Considered by its GDP, Covasna County is said to be poor, yet it is home to one of the most extensive, rich and valuable mineral water resources in Europe.
Photo credit: (c) Lucian TUDOSE / AGERPRES ARCHIVE
Covasna has thousands of mineral water springs teeming all over the place, some grown to the status of brand, others known only by the locals who use them as cure to various diseases. Some localities have almost no freshwater well, instead there is mineral water aplenty to pull up with the dip-bucket. Each well has a different composition, a different taste and different curing properties.
Long ago, locals with a health condition didn’t rush to the doctor, but rather sought a healing mineral spring.
The Valcele spa, situated near the city of Sfantu Gheorghe, and whose heyday fame bested that of Karlovy Vary, has a mineral spring with an extremely high content of magnesium — 335 ml per litre, making it an excellent cure for the plague of this century — stress. It also helps in gastritis, ulcer, osteoporosis, rheumatism and many other conditions that are usually being treated with lots of money and handfuls of pills. Valcele has had quite a range of high-profile visitors who sought the curing effect of its mineral water and bubbling soaks. Even crowned heads, including King Carol I and King Ferdinand of Romania counted to the spa visitors.
Prince Milos Obrenovich of Serbia, who visited Valcele in 1841, donated money for a church to be built here after having successfully pursued treatment at this spa. This is also where some of the time’s highbrows who spearheaded Romania’s political and cultural movements, such as historian and politician Nicolae Balcescu, philologist and politician Ion Heliade Radulescu, folklorist, composer and writer Anton Pann, poet and diplomat Dimitrie Bolintineanu, literary critic and politician Titu Maiorescu and Metropolitan bishop Andrei Saguna spent some time, says museographer Nicolae Moldovan, now at the venerable age of 92, the one who collected testimonials, documents and photographs and produced the monograph of Valcele.
Unfortunately, the spa’s glamour faded out, the once smart villas are now in disrepair, and if it weren’t for the vintage photos, one could hardly imagine its times of glory, when the brass band played in the park to entertain the swarms of tourists strolling on the walkways. Today, the spa of Valcele dwells in anonymity, yet the mineral water keeps flowing.
It flows as a reminder of the ever-present change, or maybe, for some of the locals just to wash their rubber boots under the spurt of mineral water; however, the townsfolk still come from tens of kilometres to get the precious liquid. This is also home to the only plant in Romania where medicinal mineral water is bottled manually, pure water, with no addition or “enhancement.”
“It is bottled just as it springs from the ground, with no intervention, without removing or adding anything to it. The water reaches the customer just as it was prepared and balanced in the most performing lab I know — nature,” says Silviu Manole, owner of bottling company Wega Invest.
Sugas Bai, a small and lovely vacation spa lying near Sfantu Gheorghe, has the Elisabeta spring that has been used for centuries as a remedy against liver diseases and gastritis.
In Balvanyos, in the north of the county, there’s the ‘eye curing spring’ that treats conjunctivitis. The trees surrounding the creek have myriads of handkerchiefs fluttering from their branches, left there by those who used them to wash their eyes with the miraculous water and who believe the tales of the elders that they will thus rid themselves of the disease.
Among the thousands of mineral springs of Covasna County there is one that can precisely “foretell” the weather 24 hours in advance. It’s the ‘Putya’ spring in the locality of Micfalau, called by the locals “the weather telling creek”. If the water is turbid it is sign it will rain, and if it is limpid, it will be sunny weather. The locals say the spring has never been wrong in centuries and that they trust it more than the TV weather bulletins.
Alone in the surroundings of the resort of Covasna, which is the site of Romania’s only hospital for cardiovascular rehabilitation, there are over 1,000 mineral springs, some of which have been known since the times of the Romans.
The genesis of the mineral waters is closely connected to the post-volcanic phenomena in the area.
“Traversing the successive soil layers, the water washes off and dissolves the minerals and salts in the depths of the earth and emerges to daylight loaded with gas and mineral salts,” explains geologist Kisgyorgy Zoltan from Sfantu Gheorghe, who has a rich collection of mineral bottle labels put together in more than three decades. He has more than 1,000 items of which the oldest is dated 1902 — the Maria Spring in Malnas. A read of the chemical composition on the labels shows one that each spring is unique.
Fully aware of the county’s underground treasure, the Covasna authorities have kicked off together with their Harghita County peers a project aimed at revamping several spas left to decay but also at developing several other localities with a balneal potential. Called the ‘Trail of Mineral Waters’, it runs through the localities of Bixad, Belin, Malnas, Valcele, Bodoc, Sugas-Bai, Martanus, Baraolt (all of them in Covasna County) and Borsec, Tusnad, Jigodin, Homorod, Remetea (in the neighboring Harghita County). No less than 10 ml euros have been invested so far, over half of which came from European funds.
The bathing pool in Baraolt was revamped, a new moffette-capturing facility was built in Bodoc, two mineral springs were piped and directed to a freshly built bath facility. In Malnas, the pavilions covering two springs were refurbished and the park was revamped; spa centres were built in Sugas and Valcele, complete with pools, Turkish baths, Finnish saunas, fitness halls and other leisure spaces.
”Investments were needed because such riches are to no avail if one cannot offer the tourist some extra amenities,” said Sfantu Gheorghe Mayor Antal Arpad.
In the past, almost each locality in the county had a popular mineral bath, a kind of bathing place where people came for soaks because they helped in everything. These were small wooden tanks, usually placed in forested locales, around such a body of water. They were abandoned with the passing of time and invaded by vegetation, but some have still seen that that the mineral springs they had heard from the elders don’t clog and vanish in forgetfulness.
Local authorities thought that rebuilding these traditional baths the way they were in the past would prove a tourist attraction. This was not necessarily about the curative effect of the water, but mainly for the unique atmosphere.
And with these time-passing facilities, another tradition came back to life: communal work. Some came with their physical skills, others with materials and others with food for volunteers. This is how some of the bathing sites were rebuilt at Cernat, Bodoc, Olteni, Peteni and Hatuica, where the tourist can spend a couple of quiet hours away from the city noise and everyday worries.
Covasna County Council President Tamas Sandor said that this project is important not just because it opens new perspectives to local tourism, but also because it helps preserve the traditions of the Szekelys in the region.
Covasna locals even have a festival dedicated to the mineral water: called ‘Aquarius’, it is aimed at popularizing mineral water, especially un-bottled, drunk directly at the source. Specialists say that not all mineral waters ”resist in bottles” and therefore, for their properties and curative effects not to go wasted, they should be drunk straight from the source.
The festival takes place every year in another locality where the mineral water is brought in barrels. Mineral water tasting events and drinking competitions are held on this occasion, exhibitions of vintage labels, photographs and postcards are organized, as well as scientific lectures, concerts and shows; much to the public’s delight, there is also a traditional pancake-baking contest with mineral water.
For one to recognize a quality mineral water one must be careful to the composition. The experts’ recommendation for the cure to be effective is to read the label and choose a water containing the minerals the body is lacking.
Covasna is by no means a poor county, blessed as it is with this source of healing and abundance, its ever-flowing streams of mineral water. AGERPRES