Ochre-tiled rustic houses with shady vineyards and cozy verandahs where local women sit passing long summer evenings in idle chatter line many of the stony roads in the picturesque village of Doi Mai on Romania’s Black Sea coast.
With but a smidgen of romanticism, this peaceful oasis where dogs loll lazily in front of their master’s wooden gates dreaming of fields to explore and knuckle bones to gnaw could easily be mistaken for Claude Monet’s famed Giverny deep in French Normandy or Salvador Dali’s hometown of Figueres in Spain’s Catalonia.
Here, people inextricably linked to Nature tend their gardens devotedly, coaxing from loose powdery soil a colorful bumper harvest – of plum, fig, merribel, pear, apple, chestnut, eggplant, corn and tomato. Here, the enticing aromatic smells of traditional dishes like slow-roasted peppers, zacusca, a delectable blend of home-grown vegetables transformed into a light, delicate stew, or an assortment of seafood such as the finger-sized hamsii, white soft-fleshed chefal (golden grey mullet) and juicy rapane (sea snails) waft tantalizingly on soft breezes from open grills.
Perhaps this tranquil place, its people bemused rather than bothered by modern man’s desperate need to hurry time, may soon take its rightful place as the emerging international bohemian retreat. A place where artists of all kinds – musicians, painters, writers – practice their craft and perfect their creations during dazzling azure blue days and balmy moonlit nights.
As it is now, Doi Mai’s normally serene, muffled streets become a lively buzz of conversation only when Romanians arrive from far and wide, from mountain, valley and plain, lured by the seductive promises of summer on fine, soft-sand beaches a short walk away.
Here, depending on your mood, visitors can enjoy the soothing, simple rhythms of village life, the most strenuous activity being that of white-collar doves flirting excitedly on nearby branches; or stroll to the beach to enjoy a leisurely swim, an open-air massage and an exotic pre-dinner cocktail or two. Or simply stretch languidly on a chaise longue and be caressed by the warm summer sun while perusing the latest best-seller before sliding gently into a revitalizing siesta.
Evenings bring an added dimension to village life in Doi Mai. Lights from family-run restaurants, stores and bars cast flickering shadows on to the main street. La Copacabana, a sand-floored music venue nuzzling the beach with the sky for a roof, offers soothing jazz, hard-hitting rock or reggae and folk, often depending on the day, the month and perhaps the notion of its owner, Horatiu Serb.
La Babusca, tucked away in a shadowy corner in the heart of the village, boasts a spacious room straight off the street with an oversize television screen showing the latest sporting triumphs and tragedies on the football fields of Europe.
At Stella, a snug little store on the corner of Zaharia Petrescu street, you can purchase a plump melon, a bag of ripe peaches, a toilet roll, a cold six-pack or a buttery Chardonnay as easily from dusk to dawn as from mid-day to midnight.
Freedom being ultimately what one decides it should be, if you don’t feel much like venturing forth, simply pour a generous measure of your favorite libation, lean dreamily back in your seat under a canopy of hanging grapes and be captivated by the mesmerizing sounds of crickets enlivening the night air around you.