15 September 2018

Deep in a picturesque valley in the heart of Transylvania the forest floor has turned a strong autumnal red. Shepherds grazing their flocks in the morning mist are a common sight; it’s like a scene from a Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting — horse and carts almost outnumber cars. If you continue down this enchanting, rickety road, you’ll end up in the small Saxon village of Cund, which is much like hundreds of other settlements throughout this part of Romania.

However, Cund is home to Valea Verde (Green Valley), a guesthouse owned by Jonas Schäfer, a 44-year-old German, and his wife, Ulrike. They have created an intimate country inn that caters for people who, in Schäfer’s words, “love food and wine and want to reconnect with nature”.

Here, that nature includes a tantalising opportunity: beneath the forest floor is an abundance of black truffles, ready to be harvested on special truffle-hunting weekends from September to February. Schäfer uses the fungi to create dishes that wouldn’t look out of place in the fancier restaurants of London, while guests can take home their haul.

The abundance of “Transylvania’s black gold” soon becomes apparent; in less than two hours of trekking with two truffle dogs, we unearth enough of the pungent-smelling fungi to fill a large breakfast bowl.

The joy of finding truffles, of course, is that you can eat them, and the setting at Valea Verde restaurant is as lovely as the food. Tables in what was once a barn are beautifully presented and the cosy cob fire in the corner helps to create a warm welcome. The apartments here are also rather special — private, cosy, rustic and luxurious.

The icing on the cake is that prices in Romania remain low compared with western Europe. The nearest airport is about an hour away in Targu Mures and it’s easy to get flights from £100 return. Valea Verde offers free transfers from Sighisoara, a small medieval city and the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s a 40-minute drive away and well worth a night or two so that you can explore the city’s Saxon heritage.

“There’s a lot of interest in the diverse cultural history of the region,” says Schäfer over a glass of wine in his restaurant.

We opted for a five-course dinner with wine pairing, for £45.

For starters we ate a poached quail egg with local truffle and a beurre monté sauce. Then we moved on to a perfectly cooked beef tenderloin with lightly truffled carrots, finished with a red-wine demi-glace. Schäfer paired the main course with a glass of Crama Oprisor, an impressive red from the southwest of Romania.

If you’re looking for somewhere a little different, somewhere with good food and wine, beautiful scenery and a unique cultural and ethnic history, Valea Verde should be near the top of your list.

Need to know

Stephen McGrath was a guest of Valea Verde (discover-transilvania.com), which has a two-night truffle-hunting package from £206pp, B&B, with a four-course dinner on day one and a truffle-themed meal on day two. Wizz Air (wizzair.com) flights to Targu Mures cost from £100; transfers to Valea Verde cost £18pp