Like many residents in the resort town of Baile Herculane, Romania (pop: 6,000), Stana Radoi was, at one time, employed in the town’s tourism industry. She worked as a waitress and her husband worked as a cook before the couple decided to open their own pension in 2003. Their house, flanked by a chicken coop where a rooster announces the break of each day, sits on the side of a verdant hill overlooking a valley and rocky mountains that jut into the sky and slope gently into wooded hillside on the other side of the Cerna River. In the near distance, on the other side of the river, a palace-like villa and a Communist-era concrete, block hotel sit side by side – both echoing Romanian club music across the valley when night descends on the Cerna.
From employee to owner
Stana and her family manage the operation of the pension and, little by little, what started out as a 1-room facility has increased to 8 rooms and 2 shared bathrooms. “At first it was an experiment,” Stana said. The Radois don’t employ any workers, but their son Ilie helps them manage the pension during his summer school break. The pension hosts guests mainly in summer and, in autumn and spring, is open on the weekends. The cost for a room is 50 RON (about 12 Euro) and does not include breakfast – the serving of meals would put the pension in a different tax bracket. Ms. Stanoi said most guests at her pension come from Romania, but she has hosted a group from France for two years in a row now. For advertisement, Ms. Stanoi said she used business cards, and the name of her pension is listed on the web site of the town hall. “Word of mouth is the best advertisement,” Ms. Radoi said.
The changing face of Baile Herculane
During Communism, the state sent workers to state-run hotels for their annual holidays – about 3 weeks per year. There are many Communist-era hotels in Baile Herculane and they were the most popular facility for tourists before 1989. But with massive economic changes after 1989, tourist preferences have changed too. Now, according to Ms. Radoi, tourists prefer to stay at private houses. “After the Revolution of 1989, the hotels started to degrade,” she said. Former state-run block-style hotels are now less popular as most tourists who can afford it choose hotels with more services or pensions in private houses. But the Communist-era concrete, high-rise block hotels are not the only buildings that have suffered since the regime change; Hapsburg-era buildings have been structurally neglected. “It used to be the pearl of Romanian tourism,” Ms. Radoi’s son, Ilie, said, translating for his mother. Ms. Stanoi echoes the pervasive feeling in Baile Herculane that privatization of the town’s hotels had a negative impact on tourism. In July, the Wall Street newspaper of Romania reported that a major stakeholder in ownership of the town’s hotels, The Argirom Group, owed the state 17 million Euros and that some of the town’s hotels would again be auctioned off. While the sellers of Baile Herculane’s historic hotels might be forced to put a price tag on the structures, residents like Ms. Stanoi believe that Baile Herculane and its natural surroundings hold an invaluable charm for tourists. Local officials continue to lobby for European project funds. The municipality is investing millions of Euros into the renovation of a Habsburg-era hotel called Villa Elisabetta. After all, there is hope. And small pension owners like Ms. Stanoi are still making plans for the future, even if their view of the recent past is shadowed.
“If you come as a tourist, you come as a friend”
Despite changes in Baile Herculane, which lists 50 operating pensions on its official site, the Radoi family has worked steadily each year since 2003 to make improvements at the pension. The Radois built their own road to access their hillside house by car, facilitating car access and a steep climb for those who can find a parking place. The family also made
several stories of terraces, each one offering a different view of the valley, a different resting point. One one terrace is a grill, on another a swing, on another a picnic table under a shelter. Ms. Radoi said she tries to treat each guest as a friend. She recalls a time a Romanian woman brought her family for a 2-week stay at the Radoi pension. When it came time for departure and to say goodbye to Stana Radoi, the family’s woman cried. “If you come as a tourist, you come as a friend,” Ms. Radoi said. She has plans for even more improvements at the pension. I ask Stana Radoi, who has dedicated her life’s work to hosting tourists, where she, personally, would go on vacation. She tells me she hasn’t had a vacation in 15 years, but if she had to choose, maybe a Western European country, maybe Italy.