Waaaaaay back in 1998, during my GAP year I lived in Canada. I met a lot of people during my time there but one that stayed with me was a guy called Ithaca who was from Transylvania, Romania. The look on my face (and his!) when I realised in my young naivety that Transylvania was an actual place and not just a made up place that Dracula was from (or Count Duckula, depending which generation you are). Finally, 19 years on, I planned a five day, four night road trip touring round the region. Driving Romania was an adventure in itself and has it’s own blog entry over here. After waiting so long to visit it sounds silly now that the trip was so short, but believe me we crammed a lot in. Dracula themed places, fairy tale castles, fortified churches, kinetic steam punk bars, an amusement park at the bottom of a salt mine, a bear sanctuary. The scenery is simply stunning, costs to travel were cheap and the locals were ever so lovely and helpful …. just don’t annoy a taxi driver by taking off his wing mirror on a narrow Bucharest street…..
Here are a few of my favourite places….
According to legend, this is the final resting place of Vlad the Impaler’s body (minus the head, that is elsewhere). If you’re planning on going to Transylvania then I’m sure you will be familiar with Vlad or at least the fictional character of Bram Stokers “Dracula” who was inspired by Vlad’s torturous ways. The monastery is set on a small island which can be reached by a 150m foot bridge. Set the sat nav for Silistea Snagovului, or follow the signs from the E60 to get you to the right side of the lake and a small car park. Pay the lovely old man 10 lei to park, he might ask for a cigarette as well (I’m still sad I didn’t follow the often given advice of carrying a packet of smokes even if you don’t smoke yourself). The monastery is serene, very small, ornate and beautifully painted inside (you’ll have to pay a fee to enter). Vlad’s tomb is supposedly in front of the altar with a portrait and rose on top. I loved this place, a great little stop off the tourist trail.
Wow! Just wow! During my research for the trip I had seen many pictures of this neo-renaissance castle set against the Carpathian Mountains, but to see it IRL did not disappoint! There’s a car park just before the walking route up to the castle. We chose not to take the tour inside, but we did stop for some lunch at the side of the castle and just stared at the fairytale-ness of it all.
Probably the most visited place in Transylvania? Even then, when we arrived, 3pm on a Sunday in the school holidays, it still wasn’t as busy as expected. I know the castle from the front cover of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and it emanates all thoughts of vampires. That first glance of the castle up on the rock is magical. We visited again a couple of days later at night and I could just imagine Dracula standing on top of the castle walls with his wings out – it was even a full moon ……
A 30 minute drive from Bran is the town Brasov which we chose for our night’s accommodation at Hotel Drachenhaus. Brasov has a cobbled old town which is worth a walk round and if you have time head up Tampa mountain on the funicular for a view over the region.
Mainly known as the birthplace of Vlad! We parked at the bottom of the hill and walked up to the old town. The clock tower is stunning with the church roofs glistening different colours in the sun. Vlad’s house is the bright yellow one on the corner. You can visit the room upstairs where Vlad was supposedly born and lived in his early years. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but for the equivalent of £1 it’s worth visiting, just for a little giggle. There is also a restaurant attached, we only had a drink and “Dracula’s pancakes”. Looks like a lot of tour groups stop here though. Have a stroll round the cobbled streets, the houses are so beautiful.
In the small town of Turda there were two attractions that made us drive the couple of hours north to visit. First off was our actual hotel – Hunter Prince Castle & Dracula. It was ridiculously cheap, compared with big city prices, and the service was impeccable and it’s DRACULA THEMED. There is a restaurant onsite which has a creepy Dracula inspired private dining room, the rest of the restaurant is decorated more like a hunting lodge. The chairs are heavy wood and when I accidentally made a loud scraping noise with the chair on the floor the waiter leant in and said with a completely straight face “be careful you don’t wake up Dracula”. Hilarious.
The main purpose staying in Turda wasn’t just for the fabulous hotel but also for the salt mine. THERE IS AN AMUSEMENT PARK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SALT MINE. I repeat. AN AMUSEMENT PARK. It’s not like DisneyLand or Alton Towers but it’s a popular place for local families. There’s a small ferris wheel, boating lake, mini golf, pool table, bowls. Did I mention this was all at the BOTTOM of the salt mine?!
THEN, if an amusement park at the bottom of a salt mine isn’t quirky enough for you – how about Europe’s first kinetic steampunk bar? If you head a little further north of Turda, on motorway 3 that’s currently being built (literally not a soul on the road, wish our English motorways were like this!) you will reach the University city of Cluj-Napoca. I could have spent so much more time here but alas our time was short, as everything else though it was well worth the detour.
When in Transylvania – see another fairytale castle!
Corvin Castle, aka Hunedoara Castle, is one of the largest castles in Europe. The castle that I had always imagined as Dracula’s castle (but isn’t… ). It’s easily signposted and there’s a car park with attendant just a short walk from the castle. It’s a few hours drive from Bran but you will be rewarded with less crowds and stunning scenery along the drive.
In 4 days we covered 1,200 kms. If you’re planning a road trip round Transylvania and want any advice on planning your itinerary, feel free to drop me a line. These were simply my highlights and after all of my research I could have easily planned a week’s road trip if not longer. The country is just incredible, scenery is stunning and the locals were so friendly and helpful. I definitely will return!
Next stop – Bulgaria…..