The beautiful Saint Anna lake, formed inside a volcanic crater in Harghita county, in Romania, is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the country.
Surrounded by lush forests in an extinct volcano, the Saint Anna lake is the only volcanic lake in Eastern Europe. It is situated at an altitude of 950 meters in the Ciomatu massif. 50 meters aboice, it has a twin crater, which is four times bigger.
The last eruption is estimated to have been around 11.000 years ago (some sources, 35.000). Initially, the lake was a bog which turned into a lake. According to scientists, it will turn again into a bog, just like the other crater.
It has a surface of 19,3 hectares, it is 6,6 meters deep and it doesn’t have any underground springs. Its waters come solely from rain. In the 19th century, it was as pure as distilled water. However, due to the increase in tourism, the waters quickly became polluted with substances and even sun lotion. To protect the environment, swimming was forbidden here a few years ago.
It is believed that the first human activity here took place 700 years ago. In 1654, two chapels existed here – St. Anna and St. Joachim. The place was famous for pilgrims, as it was believed that women who had fertility problems cured after bathing in the Saint Anna lake’s waters.
For those looking for wildlife, water snakes and vipers can be seen here, tritons, dragonflies, spiders, as well as many species of birds, including the Black Woodpecker.
A couple of bear hides are also present around the area, for those interested in bear watching tours. For the moment, many say that these are the best bear hides in Romania, offering the highest viewing quality.
This is important, especially for wildlife photographers looking for the perfect shots of the bears and other wildlife as well: lynx, fox, wolf, wild boar, deer, marten etc.
Even more fascinating is the nearby Mohos peat bog, which formed in the twin crater. Initially, the surface was covered by a lake, which was four times bigger than the Saint Anna lake. During time, its surface was covered with peat and vegetation and for the moment, only a couple of patches of water can be seen on the installed thematic trail. It’s said that in about 70 years, the entire surface will be covered with moss and peat. The Mohos peat bog is also famous for the presence of the Sun dew (Drosera rotundifolia), an insectivore plant which can be spotted just near the trail.
Another interesting place to see in the area is the Smelly Cave / Stinky Cave / Sulphurous Cave or, in Romanian language “Peștera Puturosu”. It can be reached in about 20-30 minutes by following a marked touristic trail that starts behind the nearby Balvanyos Resort 4*. The hike is mostly uphill and is relatively easy for everyone. The first part of the trail is full with blueberry bushes, so come prepared when these are ripe. As you approach the Smelly Cave, you will immediately know where its name comes from. Take a 5 minute break before going in. Reading the texts on the signs (if they are still standing), you will know why it’s recommended to relax before entering the cave.
Before going in, leave your phone and all metal objects outside. The gases inside will corrode the metal, if you stay for too long, so it’s better not to take any chances. The accessiblepart of the cave is roughly 4 meters long – I hope you didn’t expect something spectacular – and you can only enter until the way is blocked by some improvised wooden planks.
You will also notice that the walls are yellow below your waist. This is due to the H2S (hydrogen sulfide) gas present in the air. Well, if 95% CO2 can be called air… Be careful not to breath under that yellow level! Don’t even try. If you come here with kids, leave them outside, please. The air is very toxic and can kill you in a matter of minutes, if you breath it. Just make sure your head is above the yellow line. What happens below the yellow line is beneficial for your body. The cave was and is still used by locals for treatment against clogged blood vessels and circulatory diseases. Many claim that this place has the biggest gas emanations in Europe. For an effective treatment, you need to stay here at least 7 days and each day, no longer than 10-15 minutes inside the cave, sitting on the bench or standing up.
One funny side effect of the gas is, for most men, uhm… a boost in their pants. The ladies will surely be happy in the evening 🙂 After about 2-3 minutes inside, you will begin to feel the lower part of your body heating up. This happens to most of people and is believed to be beneficial, as long as you don’t sleep inside.
Once you get excited 🙂 , if you choose to return on the yellow trail, this will take you to the Apor Girls’ Baths, situated just 5 minutes after going across the backyard of the Balvanyos Resort hotel.
These healing baths are recommended for skin disorders: psoriasis, dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis and other diseases. The waters will increase the temperature of the surface of the skin by 2-3 degrees, hence capillary circulation is enhanced. Some waters are also recommended to cure arthritis and all kinds of locomotor disorders. Treatment is especially effective for cardiovascular diseases (high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, capillary dysfunctions etc). Other waters are known to cure pink eye (conjunctivitis) and heal blisters. Take your time and discover all the water springs in this area. From here, you can take the same trail which will take you back in the backyard of the Balvanyos Resort hotel and in the parking.
In the nearby area called Balvanyos, you can find a couple of pensions and guesthouses and a nice restaurant called Restaurant Cetate but sometimes the staff is ignorant and not very friendly. Also, a couple of times, the food was extremely salty and the pork steak tasted weird. For a better alternative, we recommend a restaurant situated 20 minutes away, near Bixad, called Ciuc Abroad Inn, or “Hotarul Ciucului” in Romanian or “Csíki Határ Fogadó” in Hungarian language. The food is fantastic, the staff is super-friendly and they have a daily menu – Swedish buffet style – which is very accessible and, what’s best, you can eat unlimited food for one and a half hours. Just make sure you don’t leave anything in the plate.
If you want accommodation around Saint Anna lake, you can find rooms here but if you want something luxurious and comfortable and one of the best Spa in Romania, try Balvanyos Resort. Nearby, in Baile Tusnad, there are also a lot of possibilities for accommodation. Or, you can just go to Brasov, which is one and a half hours away.