Travelling through the Romanian countryside can feel a little bit like stepping back in time. The most geographically diverse country in the European Union, Romania has recently been gaining popularity with international visitors for the Saxon villages, fortified churches and fairytale landscapes that characterise its rural countryside.
But there’s one destination in particular where visitors can truly feel like they’ve stepped into a different dimension – perhaps even one from a story written by J.R.R. Tolkien himself. Called Valea Celor Doisprezece, this tiny village of hobbit houses transports visitors to a more magical world.
Built spoke with Mihaela Buta, co-owner, operator and creator of the village, about the history of this unique hotel and the hands-on research into ancient construction methods used to bring this remarkable vision to life.
Inspired by a dream
Many architects get inspiration from their imagination, but for the construction of Valea Celor Doisprezece the journey began with a dream.
‘The village was designed by my partner, Ionut Buta’, Buta said. ‘The story began with a dream, and he built it all with his own hands.’ The hands-on nature of Valea Celor Doisprezece was central to the inspiration behind this unique attraction. Buta wanted to build something whose tactile nature was deeply infused into the structure and appearance of every building in the village.
He had a vision of using his creativity and experience in building to transform this scenic pocket of rural Romania into a truly immersive fairytale-inspired experience. ‘With strong experience in the construction field, he realised that instead of massive buildings in crowded cities, we sometimes need to live in tiny houses, close to nature’, Buta explained.
Buta wanted to create a hobbit village that would allow visitors to feel that they had stepped back in time, creating a deeply relaxing, immersive experience that would let them both literally and figuratively unplug from the stresses of everyday modern life. With no electricity in the houses, visitors have no choice but to explore the gardens, enjoy the view from the wood-fuelled hot tub and disconnect from the stressors and addictive dopamine loop technology provides.
Ancient construction techniques
Buta drew on a diverse yet cohesive array of influences to create his vision. ‘Our village design and architecture is inspired by many elements, beautifully blended in the story’, she said. ‘We took elements from Romanian folklore and national fairytales besides the Dacian influence and the obvious nature footprint.’
Created by the ancient Indo-European inhabitants of a region that would later become Eastern Europe, Dacian architecture was known for its stonework and the use of high, thatched roofs, both of which Buta incorporated into his designs. Adding a little whimsical inspiration from the beautiful natural surroundings of the village completed the charmingly old-fashioned look.
The methods used to build the village were as ancient as the inspiration behind its design, Buta explained. ‘The houses were manually constructed using clay, stone and wood’, she said. ‘Every material used and every object placed in the houses has a story, and it is antique and unique.’
Buta and his team used these traditional materials to build each structure slowly from the ground up. ‘We used stones for foundations, bags of clay for the construction and wood for resistance pillars and roof’, Buta said. ‘Everything was crafted by hand after we carefully studied the structure and the antique technique we used.’
As if hand building an entire village wasn’t complicated enough, Buta wanted every structure in Valea Celor Doisprezece to be completely unique, each offering visitors a distinct experience. ‘Each house is unique by design and architecture’, Buta said. ‘They also have different dimensions and different numbers of rooms.’
Creating this handcrafted, deeply bespoke village took a long time. ‘We are still building every day, but it took two years from the beginning of the process to the first day when we were able to accommodate guests’, Buta said. ‘Starting with only one house in 2018, over two additional years of construction the village has been extended with four more houses and three other unique buildings. The village can be visited as a museum or you can spend the night in one of the houses.’
Still, even after all these years of construction, Buta said Valea Celor Doisprezece is far from complete. ‘Our project is only 50% of what we want to achieve’, she said. ‘We will continue to develop the accommodations and also the activity areas for many years to come.’
An unforgettable tourism experience
Ultimately, Buta hopes all this work will add up to a completely unique and memorable experience that visitors will cherish for a lifetime.
When visitors arrive, she hopes they’ll feel transported by the experience. ‘We want them to feel that they are welcomed in our home, that they travelled to another time and world’, she said. ‘We do our best for them to relax and disconnect from daily worries.’
The immersive nature of the vision and construction of the village means spending time in Valea Celor Doisprezece can truly feel like stepping into another world. Visitors can spend the night in any of the houses, which are illuminated in the evenings by candles and oil lamps, and heated in the colder seasons by wood-burning stoves that are also used to cook the meals.
Buta and the rest of the staff invite visitors to unwind with a glass of wine by their wood-heated fireplace or hot tub, or listen to traditional Romanian Doina folk music by the campfire outside. Outdoor activities like a children’s playground, sauna and guided carriage rides, mountain walks, biking and ski lessons complete the village’s old-fashioned charm.
Buta said she hopes everyone who comes to Valea Celor Doisprezece gets a chance to appreciate the village’s carefully crafted charm. ‘As long as the visitors are informed about our different way of living, without electricity, with houses manually built, in the middle of nature, everybody is coming for the experience’, she said. ‘And I can tell no one has ever left our village disappointed.’