Romania is one of the very few places left in Europe where you can still experience the bygone era of the steam engine locomotives. So if you ever find yourself in the region of Maramures, Romania, don’t miss riding the Mocanita – Viseul de Sus – the last steam forestry train in Europe.
The nostalgic steam locomotive from Viseul de Sus will take you on an incredibly picturesque journey along the lush, green Vaser Valley, into the high Carpathian Mountains. It’s an experience that you won’t soon forget.
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All You Should Know About the Mocanita in Viseul de Sus, Romania
There’s something so impressive about a locomotive blowing up steam like a dreadful fire-breathing dragon: “choo, choo, choo… black smoke, white smoke… choo, choo, choo. I can’t have enough of this image, reminiscent of my early childhood years when we were riding the train to go see my grandparents.
Mocanița simply means “Coffee Machine” and is basically a term of endearment that Romanians use for any narrow-gauge steam engine locomotive. Why? Because the train driving gear is reminiscent of an Italian-style espresso machine.
Before the narrow gauge railway were invented, logs were transported from the mountain forests to the valleys below on rivers. It was only after the invention of the steam locomotives that people began building narrow-gauge railways. These were special tracks which took up less space and allowed tight curves to be laid in the mountain gorges.
In the 1930s Europe there was a boom of such narrow-gauge railroads. But by the end of the 1960s they practically disappeared from western Europe. There are only a handful that survived in Eastern Europe, and one of them is the Mocanita in Maramures, Romania.
And almost 90 years later, this train still hauls wood crossing the bridges and tunnels that take it into the gorges of the Vaser Valley. But besides wood, the Mocanita also hauls nostalgic tourists who love revisiting the steam engine trains.
I rode a narrow-gauge train to Jungfraujoch before, but the Mocanita was a very different experience. The ride is particularly interesting for the young folks who have never seen what a steam engine looks like.
Where to Find the Mocanita Train Station in Viseul de Sus
The Mocanita railway is located in Viseul-de-Sus, a small mountain town in the region of Maramures, Romania. The train station is the middle of the town, at the end of a little bumpy road.
As you pass the metal gates of the train depot, you find yourself in the middle of a big yard which looks more like an open-air museum, with a colorful display of steam powered locomotives and old wagons.
The old, charming building of the train station serves now as the main office. Here you can buy your train tickets and some souvenirs. To the right side of the station there is a little café that sells snacks, coffee and drinks.
What to Expect Aboard the Train
The Mocanita ride starts in front of the station and climbs up for about 30 kilometers into the mountains of Maramures, in Romania. Before getting deep into the forest, the tracks follow the roadless Vaser River Valley passing by colorful houses and tranquil pastures.
You can see men working their yards. Women doing their laundry in the river. Children going to school. Railroad workers standing by the side of the road. They all seem to be part of the landscape, like if they weren’t present you’d miss them.
Some wave at the moving train as if it’s an event. Others don’t even seem to notice it. After all, the train passing by is business as usual.
The passenger cars are very authentic, with large windows and wooden ceilings. The simple (and quite uncomfortable) benches were obviously designed at a time when passengers that did not travel very far.
A Fairytale Train Ride Along the Vaser Valley
On the way up the mountain, the Mocanița makes a couple stops (halts) to replenish the water for the steam engine. These are called water stops.
In order to produce mechanical motion the steam engine needs boiling water. The steam moves the pistons which are mechanically connected to the locomotive’s main wheels. Cheap, simple and efficient!
The railway goes deep into the forests of the Maramures mountains to the tiny hamlet of Coman. The Vaser River is about 60 kilometres long, but the train turns around after 31 kilometers.
The scenery is very picturesque. It reminded me a lot about the Swiss Scenic Train we rode from Lucerne to Interlaken. The river forms a dramatic canyon-like valley, with steep cliffs and dense forests. It’s a bucolic landscape, with rapid water springs and beautiful meadows. So much to enjoy and photograph!
At the end of the ride, Mocanita stops for about an hour on the river bank, in a very beautiful place. The spot is just enough to accommodate a picnic area where the passengers can order a barbecue or a snack.
The stop gives you enough time to get off the train and enjoy a meal or walk around to admire the beautiful scenery.
On the way back, the train stops a couple of times. You can hop off to take pictures or stretch your legs.
The Vase Valley in Maramures is one of the most remote places in Romania and Mocanita provides the only access to the settlements in this area.
Buying Tickets for the Mocanița
Mocanita railway is one of the most popular places in Romania, so it’s a good idea to book your tickets in advance. Being the only narrow gauge train left in Europe, the Mocanita is very popular and for this reason always crowded.
Sometimes the Mocanița offers special event trips for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or concerts, photography trips etc. If interested in one of these special events, you should call the office to book your tickets in advance.
The train operates from spring to fall, from Thursday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m to 2:30 p.m. For a more updated schedule you should check their website directly.
NOTE: There is a similar train ride in the village of Moldovita, Bucovina, called Mocanita Hotulca. The ride is however much shorter (1/2 hour) and it doesn’t go through the mountains.