Highlights of the Dracula Experience
As we slowly tip-toe towards the spookiest night of the year, we delve further into the realm of lore and legend. As far as myths go, there’s quite no other than that of Dracula. With a little bit of history, some blood-curling facts, and a whole lot of imagination on Bram Stocker’s part, Dracula and vampires became, from a tale tucked deep into the Transylvanian villages, a worldwide sensation.
Of course, we now know all there is about the man behind the myth, or Vlad the Impaler; this we touched upon in a previous article. To better understand the history and retrace the steps of this medieval Wallachian ruler, we came up with our 4-night Dracula Experience. A cultural trip through Transylvania, the experience combines lore, imposing castles, Saxon villages with the undeniable beauty of the countryside.
So, if you’re an avid Dracula fan, here are the highlights of the experience, guaranteed to make you want to hop on the next plane (whenever that might be…) to Romania.
What has the modern, busy capital have to do with Dracula, you ask? With all the buzz and bustle of the Old Town, the ruins of the Old Princely Court remains unseen. The only reminder is the statue of Vlad the Impaler himself, with his ever-watching eyes, as if warning strangers not to approach. The Old Princely court served as Vlad’s summer residence in what used to be the Citadel of Bucharest. Vlad recognized the strategic location of the city ahead of its time. As such, the princely court was one of his preferred strongholds. Bucharest would become, some 200 years later, the capital of Wallachia and, subsequently, Romania.
Currently, the Old Court is undergoing restoration efforts, with a museum being in the works in the nearby future. In the meantime, visitors can witness the ruins, snap some photos, and enjoy the other delights Bucharest has to offer. Stroll around the Old Town, sit down at one of the cafes dotting the cobbled streets, or visit the Revolution Square for an insight into the country’s more recent history.
A stone’s throw away from Bucharest lies an oasis of peace. Snagov Lake is the perfect spot to escape from Bucharest and enjoy a piece of quiet. As if isolated from the outside world, time is at a still here. And right there on the small heart-shaped islet, there is a monastery.
The small religious settlement is built in the unmistakable Byzantine style, with simple, yet elegant decorations. As you step inside, you will be in awe at the elaborately painted walls, typical of any Orthodox church. And right there in the middle, there is an unassuming tomb…
Vlad the Impaler lost his final battle against the Ottomans in 1476. His decapitated body was found by the monks and buried in secret on this very site. The actual details surrounding the ruler’s death and burial are foggy, but Snagov Monastery is the strongest contender.
Heading deeper into Transylvania, the landscape shifts. Soon enough, the plains make way for rolling hills and then the tall peaks of the Carpathian appear on the horizon. Right there, Bran Castle guards the entrance into the land of Transylvania.
Perched atop a stony hill, Bran Castle resides above the valley and village below. Its location was strategic, at the border between the two historical regions of Wallachia and Transylvania. Nowadays, it’s more commonly known as Dracula’s Castle. The name came about not because of any link to Vlad the Impaler but as a direct result of Bram Stocker’s novel. Curious enough, Bram Stoker never visited Transylvania, and yet his description of the Count’s castle is eerily similar to that of Bran, that there was no choice but to embrace the myth.
Historical facts aside, Bran Castle definitely plays the part. With narrow corridors, hidden stairways, passages, and a medieval vibe, Bran is a must-see for those seeking the sinister and mystery.
Venturing further into the heart of Transylvania, the surroundings will daze you. The misty mountains surround and protect the valleys dwelling in silence. The villages – each one of them dominated by a Fortified Church – pepper the countryside. Here and there, as you glance towards the hills, you might just spot the fortresses hiding in the woods; a reminder of the old times shrouded in war and siege.
One of these fortresses is Sighisoara, its impenetrable walls concealing a picture-perfect citadel. It is a fairytale setting with its colourful houses lined up perfectly against the cobblestone streets. The alleys twist and turn, revealing the old architecture, secret squares, and watchtowers. In the midst of it all, the Clock Tower stands tall, imposing over the little town below. As you wander right off the main square, you will reach the Scholars’ Stairs, a wooden, covered walkway leading you to the Church on the Hill. Its cemetery is a testament to the passage of time. Rambling on, you will find old tombs dating back to the 14th century, slumbering in the shade of centuries-old trees.
It was in this place that Vlad the Impaler was born. Not in the cemetery, mind you, but the big, yellow house by the Clock Tower. The house now serves as a restaurant. The very room Vlad the Impaler was born in can be visited, though it’s quite a tacky experience in our opinion, so consider yourself warned!
While Bran feeds into the legend, it is Poenari Castle that holds the historical accuracy. Sitting on top of a steep, tall hill and partially hidden by trees, this was the real stronghold of Vlad the Impaler. Today it sits in ruins, accessible after a 1400-something steps climb. It is all worth it, as the views from the top are incredible.
The castle itself is a subject of legend as well. After Vlad the Impaler secured the throne, he invited all of Wallachia’s noblemen to celebrate and put aside old grudges. In the middle of the feast, however, Vlad revealed his true intentions. In a real-life Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding manner, every single guest met their end. With their bodies hanging from the walls, a stark warning to anyone who would dare oppose Vlad from then on.
An old Saxon colony, Targoviste used to be fairly inconspicuous throughout history. At the end of the 14th century, due to its economic growth, it became the seat of Wallachia. Only a leisurely stroll away through the town’s park, the main attraction is by far the Princely Court. A complex of buildings and medieval forts, it used to serve as the seat of the Wallachian princes, including Vlad the Impaler.
Here, you can roam around the ruins of the old Palace built in the 1400s by Mircea de Old, Vlad’s grandfather. Right next to the palace you cannot miss the 27-meters high Chindiei Tower (Sunset Tower) commissioned in the 15th century by Vlad the Impaler. End your visit with a casual walk through the park peppered with the busts of all the Wallachian princes; we challenge you to find Vlad’s.
If all this sounds good, do check out our Dracula Experience and join the quest!
Written by Oana Moldovan, Untravelled Paths