Izvoarele Nerei

Izvoarele Nerei Nature Reserve, Romania

Izvoarele Nerei is the largest (50 km2) virgin forest in Romania1 and one of the largest virgin European beech (Fagus sylvatica) forests in the world. The reserve is a part of Semenic-Cheile Caraşului National Park. In 2017, Izvoarele Nerei was added to the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe World Heritage Site.

Izvoarele Nerei consists of two adjacent north-south orientated mountain valleys. The altitude varies between 620 and 1400 m. A trail runs through the reserve along the ridge between the valleys. Along the trail, it is possible to hike about ten kilometres (one-way) in virtually untouched broadleaf forest on almost level ground – somewhat uniquely in Europe! The forest is almost pure beech – actually, on the ridge not a single tree exists that is not a beech! On the slopes and in the valleys there are very few European silver fir (Abies alba), and in the natural openings some shrubs like common hazel (Corylus avellana) and elder (Sambucus nigra). Wych elm (Ulmus glabra), sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) and European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) exist only as single individuals. In the past the forest was only influenced by shepherds moving their flocks along the ridge to seaonal pastures2. The wood volume at the best sites is very high for a broadleaf forest, frequently over 1200 m3/ha 3, though such high figures naturally apply to small dense stands only. The oldest tree to have been found was 477 years old2. The forest is also tall: in my measurements in 2016 and 2019 using a TruPulse 200X laser instrument, the tallest beech was 48.4 m. I had the opportunity to explore only a part of the potential height record groves, so there may well be even taller beeches. More than 50 m tall beeches have been reported from Izvoarele Nerei3 but they have very probably been measured using the tangent method, which often results in over-measurement4. On the ridge, exposed to winds, beech does not reach great heights but it becomes thick: the thickest beech along the trail has a girth of 450 cm. Undergrowth is sparse. Annual precipitation ranges from 750 to 1200 mm and average annual temperature from 4 to 10°C 2. The bedrock consists of mica schist; the soils are fertile3.

It is easiest to start from “Complexul turistic Semenic”, an almost dead hotel complex north of Izvoarele Nerei. Only one hotel (Cabana Andra) is still open year-round (as of 2016). The trailhead is very poorly marked (see photo in the gallery). The reserve begins after a 2 km hike (at N45°09’49,6”, E22°03’48,3“). 3 km into the old-growth forest, the trail reaches an old meadow called “Poiana Mare” with a Norway spruce (Picea abies) plantation next to the meadow. The spruce were planted in the 1970s as a shield against grazing3. After the meadow, the old-growth forest continues. After “Poiana Mare” the trail is so little used as to be almost non-existent in places; it is easy to lose the trail as the trail tags are also missing in some sections. Consequently, map-reading and compass skills are essential. A topographic map is available at least through http://mapfox.de/. Fortunately, the forest is very easy to walk off-trail, too, thanks to the almost non-existent undergrowth. After a few kilometres, the ridge becomes narrower, making the trail somewhat clearer. The trail is slightly better marked northwards. On the ridge, there are also a couple of other very small old clearings, which are now overgrowing. People from lower valleys cleared these meadows during the Turkish invasions for shelter from the invaders2. Note that sheep graze freely on the wide meadow surrounding “Complexul turistic” in the summer and are herded by sheepdogs. If the dogs stop you, whistle or shout loudly and a shepherd comes to calm down the dogs. From the south, the hike to Izvoarele Nerei is much longer. A road running almost to the southern boundary is marked on maps but is in such poor condition it almost requires a tractor.



  1. Veen, P. et al. (2010): Virgin forests in Romania and Bulgaria: results of two national inventory projects and their implications for protection. Biodivers Conserv 19:1805–1819.
  2. Apostol, J. et al. (2016): Romania: Izvoarele Nerei. In Kirchmeir, H. & Kovarovics, A. (eds.): Nomination Dossier to the UNESCO for the Inscription on the World Heritage List.
  3. Turcu, T.: The “Izvoarele Nerei” Scientific Reserve – Short Presentation.
  4. Bragg, D. C., Frelich, L. E., Leverett, R. T., Blozan, W. & Luthringer, D. J. (2011): The Sine Method: An Alternative Height Measurement Technique. The Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Research Note SRS-22.