Some say Transylvania is that part of Europe with the most natural resources. To Lonely Planet, Transylvania was the #1 Region to visit in 2016. To us, Transylvania is “home” and that’s why we feel responsible to be welcoming hosts and to share with our guests its wealth: its nature, its customs, its history, its legends, its people. We will show you all these from the saddle or in the horse-drawn carriage.
Villa Abbatis Equestrian Center is part of a much wider project and its history goes back to spring 2011.
I stopped in Apoș, a cosy little, world-forgotten village that had once been inhabited by Saxons. I was looking to find my grandparents’ proprieties, who had been born in the near-by village. Although Apoș was so close to my native whereabouts, I had never been there. It was not by a main road, maybe that’s why it stayed untouched until today.
I stopped the car in the middle of the dirt road-street, in front of the Saxon church bell tower. In decay, but still imposing and spectacular, it had been there since 1799. Behind it – a pine-tree forest seemed to be protecting the old Cistercian Abbey from the early 14th century. Right across the street stood the old bishop’s house. Vandalised, with shrivelled walls, a broken roof and window-less, it caught my eye and mesmerised me. I stayed put until a horse cart brought me back to reality.
Where I then stopped in place, I also stop these days. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with friends, trying to make feel what I then felt. How time stood still and still does today. Once I knew where I wanted to raise my horses and invite people over to see them, nothing was impossible any more. It was and still is extremely difficult, but nothing is impossible any more.
I think I managed to save the bishop’s house at the very last moment. I bought it from the Evangelical Church before the century-old beams were stolen, as it had happened with so many other houses in the area. I think I was the first one in Transylvania to do that. I also bought the land nearby and started the procedures to take the Saxon church into administration, in order to restore it and bring it to life thorough the Villa Abbatis Cultural Association.
My next project was building the stable in the architectural style of the Saxon villages and using, whenever possible, the same building methods: we covered it in manually mounted-stone which we got from demolished Saxon buildings and made its roof as high as the typical Saxon hay barns. Today people ask me if it had been there forever.
The stable was designed by my friend, architect Eugen Vaida and led to a whole programme of preserving the traditional Transylvanian village, coordinated by Monumentum Association. Part of this programme, thanks to Eugen’s efforts and the modest help many other people and I offered, we built a traditional kiln for making roof tiles. Thus we managed to bring this craft back to life in the Hârtibaciu Valley. And of course I used roof tiles made in Apoș for my stable.
HRH Prince Charles officially launched the kiln in June 2015 and is a strong supporter of this project.
In the village we managed to restore pro bono several facades and a roof. And we also donated several water buffalows to villagers in Apoș and Alțâna. Raising water buffalows goes back to 1700 in the area, but in the last 20-30 years, their number droped by 90%.
I wish all people in Apoș become an active community, help and respect each other and I want our village to be the self-reflecting mirror we all look into. I think the first step is done: we surrounded ourselves by passionate and gifted people and we took it upon ourselves us to make Transylvania and the Hârtibaciu Valley known in the whole wide world through tourism.
They say that “whoever drinks water out of the Hârtibaci river, shall stay there”. I am here to stay and to get others to come back.”
Mihai Barbu, Villa Abbatis