our trip, the place where we’ll get stuck. But it wasn’t that bad after all and, turn after turn, the valley finally opened up and we reached a plateau. Behind the trees we could have a peek at the playful reflections on the surface of the Ighiel Lake.
The road continues for a while around the lake, all the way to the opposite side where we find a nice place to rest in the company of some cows. They were completely ignorant of our presence, continuing to feed on the grass. There were other visitors as well, picnicking, but we could hardly notice them. It was all so very quiet, except for the dinging of the cows’ bells that somehow blended in with the whole scenery. There’s not much to do here except enjoying the silence and putting your thoughts in order. In these times of constant movement and fuzz, this is one of the few places where one can escape. Gazing in the lake at the reflections of the woods and pastures around, you can get lost in this emerald eye that mirrors the soul of the mountain.