The Romania of legend

By | Category: Travel destinations

Vlad the Impaler

Romania has a singular beauty, beguiling simplicity and fascinating history.

Largely it remains untouched despite its swift, post-EU membership transformation making it one of the few places you can holiday in where you can see the living past. Hand-ploughed fields, cone-shaped haystacks and sheep stampeding down countryside roads still occur. As does the not-quite-legal but not-quite-illegal home-made plum brandy distilling sheds.

The boomerang-shaped Carpathian Mountains offer exceptional and, relatively, uncrowded hiking, biking and skiing options. Towns like Brasov, Sibiu and Sighisoara are time-warp strolling grounds for fans of Gothic architecture and the Austro-Hungarian legacy. The fish – and the birds that feast on them – play host in the Danube Delta. Bucolic and wooden Maramures has the ‘merry cemetery’ and Southern Bucovina, the UNESCO-listed painted monasteries. Last but not least, if you are a gourmand or you simply just love good food, you have to try the truly organic hartie food from the lands that have never been touched by technology.

Maramures in the spring

Wine dates back three millennia and is now the 9th largest wine exporter in the world. Vineyards dot the countryside and visitors are encouraged by the tourist board to enjoy trips to see the different choices available. Though – at one point in history – wine could have disappeared. Thousands of years ago, when Romania was called Dacia, wine was produced in massive quantities. Burebista, a Dacian king, angered by the wine abuse of his warriors, cut the vines down so that his people would gave up drinking wine. Legends say that, when this happened, the Dacian people created their own beer!

But Burebista is not the most well-known king of Romania. That is reserved for the thirteenth century man called Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula the Third. Even during his lifetime, Vlad was infamous as a tyrant taking sadistic pleasure in torturing and killing. He is shown in crypto-portraits made during his lifetime either as a cruel ruler or as an executioner. After Vlad’s death, his cruel deeds were reported with macabre gusto in popular pamphlets in Germany and Russia and were frequently reprinted. Legends grew and eventually an Irish writer, Bram Stoker, published Dracula in 1897. The 1931 horror film which had a huge international audience stimulated travel to Romania and Transylvania in particular to see the land of the vampires. Fiction it may be but it attracts tourists in droves and many of the sights that visitors see are connected to Vlad.

Bran Castle

Seen as a national hero for driving out the Turks, Vlad’s preferred of killing was spearing victims on a sharp stake and from this comes the myth of how to kill vampires.

Vlad’s history, and all of the other kings of Romanian can be seen and felt today in the old cities of Brasov, Sighisoara and Targoviste, (Vlad’s capital) cities where time has left his stamp, where not much modernising has occurred. Take for example Bran Castle, situated near Bran and not very far from Brasov, a wooden fortress built in 1212 at the border of Transylvania and Wallachia, later to become royal residences for kings. Stoker used Bran Castle as the main location in his novel.

The castle is now a museum open to tourist, displaying art and furniture collected by Queen Marie, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who made the castle her home.

Sighisoara

Another city that will make you feel like you are traveling back in time is Sighisoara. In the 11th century, when the city played an important strategic and commercial role to the edges of Central Europe, Sighisoara became one of the most important cities of Transylvania. German artisans and craftsmen dominated the urban economy, as well as building the wall fortification protecting it. It is estimated that during the 16th and the 17th century Sighisoara had as many as 15 guilds and 20 handicraft branches. The Baroque sculptor Elias Nicolai lived in the city. The Wallachian prince Vlad Dracul (father of Vlad the Impaler), who lived in exile in town, allowed coins to be minted in the city and issued the first document listing the citys Romanian name.

Sighisoara is considered to be the most beautiful and well preserved inhabited citadel in Europe with an authentic medieval architecture. In Eastern Europe, Sighisoara is one of the few fortified towns which are still inhabited. The town is made up of two parts. The medieval stronghold was built on top of a hill and is known as the “Citadel” .The lower town lies in the valley of the Tarnava Mare river.

Other places where you can travel back in time include the Maramures region where Stan Ioan Pătraş created the “merry cemetery.” Here, painted tombstones in bold colours and containing epitaph poems ( some even humorous such as one on a mother-in-law) draw visitors at all times of the year. And do visit the old painted monasteries in North Moldavia.

the clock tower in Sighisoara

While modern life is making some inroads, the last peasant culture in Europe continues to thrive, with land-built ancient wooden churches, traditional music, colourful costumes and festivals. Villagers homes are still fronted with traditional giant, ornately carved wooden gates, and ear-smoking, 100-proof plum brandy stills percolate in the garden, tended by a rosy-cheeked patriarch. Discovering this part of the world is like a time-travel adventure, verity stunning Western visitors.

Many tour operators offer holidays in Romania such as Balkan, Cox and Kings, Regent and Sunvil. British Airways and Tarom provide scheduled flights from Heathrow and Aer Lingus links Dublin with Bucharest, the capital city. The low cost airline, Blue Air, links Luton and Dublin with Bucharest.

For more information on Romania, click here
For more on Bran Castle, click here
For more information on Sighisoara, click here

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