Transylvania: the Romanian region with much more than just Dracula
Transylvania, Romania’s largest region, has long held an eerie, mysterious reputation thanks to its recurring connection with vampires in folklore and popular culture – and we’re going to make absolutely no apologies for playing on that connection for the sake of a spooky Halloween destination!
But while many are drawn by the myths and legends – not to mention ‘Dracula Castle’ – Transylvania actually has a wealth of stunning natural sights, dynamic cities and even ski resorts to explore.
A potted history
Originally the heart of the Kingdom of Dacia, it fell under Roman rule in 106 AD. From there, a succession of tribes took control of Transylvania – a distinct territory – until the 9th century when the Bulgarians moved in, followed by the Hungarians a couple of centuries later. It then became part of the Habsburg Empire in the late 1600s.
So, far from a settled history! And that’s before you take into account that the Austro-Hungarian Empire then took Transylvania under its wing in 1867, before it finally became part of Romania after World War 1, thanks to the Treaty of Trianon. This meant many Hungarian people became citizens of Romania.
Skipping ahead to the present day, and Transylvania currently receives around 2.5 million tourists a year – so, it’s still something of a hidden gem. And when we say ‘gem’, we mean a big, sparkly diamond.
Many of the visitors head to Gothic fortress, Bran Castle. While it’s never been proven, it’s said to have inspired Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, having believed to have also been the home of Vlad the Impaler – a 15th-century military governor known as the original Dracula – though again, that remains unproven.
Regardless of the truth behind its history, Bran Castle is a beautiful spot and suitably eerie and unnerving for a Halloween trip to Transylvania. For real daredevils, the castle is even open at night over the Halloween period – but take an after-dark tour at your peril…
Brașov, a gorgeous medieval city, is a good place to stay to see Bran Castle, plus other impressive architecture such as Făgăraş Citadel and Feldioara Fortress. From here, you can also head into the mountains for some breath-taking hikes.
Sighișoara is smaller than Brașov, but no less beautiful. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site in its own right, while attractions a little further afield, including the Biertan and Viscri fortified churches, also boast the accolade.
Now, if it’s spectacular nature you’re after, Transylvania delivers in bucketloads. While you might be keeping half an eye out for our fanged friend Dracula, be sure to keep the other one and a half eyes peeled for bears, wolves and lynx in the Carpathian Mountains – especially if you’re brave enough to head off road.
While in Transylvania (particularly in winter when it gets bitterly cold), be sure to tuck into a warming bowl of local gulyas (goulash) or, even better, seek out a shot of palinca – a fiery spirit made from plums.
As we’re talking about a whole region (and a pretty big one at that!), getting around isn’t quite as straightforward as with your typical city break.
If you want to see as much of the area as possible, it’s best to pick two or three bases and spend a few days at each. Cluj-Napoca is best for the city scene and nightlife, while Brașov and Sighișoara will enchant you with their medieval beauty.
For exploring all the great outdoors Transylvania has to offer, a cosy B&B like Soparkut Panzio is a great spot to stay, while you can strap on some skis at mountain resorts like Straja and Poiana Brasov.
Be aware that trains are pretty slow around here, so bus journeys or hiring a car are the way to go.
How to get there
You can fly direct with Wizz Air from London Luton to Cluj-Napoca in around three hours for less that £30 return.
From there, you can travel easily by car to the rest of the Transylvania region, or take the bus from the airport into Cluj-Napoca, where you can access the main rail station.