You can’t help but smile as you walk in early summer through the grass-growing valleys of Transylvania. They ooze a kind of sweet-smelling well-being, largely because these valleys in the Carpathian Mountains in the center of Romania contain one of the great treasures of the cultivated world: some of the richest and most botanically diverse hay meadows in Europe. You can find up to 50 different species of grass and flowers growing there in a single square yard of meadow, and even more within reach as you sit down among them. This flowery miracle is maintained not by nature but by nature worked with the human hand. The richness is there only because a meadow stays a meadow if it is mown every summer. Abandoned, it will be filled with scrub in three to five years. As it is, for the moment anyway, Transylvania is a world made beautiful by symbiosis. All day long the smell of the meadows gradually thickens, and as the sun drops, the honey-sharp smell of the butterfly orchids, night scented, pollinated by moths, comes seeping out of the hillsides.
By Adam Nicolson
Photograph by Rena Effendi