Category Archives: Our news

This is the place where you can find news about Beyond Dracula, our team, our projects, new ideas, etc.

What to expect when you travel to Maramures

I won’t tell you what to expect when you travel to Maramures from my imagination. Last week I have actually done that for you and other guests who are planning to come for a trip in summer and fall.

We already wrote about Maramures, what is there to see and why you should go. But that was a while ago. I wanted to see how the region changed, what’s new. To be very honest, I also wanted to try out the traditional guesthouses I know had opened in Botiza, one of the villages where you can have an authentic experience of the region.

So what did we find? In a few words: beautiful landscapes, wonderful accommodation, and extremely welcoming and warm people.

We stopped for a night nearby Alba Iulia, the city known for Romania’s unification in 1918. We strolled around the Alba Carolina citadel before heading towards the mountain villages nearby.

The Roman Catholic Cathedral from Alba Iulia. Source: BD

The morning after we woke up to an amazing view of this oddly shaped mountain.

Morning view from Coltesti, Alba. Source: BD

Speaking of views, the week continued with beautiful, picture perfect images that I can only wish to wake up to more often. Here are some from Viseu and Botiza.

Morning view from Viseu de Sus, Maramures. Source: BD
Morning view from Botiza, Maramures. Source: BD

But while driving we also came across bee keepers, visited Mr Barsan and stopped by to visit some of the wooden churches that make Maramures famous and that are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Bee keepers on the side of the road in Maramures. Source: BD
Wood carving in Mr Barsan’s workshop in Barsana, Maramures. Source: BD

The places of accommodation we found? I’ll tell you this: you will get more than what you’ll expect when looking from the outside. Centuries old traditional wooden houses have been tastefully restored to allow guests to enjoy their stay in authentic locations while having excellent levels of comfort. Whether in Breb or Botiza, you can actually choose from the various guesthouses depending on what you expect your experience to be.

Traditional gate from Maramures, in Botiza. Source: BD
Beautiful guesthouse in Botiza, La Sesuri. Source: BD

We ended our trip with the loveliest of drives coming down from Maramures into Transylvania on a narrow mountain road, crossing very few cars and enjoying the views. Our last night before returning home was in Cluj, the NW gateway into Transylvania, home to more than 80.000 students, bubbling with life, and very inviting to stay for longer.

Statue of Matei Corvin from the Union Square in Cluj. Source: BD

As the week starts and so many memories from this trip are still very fresh on my mind, I can only plan to travel to Maramures again later this year. I’d recommend you do the same 😉

3 things we would love to do more of for you

As a purely bespoke travel agent, we are always putting first what you could enjoy the most while in Romania.

It takes time to understand what you like, have an interest in, love to learn about, try out, and simply have as an experience while on holiday. But this is one of the things that makes our job great.

Recently though, we had fun doing some things we’d love to do more of for each one of you. I’ll give you top 3.

  • Research for your trip a corner of the country.

Next week I’ll be in Maramures for a whole week of research. I’ve been there 2 years ago but we have 4 returning clients who want to spend 10 days discovering in a very laid back way this beautiful region.

Traditional wooden gate from Maramures at the Village Museum in Sighetu Marmatiei. Source: BD

What’s my plan? Firstly, I need to find the best options for accommodation and for excellent food; somewhere close to nature, authentic and yet with good standards. Secondly, I’ll check out the typical stops one makes in Maramures: the wooden churches and the Merry Cemetery. Finally, I’ll look for special experiences: craftsmen, water mills, the steam train, local chefs who could give a cooking workshop, local people who could share anything that would be of interest to our guests, and of course, I’ll stay open to surprises.

  • “Pimp” your selected accommodation

For a small group of guests coming in April, we’ll work on making their guesthouse an even cozier and nicer place to be in. Don’t think construction work! Think flowers, board games we know they like, candles, torches, better toiletries in bigger containers than the usual hotel ones, softer towels and bath robes, a larger selection of drinks, etc. None of these things are major changes and yet they are little touches that can take the experience of our guests from 98% to 100% excellent.

  • Find you the ideal teacher for your passion

There are many ways in which you learn about something you love. One of the best ways is to learn with and from someone who is as passionate as you are about the same subject and who loves to share the passion and the knowledge.

For a young group we have coming soon we’ve searched for an astronomer. Our guests wanted to learn more about astronomy, to look at the stars and the planets with a telescope, to learn about cosmological formulas, and to check out sky maps.

It’s not every day you meet someone passionate about astronomy but while searching for the ideal teacher for our guests, I could not help feeling impressed at the wealth of resources that are available. I am now certain that no matter what your interest or passion is, you can meet someone to talk to about it while on your vacation. Can you imagine how much fun that is?

Meet a local craftsman to learn about their work and make new friends Source: BD

The list could go on but I stop here with a thought I often have about travel: go slowly and make it an experience. No matter where you go and what you do, no matter what your budget can afford, choose to have experiences instead of a fast trip checking items on a bucket list.

If you ask me, that’s the essence of travel, that’s what makes travel great.

PS: Get in touch if you want your own trip to Romanian planned by us.

The sweetest pen pal we’ve ever had

Our main job is to be in touch with people. Whether it’s you, future guests, or our partners, we spend most of our time in contact with people. Part of the reason we really like what we do is this constant contact with people, with you.

We get the best of you; we get that side of you that dreams of your next trip. We get the child in you who plans his/her next adventure to an exotic land. We get to exchange e-mails and talk to the adventurous and playful side of each one of you. And that is just fantastic!

But we’ve recently had a unique experience with probably the youngest person to ever write to us.

It all started with an e-mail written by a mother on behalf of her daughter, Brooke. She was asking if Brooke could send a message to Dracula and get a reply.

While the Count was not to be found, I could only promise to send an answer on his behalf, from us. And so, weeks later we got this lovely letter from Brooke and her mom.

Seeing Dracula might be a problem…he never comes to work. Source: BD

It was right before Halloween and I have a hunch Brooke dressed up as a scary vampire. She sent her love to Dracula and drew a heart with teeth on it.

We wrote back, send her some postcards and promised to pass the message to Dracula when he stops by our office.

Last week we got a reply. This time not only the Count got a card from Brooke; I did too. And a gift: a bracelet with the shape of the state of Texas. Now both I and Dracula have a friend somewhere in Texas thinking of us and sending us love and hearts with teeth.

I got a longer letter than Dracula…and a better gift 😉 Source: BD

You know we love creating memorable experiences for you when you visit Romania. You also know we love making these experiences special even before you come to visit Romania by sending you hand written postcards. But writing to Brooke and her mom was just special. Can you imagine her face when getting mail from her favorite character, Dracula?

What did we do in Cancun?

If you read our end of the year article, you know 2016 has been a year of great beginnings in terms of putting Romania out there. Not only are we being tested to get on Wendy Perrin’s WOW list but we have already been accepted to the Traveller Made family.

I’ll soon tell you more about joining Traveller Made and how that benefits your travel experience. Now I want to share impressions and thoughts from the Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit.

The Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit, Cancun 2017

While January was wonderfully cold and snowy in Romania, it was not that difficult to escape it all for just 4 days and fly across the world to attend the meeting of some of the greatest people in travel, in Cancun, Mexico. While I can’t say I saw much of Cancun or Mexico (although I did have an additional half a day to watch the sun come up in Tulum, have breakfast by the beach and do some snorkeling in the Dos Ojos Cenote), I enjoyed every second of the trip.

The Summit is a yearly event where some of the TTEs (Trusted Travel Experts) who are already on Wendy’s list meet to exchange ideas, learn from each other, debate, and clearly, catch up and have fun. While not officially on the list yet, some of the travel experts being tested are also invited. If the rest felt like me, attending the summit made it even clearer that Wendy’s list is the place to be. In other words, I felt Romania belongs there, I felt we belong there.

Wendy speaking about the WOW List

But what’s the list and why does it matter that it exists?

There are many, many ways for travelers to decide on how to travel. That’s great but that’s also a pain.

How do you work through all the options? How do you find what’s right for you? The list makes that easy for you. It gives you the one person, the one contact you need to unlock unique experiences in almost every country in the world. If you genuinely care about your trips and you want them to be more than simple vacations, try any of the experts on the list next time you plan to go somewhere. Whether it’s something as little as a weekend trip to Paris or a whole month in Nepal…find the experts for these places and get in touch.

You actually don’t have to trust me. We’re still being testedJ Trust other travelers who have already tried the list. I can only tell you that for anyone to be on the list, receiving consistently excellent feedback from travelers is the only thing that matters to stay on the list.

How do our guests benefit from us being tested?

Firstly, to be considered is an achievement. It means that travelers have been happy with the way they got to see Romania when we showed them around. Secondly, being tested and then being on the list obliges us even more to keep up the good work.

And this is where meetings like the one in Cancun is great. Sharing with others how to best do this or that, makes your life better. When we learn from other business owners how to better interact with you or what other small things that we missed could make life so much better as you travel, you win, you get more value for the price you pay.

So what’s next?

Business as usual. We’re yet to receive enough travelers and get reviewed by them to make it on the list officially. Until that happens, we’re busy implementing some of the great ideas we got in Cancun but also working hard to get more of you to come and visit Romania. If you use the list to do it, even better; you contribute to our testing.

What did we do in 2016?

Lots. And since it’s the time of the year to look back and ponder, I’ve decided to send you some updates from us.

First and foremost, we’ve grown the team by adding 3 new members. True, they are too small to give us a hand at researching and creating wonderful bespoke itineraries for you but they are the drive and inspiration in everything we do. 3 babies were born in the Beyond Dracula team this year: Magdalena, Filip and Carlo. We’re thrilled to have them and welcome them!

The three partners of Beyond Dracula, with the 3 babies we have so far. Carlo and Magdalena in the picture, Filip is the only 2016 baby missing.
The three partners of Beyond Dracula, with the 3 babies we have so far. Carlo and Magdalena in the picture, Filip is the only 2016 baby missing.

Secondly, we end the year with a new team member but also losing one. Laura joined the team in February and has since been working on some of the most complex itineraries we delivered so far. Giulia, our dear Venetian, will join the family business and leave Beyond Dracula in January 2017. We’ll miss her but she’s not getting away completely, she has a home in Romania anytime she wants to come back.

An almost complete team: Greg, Raluca, Andreea, Giulia and Laura. Missing Traian.
An almost complete team: Greg, Raluca, Andreea, Giulia and Laura. Missing Traian.

Thirdly, although this year our volume of work decreased in comparison with 2015, the types of trips we put together became more complex. For example, for a group of 13 friends we put together 11 days of fun activities that were all prepared in advance yet allowed for full flexibility during the trip itself. We have also created a Board of Advisors formed by guests who were generous enough to take time to guide and support us as we grow and tackle new phases in the development of the agency. They are a huge help!

Finally, in 2016 we became the first and only agency in Romania to be considered for Wendy Perrin’s WOW List. Just like being part of the PURE community, being considered to be one of the trusted travel experts by Wendy Perrin is a major achievement and a big responsibility to continue to deliver the best quality to our guests.

And while we are yet to be officially on the list, we are formally as of January 2017 part of Traveller Made, a global network of travel professionals who commit to the best practices in the industry and constantly engage to innovate and improve the way they serve guests.

For 2017 we have big plans, many already confirmed, some being worked on. Beyond working further to give every single guest the best experience possible in Romania, we want to try out something new. We want to organize one destination wedding in Transylvania. Not more, just one and here’s why.

But with days to go before the change of years, I rush to wish you all a peaceful end to 2016 and let 2017 be one of those magnificent years for us to remember for a long time to come.

And most importantly, in 2017…travel. If anything can make us more understanding and kinder to each other is traveling. So pack your bags, keep an open mind and travel to a new destination in 2017.

 

PS: If Romania is the destination you choose, get in touch.

Small promises change worlds@PURE2016

We did it again. We traveled to Marrakech for another edition of PURE Life Experiences. This time I was joined by a special team. Husband and baby daughter along, there I was managing meeting the best in travel agents and agencies and breaking for coffee and lunch to meet my loved ones. It all worked out, luckily the travel bug and love for the new and people is in everyone’s DNA in my family.

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Here’s us after the fair, discovering the Secret Garden in the Medina of Marrakech. Source: personal.
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Sunny times at PURE 2016 Source:personal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let me return to the show itself. This year’s PURE was all about promises. The small promises that change worlds. Here are the 8 the organizers proposed:

  • I promise to reduce my carbon footprint by driving less and walking more.
  • I promise to cook and eat local, seasonal food, whenever possible.
  • I promise to stop eating and serving the ocean’s apex predators and prioritize sustainable fish stocks.
  • I promise to be more mindful of my water usage and follow water-saving or recycling practices whenever possible.
  • I promise to go meat-free at least one day a week.
  • I promise not to participate or encourage any unnatural interactions with wild animals.
  • I promise to use sustainable products and materials and recycle wherever possible.
  • I promise to learn from and give back to the communities I visit.
What small promise are you making? Source: personal.
What small promise are you making? Source: personal.

What small promise can you take to change the world? Mine was about eating local and seasonal. It’s easy in Romania, especially when traveling in the country side and eating home cooked meals. But I could have easily gone for the meet-free day or the walking instead of driving.

Does it really matter what life choices I make? It does. A little bit. But it matters a lot more if we all make similar choices. We could all do our share to reduce greenhouse emissions, save the biodiversity of our oceans, reduce food waste, protect the forests, save water, engage respectfully and with an open mind with other cultures. So it really takes small promises to achieve big things. What are you willing to promise?

How to get your own postcard from Romania

In this day and age, if you are like me, most of your real mail consists of bills and advertising.

When I get a real letter or postcard, it’s a celebration. That doesn’t happen often though as e-mail, phone and a multitude of applications meant to make communication fast and easy, make communication fast and easy.

So why bother writing? Why bother taking the postcard or letter to the post office? Why pay for a stamp?

Well, we think receiving real mail, handwritten and with colorful stamps is an experience. Something maybe old fashioned became almost a luxury.

So we decided to give this to you. And I mean to anyone of you who has not been to Romania and wants to know what Romania is like.

All you need to do is send us your mailing address. We have a beautiful stack of postcards from razvan voiculescu whose pictures you are familiar with from his pictorials. Get yours!

Postcards waiting to be sent!
Postcards waiting to be sent!

Why the act of generosity? It’s simple.

I hope the postcard will make your day. I genuinely hope that the day you get it, you’ll smile and go about your day happier.

And then I hope you keep it on your fridge or you use it as a bookmark. Every time you see it I hope it will make you smile and think of Romania. And if one day you want to go for a holiday, Romania will come to mind. And maybe we will come to mind also.

So don’t wait and get your own postcard. Send us your mailing address and you’ll soon have mail.

Raluca

PS: Your mailing address will not be misused in any way, shared with anyone else for any purpose.

Looking back on a long and adventurous year: Beyond Dracula in 2015

Season’s greetings, friends!

Now that 2015 is coming to an end, we sat down with a mug of steaming hot wine and a tray of warm Christmas cookies and recounted some of the lovely times we’ve had this past year…

Beyond Dracula in 2015

At the end of January, we welcomed Luke Evans, star of Dracula Untold, and several guests from Universal Pictures, in a press tour ahead of the movie-s Blu-ray and DVD release. Together we followed in the steps of the man who would become legend – Wallachia’s voivode, Vlad Țepeș – and shared with our guests some priceless nuggests of Transylvanian lore.

In February, we sat down for a chat with Aden Jamison Leirer, American writer and veteran, who shared some of his favorite things about his brief but adventurous Romanian trek. “It’s always a party in Romania,” he told us, “and everyone’s invited!”

In March, we invited you to a virtual trip to Romania’s mountain peaks, in a brief essay illustrated with works by acclaimed photographer and seasoned adventurer Marius Schumi. Then, we turned north for a stop in Sic, the fairytale village where boots dance by themselves.

Fast-forward to the beginning of summer, when we had the pleasure of welcoming our very first PURE guests for a one-of-a-kind Transylvanian tour. Their delight and enjoyment absolutely made our summer.

September brought us a heart-warming story of one of our guests, who fell in love with Romania at first sight, and just had to come back again. Thank you for sharing your story, Mouna!

We eagerly awaited for November, when we took part in our second-ever PURE Live Experiences fair in Marrakech. For four days we got to meet people from all over the world talking passionately about their destination, lodge, country or activity. It was tiring, but so very rewarding!

We’re grateful to you, our esteemed readers and guests, who were with us every step of the way, and we look forward to seeing you again in 2016. Have a safe and happy New Year, folks! …and don’t forget your winter holidays traditions and superstitions checklist! 😉

Our Second Year at PURE

It’s the weekend after the end of PURE 2015 and I am still in Marrakech. For four days we got to immerse ourselves into the world of travel and discovery. For four days we got to meet people from all over the world talking passionately about their destination, lodge, country or activity. Whether it’s a couple organizing trips on a catamaran around Italy, the owner of an exclusive property in the Dolomites or a passionate skier that organizes heli-skiing trips in the Alps, you have it all at PURE. And these are just some examples from Europe; the whole world is there!

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Our working table…introducing Romania!

This year the topic was living a rich life. What does living a rich life mean to you? We all answered the question and some got to be on stage and talk for 30 minutes about what makes their life rich. From Braam Malherbe, a South African who, among other things, ran the whole Great Wall of China (more than 4200km) in a single attempt to raise money for children from Operation Smile, to Jimmy Nelson, the Dutch photographer who went to unheard places on the planet to capture portraits of 35 disappearing tribes (the project is called Before They Pass Away), to Zita Cobb, the co-founder of Fogo Island Inn.

Fogo Island Inn stand
Fogo Island Inn stand

It’s about Zita Cobb that I want to tell you more. She left an impression on us, became an embodiment of our own dream, and is our inspiration for moving forward with everything we do at Beyond Dracula. As a Fogo Islander (Fogo Island is a Canadian territory just East of the Canadian border) she had a successful career as the CFO of one of the main US tech companies, her fortune being estimated at $69 million; in 2000 she was among the 4th best paid female executives. There were no limits or constraints to what she could do in life, choosing to do absolutely nothing being also a feasible option. From all the possibilities, she chose to return to Fogo Island and do something for the community that was left on the island after cod fishing was no longer a way to earn an income.

She created the Shorefast Foundation, build the Fogo Island Inn, and in 10 years created a business that does more than generate profit; she created a business that feeds back into the community, its culture and people as many resources as it can do to help preserve it and also develop it further. During her talk at PURE she spoke about creating a social business; but it was not in the typical sense where an NGO develops a business idea to become sustainable and independent financially. Neither was it in the more common sense where a business that is already profitable starts giving back by creating a foundation or by integrating means of giving back into their products or services. She spoke about a social business where the business is created from the start being mindful of nature, culture, people.

“Nature and culture are the two great garments of human life. […] You have business and technology as servants of place…By definition, if you put place in the center then you’re going to put human community in the center, and then all of your actions are optimized for that, or at the very least are mindful of that.” Zita Cobb

This is what we found refreshing and extremely inspirational. Personally, for years I couldn’t settle with the thought that business and everything else have to be separate. In travel this separation makes even less sense. I don’t believe one can be in any travel related business and not care about nature, people and culture. It’s the reason people travel, it’s what leaves a mark, it’s what should matter just as much as running a successful business.

In a country as experiential as Romania where people both expect and are surprised by landscapes, local life, and the taste of tomatoes, we are a business that needs to keep safe and look after our nature, culture, and people. We’re a young team blessed to work in a country like Romania but also responsible for keeping it in the center of what we do as we go about our daily work, every time we welcome a guest, with every trip we organize.

See you next year in Marrakech!

What Happens When You Fall in Love With Romania?

For us all at Beyond Dracula the answer to the question above was clear all along; we want to show the country and its amazing corners to everyone who is open to discovering it. But what happens to those people after discovering some of it? Do they fall in love? The answer: is yes and they come back.

This was the story of a lovely group of 5 ladies who visited Bucharest and Transylvania back in April with us. At that time we had a mission: to find anything we could about a grandfather born in the center of Transylvania at the beginning of the 20th century. As well as the research we carried out, we had time for some discovery so by the end of the week together, we managed to find some relevant information about the lost grandfather and also to show our guests a bit of Romania. It was enough for Mouna, one of the lovely ladies and a dear friend by now, to return just 3 months later.

I won’t tell you about their trip or even try to describe how they felt. But I’ll share Mouna’s words, which precede a short movie she made from her two Romanian trips this year: “ROAMING IN ROMANIA 2.0. In case nobody noticed I fell in love this year. With Romania. Its beauty, its people, its history are, all magnificent. In fact so in love that I went twice. 

And here is the video.

Mouna, you’ll be always at home in Romania, come anytime, stay all the time.