Category Archives: Travel to Transylvania

Here you can find posts about Transylvania and anything related to this magnificent region of Romania.

Haute Couture Meets Transylvania: Andreea Diaconu’s Romanian Holiday for Wall Street Journal

Whether you’re a reader of glossy magazines or not, you must have, at least once, seen the face of this gorgeous Romanian model on billboards, on the cover of magazines or on TV. At just 25, Andreea Diaconu is frequently featured in Vogue, and she is the face of Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Belstaff. She’s also fronted campaigns for Ralph Lauren, Céline, H&M, Chloé and Victoria’s Secret.

 

She now lives in Soho, New York, but she has recently returned home to give the Wall Street Journal a tour of her native country. Photographer Angelo Penneta has followed her through the Transylvanian villages of Viscri and Crit, the medieval town of Sighisoara and the beautiful Brasov, the gateway into Transylvania.

PHOTO: ANGELO PENNETTA FOR WSJ. MAGAZINE
PHOTO: ANGELO PENNETTA FOR WSJ. MAGAZINE

Your eyes will be drawn to the vibrant style of the clothes designed by Isabel Marant, Dries Van Noten and Missoni, but also to the charming scenery behind Andreea.

PHOTO: ANGELO PENNETTA FOR WSJ. MAGAZINE

If you like what you see, we can help with at least one thing: a trip to Transylvania designed just for you. We can’t promise you will meet Andreea, but you will definitely get the chance to buy your own homemade woolly shoes before Céline makes them cool, and we can also arrange a photo shooting with the prettiest goats in Viscri.

PHOTO: ANGELO PENNETTA FOR WSJ. MAGAZINE
PHOTO: ANGELO PENNETTA FOR WSJ. MAGAZINE

 

What to expect when you travel to Transylvania

While traveling to Transylvania to research some properties we work with, Laura, our newest team member, pondered never returning to work in the city. Although she is Romanian and knows what our country has to offer, she was still surprised by what she found. Read below to learn more.

“Remote villages, scenic country roads that take your breath away, velvety hills with sheep grazing on the lush green pastures… All of these I did expect to see, and my expectations were met above and beyond. What I didn’t expect was the family I found there. From the “mother” who always cares how you slept, who will give you an extra piece of cake with your coffee, the “father” who is always happy to share with you the history of the place, to the “cousins” who, just like you, are curious and eager to explore and enjoy all these wonders.

A corner of Transylvania, Source: Cristina Marin
A corner of Transylvania, Source: Cristina Marin

The food was also unexpected. No matter how full you are, there’s always something else that you simply have to taste: another pie, another type of cheese, another glass of sour cherry brandy. And all the dishes are home cooked with ingredients that are locally produced.

By the end of my time there, I was considering leaving my beloved home city and moving to a tiny Transylvanian village, buying a bike and a goat and learning how to bake. What more could one want in life? “

Road in Transylvania, Source: BD
Road in Transylvania, Source: BD

Why is Romania a Safe Destination for Travel in Europe in 2016?

With all the current world events one worries more. Is it safe to travel? Where is it safe to travel? What measures to take when traveling to make sure we’re safe?

I recently read in two separate articles something that makes a lot of sense to me. Firstly, like Wendy Perrin, I am convinced that more stamps in one’s passport would make the world a more peaceful place. When travel takes you to various parts of the world and you meet face to face people that are so different from you and yet so similar, hatred, discrimination, and narrow-mindness of all kinds disappears. We are one.

Secondly, like various colleagues in the travel business from across the world have stated already, terrorism should not keep us from traveling; we should travel more. Just like Mr Corey Patterson, quoted by the New York Times, says: You can’t stop living life, and this world is worth seeing, so I chose to do it.” Not traveling is what terrorists want, creating a state of fear is what they count on.

Despite these encouraging message, the other day I came across a travel warning for Europe. American travelers were not told to cancel travel plans, they were encouraged to take measures to stay safe while traveling. While taking these measures is always a good idea, terrorist attacks or not, the warning itself is likely to cause at least some concerns for those planning to visit Europe this year.

The warning prompted me to write this article. I’ll explain why: although Romania is one of the many countries in Europe, there is no reason at all to become cautious or worried about traveling to our beautiful land. Fortunately, in Romania terrorism is not a real threat. I would safely say that there are a lot more chances of running into a brown bear while hiking in the Carpathians than to be the target of an attack. Joke aside, the reasons that give me the confidence to say that Romania is a safe destination to travel to in 2016 are listed below. Have a look and let me know if you want to find out more.

  • The largest city in Romania, and an unlikely potential target, is Bucharest; although it is generally the point of entry into the country, the trips happen almost entirely outside of the capital. In places such as Transylvania one is among pristine nature, flocks of sheep, Saxon villages with a few thousands inhabitants, and truly nothing to worry about.
| Source
This is what you should expect while traveling around Romania: peace and serenity.
  • The last report on the impact of terrorism around the world deems Romania as among the most threat-free places on the planet; you can find details here.
  • Overall, Romania is a very safe travel destination, and there is very little to concern visitors. I would actually add and argue that the whole country, Transylvania and the other rural areas specifically, is a safe haven in these troubled times, it can offer a way to get away from the general tension and fear that all of the recent world events have generated; it could be the break we need from it all to then return to our cities and normal lives.

So pack your bags, get your passports, and get ready to travel. The best of the travel season in Romania is just about to start. We look forward to meeting you!

 

The Bees of Transylvania, a short film by Paul E. Visser

When there are no more bees, we, too, will disappear.

In this short film, part of the Het Huis van Vriendschap Cinema Project (translated – the House of Friendship), Paul E. Visser of Valentijn Studios meets the beekeepers of Transylvania, one of the few sanctuaries left in Europe where agriculture is least affected by pesticides and other chemicals.

The film, which you can watch in the player embedded below, is remarkable in its authenticity. The stunning imagery is paired with English-subtitled Romanian narration by the keepers themselves, who take us through a brief, honest, and sometimes gut-wrenching journey into the world of beekeeping and the bees themselves.

The bees of Transylvania from Valentijn Studios on Vimeo.

Far from being a mere documentary-style feature, however, the film shines the light on the real and urgent matter of protecting these essential insects by using new technologies responsibly and preserving their natural feeding habitat.

Where the Faeries dance: Tăul Zânelor lake in eastern Transylvania

Close your eyes… No, not yet! Read this first. 🙂

Now think of Transylvania. What kind of images come to mind? We wouldn’t be surprised if your answer has anything to do with doom, darkness or Dracula, since these are the most prominent features associated with the areas. (Thank you, Bram Stoker.) However, for today’s virtual journey, we have a something a little different in mind.

Taul-Zanelor

Welcome to Tăul Zânelor or the Faeries’ Lake, a little corner of heaven in eastern Transylvania (Bistrița-Năsăud country, to be precise – kudos if you’re a non-native and you can pronounce that.) Nestled in the heart of the Călimani mountains, this lake is a green oasis in the middle of an even greener forest, with trees growing around and even inside the shallow pool.

And, let us not forget, Tăul Zânelor is also the cradle of a folktale often repeated by the folks living nearby.

The Shepherds and the Faeries

Long ago, the tale begins, the lake was much larger, and so beautiful that ethereal creatures from the other world – zâne, or faeries – came here to run through the forest… wearing little to no clothes, as faeries are apparently wont to do in foktales. No-one seems to know why they do it, but they just do.

One day, two shepherds – Scurtu and Pasăre (their names meaning „Shorty” and „Birdy”) – happened upon the clearing on a night when the moon was full, and saw the faeries at play. Anxious that they’d been found, the faeries gifted the two with a nearby mountain for their sheep to graze and a spring for them to drink from. In return, they made the shepherds promise that they would never again come to the clearing on full moon nights.

It's easy to see why the faeries picked this particular place, isn't it.

You can guess what happens next.

The shepherds kept their promise for a while but, eventually, curiosity got the best of them and they snuck by the lake and hid behind a tree, waiting. At first, the faeries went about their games, unaware that they were being watched. Then, however, one of them sensed that something was amiss and spotted the thirsty pairs of eyes spying on them from the shadows.

Hell Hath no Fury like a Faerie Scorned

As one can well imagine, the faeries were not happy to discover that they’d been betrayed. They scoured the forest in search of the two men and brought about a terrible storm, that ripped entire trees out of the ground and peppered the ground with rain and hail. One of the shepherds, Scurtu, was fleet of foot and managed to escape them. The other, Pasăre, was swallowed by the ground when it opened under his feet.

It rained the whole night, and on the next day the sun dawned over a green lake that hadn’t been there the day before.

77333519

The story of how the lake came to be, as well as the shepherds’ folly, was passed on from generation to generation from that day forward. Landmarks were named after the unlucky two, and some people swore that, on the nights with a full moon, they could still hear the faeries laugh and sing… although no-one has ever seen them again.

Image sources: 1 | 2 | 3

Hotel Transylvania 2: You can check out, but your heart might now want to leave

Hotel Transylvania 2

Get ready to see the iconic horror movie monsters and villains of yore in a whole new light… again.

Director Genndy Tartakovsky – whose name you might remember from his work on animation classics such as Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack – revists Transylvania for more monster-fueled shenanigans and vivacious vampiric adventures. Double the fangs, triple the fun!

For those of you who were left wondering whether the romance between Dracula’s daughter Mavis and her clueless but big-hearted beau Jonathan would work, Hotel Transylvania 2 fast-forwards through the awkwardness that is early courtship and goes straight to the big leagues: Mavis and Jonathan are now married (much to the chagrin of Jonathan’s human parents) and they’ve had a baby boy named Dennis.

Dracula is delighted with his new role as grandfather, but at the same time he’s more than a little concerned that his grandson might take a little too much after his father when five years pass without little Dennis showing any monster-like traits… and his concerns are about to pile on, because Mavis and Jonathan start to wonder if dark, spooky Transylvania is the right place for a child to grow up, and even travel to southern California to see whether the neighborhood Jonathan grew up in might be a better fit – while, in the meantime, Dracula and his monster pals attempt to scare the monster out of Dennis so he and his family won’t find it so easy to move away.

While the plot might seem simple enough, what really makes this movie shine is that it somehow manages to strike a near-perfect balance between simple humor (some might say too simple – remember, Adam Sandler does have writing credits for this) and the more serious, heart-touching moments one might expect from a family flick. Without giving too much away, the Mel Brooks cameo is a nice touch, too.

Personally – as someone used to seeing Dracula in all sorts of depictions, from the historical records of Vlad Dracul to the Marvel Comics cameos and Leslie Nielsen’s brilliant comedic interpretation – I really enjoyed this non-conventional take on his character. We’re no longer living in the era of clear-cut differences between the “good” and the “bad”, and it’s nice to see the villains of cinematic decades past become more humanized (in a strictly storytelling sense, mind you) and relatable. Using a five-star system, this movie would be a solid four for me.

Would you like to stay at the real Hotel Transylvania?

Have your pick!

Bran-Castle-Transylvania_cs

Transylvania is full of hidden and not-so-hidden getaways, from medieval castles turned hostels to cozy guest homes in Romanian or Saxon style.

If you’re looking for ideas, we’ve already compiled a few to get you started – and, if there’s something else you’re looking for, we’re always here to organize a tailor-made tour just for you.

So why not get in touchWe’ll be waiting!

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.

 

Transylvania: The hidden cycling paradise

Imagine a land where time stood still. Simple people living simple lives, like their fathers and fore-fathers before them. Pristine landscapes, untouched by the onslaught of concrete. A charming haven where worries fade and the heart learns to marvel at the simplest of things. It sounds so tempting, doesn’t it?

| Source
What if we told you that this proverbial land of milk and honey (and home-made wine and cottage cheese) exists? | Source

To find it, you’ll have to look no further than the beautiful reaches of Transylvania. Long since hailed as one of the most memorable regions in Eastern Europe and beyond, this idyllic province has already made a name for itself as an unconventional destination for tailor-made holiday aficionados, due to its breathtaking landscapes, welcoming people, mouth-watering, wholly-organic food, and the list could go on.

In recent years, however, new and exciting avenues have opened into the very heart of Transylvania. More and more outdoor cycling paths are taking root (…wheel? Pedal?), from simple, circular trails for the uninitiated to long stretches through centenary forests, across rolling hills, or crossing picturesque villages and flowery meadows.

Transylvania offers many outdoors cycling trails, like this one. | Source
Transylvania offers many outdoors cycling trails, like this one. | Source

The beauty of these trails is that they’re physically stimulating, but mentally relaxing – a cleansing experience for body and mind that leaves you pleasantly tired and ready to enjoy a wholesome meal and a restful nap.

Of course, for those looking for a more conventional route, the Transalpina and Transfăgărășan – two of Romania’s most renowned mountain roads – offer a strenuous climbing challenge. Although the going is fairly difficult, the breathtaking landscapes that flank the ascent more than make up for the effort it takes to get there.

View from the upper part of the Transalpina in summer. | Source
View from the upper part of the Transalpina in summer. | Source

And, finally, Transylvanian cities themselves can be quite fun to explore on two wheels after a few days of adventuring in the great outdoors. In the last decade, Romanians have become increasingly aware that cycling is a fun, healthy and time-saving way to get around, so many cities – especially in Transylvania and the West of the country – are starting to draw cycling lanes or even rent out city bicycles.

Wouldn't it be lovely to explore one of the oldest Medieval cities in the country on two wheels? | Source
Wouldn’t it be lovely to explore one of the oldest Medieval cities in the country on two wheels? | Source

Even where there are no lanes, it’s generally safe enough to cycle – just be wary of road signs, traffic lights, and the right of way 🙂 And, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask a fellow cyclist for a piece of advice or five: everyone is a guest in this country, and we’re always thrilled to hear from our foreign guests!

Sic: The village where boots dance by themselves

There’s a sleepy village not far from Cluj, nestled in an idyllic, hidden gem of a delta that charms scores of tourists year after year, where the tradition of dance has been kept alive for hundreds of years.

A corner of Heaven

Sic, or Szek, as it is known to its Hungarian denizens, is a place where time stood still. It is said that the only thing villagers love more than their traditional dance, renowned across the border and beyond, are their richly embroidered, hand-made clothes. Indeed, one source reports that after a battle some centuries ago, when the village was all but razed, the villagers did not decry the loss of their worldly possessions – rather, they were upset that all their precious clothes, that seamstresses and embroiderers had toiled over for days and months, had burned away.

A villager greets us from the front of her house as we enter Sic.
A villager greets us from the front of her house as we enter Sic.

From the moment you step inside the village, under the large wooden gate that spans the road, decorated with traditional motifs in Hungarian colors, red and green, you feel like you’ve crossed over into a different realm. This former mining village, that was a city for nearly five hundred years and was sometimes deemed a Hungarian island in the Romanian see, is a place where Romanians and ethnic Hungarians have always lived in harmony, observing their joint traditions. One in particular has always stood out…

Michel van Langeveld and the Dancing House

There is something odd about this gate...
There is something odd about this gate…

The villagers of Sic have always gathered inside a Dancing House with blue walls and thatch roof to celebrate, wear their best clothes and dance the to the joys and sorrows of life alike. This tradition had been lost for a few decades, only to be revived by the unlikeliest of rescuers…

Meet Michel van Langeveld. | Source
Meet Michel van Langeveld. | Source

Born in the Netherlands, Michel saw a traditional dance show in his youth that would change his life forever. From then on, he vowed to learn the traditional dances of various countries, Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia among them. His passion carried him to Sic in the early 90s, where he intended to film a documentary on Dancing Houses. He bought and restored a house here, complete with blue walls and a thatch roof – but little did he know that this was, in fact, the Dancing House of old, that had since fallen to disuse.

You can’t miss the Dancing House if you walk past it. In fact, its quirky decorations stand out from afar: no less than 315 pairs of boots – some brought by Michel (or Mihai, as he was affectionately nicknamed by a neighboring Romanian family), others kindly donated by his neighbors. “This is a house for dancing”, he tells us as he sits on the front porch. “When the wind blows, the boots dance by themselves”.

Michel's impressive collection: 315 pairs of boots!
Michel’s impressive collection: 315 pairs of boots!

The first traditional dances gathering was held here in 2005. The whole village was invited. The only condition? Come in traditional clothes, something the villagers were all too happy to do. Since then, these gatherings have continued regularly, and parts of the house have been converted into a traditional bed-and-breakfast for those who wish to enjoy not only the heart-fluttering pleasure of traditional music and dance, but also a slice of rustic hospitality.

Michel is also chairman of the Csipkeszeg Foundation for the preservation of the cultural heritage in Sic/Szek. More information can be gathered here.

Following in the footsteps of Dracula: Echoes of Vlad Țepeș

Romania is teeming with historical vestiges of Vlad Țepeș, the cruel but fair voivod who served as the unlikely source of inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and ascended to worldwide fame.  Today, we’ve compiled a list of places connected to the historical character of Vlad Țepeș, which tell a slightly different story of this prominent and oftentimes misunderstood 15th century ruler.

Sighișoara, Dracula’s birthplace

Vlad Țepeș was born in a house in Sighișoara, a medieval town in the literal heart of Transylvania.  Vlad’s father, Vlad Dracul (so named due to his belonging to the Order of the Dragon, a military and religious society dedicated to the defense of Christian land and values against the Ottoman invaders), lived in Sighișoara at the time, and so it was that his son spent his early years here as well.

casa-lui-dracula

Vlad Țepeș was born in this house to Vlad Dracul and his second wife, Barbara Cillei, a Transylvanian noblewoman. (Source)

As luck would have it, not just the house itself, but the entire city of Sighișoara is well-preserved, boasting one of the most authentic medieval moods in Eastern Europe and with scores of tourists visiting every year. A stroll through the cobbled streets, between authentic and exceptionally-maintained 15th century buildings, will really take you back to another time and place… a time and place where legends were born.

Princely Court at Târgoviște

After Vlad came into his own as a ruler, he held court in several places. One of these was Târgoviște, the feudal capital of Walachia during the Middle Ages. This was the residence where Vlad lived longest (for seven consecutive years).

curtea-domneasca

The ruins of the palace and part of the fortifications still stand today. (Source)

Târgoviște was also the site of an important battle fought during Vlad’s rule, when he and his army attempted to assassinate the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. Although the attempt was unsusccessful, it is said that Mehmed II and his troops were horrified by a forest of impaled Ottomans that stretched as far as the eye could see and decided to turn back before laying siege to the capital.

Aside from the castle itself, the Chindia Tower and the hand-painted Princely Church can also be visited in Târgoviște. The ensemble is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites list.

Old Court (Curtea Veche) museum in Bucharest

Centuries before Bucharest became Romania’s official capital in 1862, Vlad Țepeș consolidated an old 14th century citadel built by Wallachian voivod Mircea cel Bătrân (Mircea the Elder) and expanded it as an alternative residence to the official court at Târgoviște. The residence consisted of a fortified citadel – the Voivod’s Palace, where the ruler and his court could retreat to if the premises were under siege –, a church consecrated in the name of the Annunciation, several houses and servants’ hovels, stables and gardens.

The Old Court was actively used until the great fire of 1718 that razed the entire city of Bucharest. Before it could be properly rebuilt, an earthquake in 1738 sealed the doom of this ensemble. It was never rebuilt.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Currently, the ruins of Curtea Veche are actively preserved and the entire area has been transformed in a museum. (Source)

Bran Castle: Vlad didn’t actually live here, but it’s a nice place to visit anyway

While we might’ve gotten a bit carried away with the title, the truth is that Vlad Țepeș never really lived or ruled from this beautiful Transylvanian castle. A legend says that the blood-thirsty voivod stopped here once, on the way to the city of Brașov.

castelul-bran

Though, looking at the castle, it’s easy to see where it would serve as an inspiration for Dracula’s lair. (Source)

Tourism certainly flourishes here, as locals sell a variety of Dracula-branded merchandise at the foot of the hill where the castle is located. Making further use of the legend, a Bram Stoker room has been prepared inside, where tourists can learn more about the legend of Vlad Țepeș and the myth of the vampire Dracula.

Snagov Monastery: Journey’s end

The feudal monastery of Snagov was built in the early 15th century by the Wallachian voivod Mircea cel Bătrân, on an island in the northern area of Lake Snagov. It was rebuilt several times, including during the latter reign of Vlad Țepeș.

When Vlad finally met his end in a battle against the Ottomans in 1476, it is said that the monks of this monastery found his body and took it away in secret. Then, after the battle concluded and the opposing armies moved on, he was buried here observing all Christian rites.

snagov

Although there are those who say that Vlad might have been buried at the Comana monastery instead, in later centuries, a stone tomb was discovered in the church pulpit. Inside was the body of a man dressed in fine clothes. (Source)