Romania: Exploring Bran Castle and Transylvania

Bucharest and indeed most of Romania were blanketed in snow on the mid-winter day when I headed out of the city to satisfy a long-held ambition to see Bran Castle, the setting for Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel Dracula.

As I travelled from Bucharest to Bran Castle I gazed out the window and the saw the Carpathian Mountains embrace Transylvania in a gentle curve. The hillsides were covered in snow-frosted trees and harbour the second largest population of brown bears in Europe, as well as wolves, deer, and wild pigs and black goats.

Of course Bram Stoker never actually visited Bran Castle or even Romania. A true fiction, Dracula was composed entirely sitting at a desk in the British Library in London.

So how to separate the Bran Castle facts from the fiction? Is there a real Dracula castle?

The inspiration for the name came from the family name of the descendants of Vlad II of Wallachia, who took the name “dracul” after being invested in the Order of the Dragon in 1431. The word dracul meaning either “dragon” or “devil”.

Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania

Bran Castle rises in a highly strategic position in a cleft between two thickly wooded hills overlooking the Transylvania –Wallachia border. For many hundreds of years this was an important revenue gathering point and a series of battles were fought to control the border.

Stoker may have chosen Bran castle by coincidence but upstairs you’ll find an information board drawing some completely spurious connections between this castle in Romania and the Dracula story.

Fortunately the real Bran Castle history and that of the region are far more interesting. When the borders changed in the 19th century the castle lost its importance and it was used for a time as a summer residence for Romania’s royal family but for the most part it is still authentically very medieval. Inside Bran Castle it is all narrow stairways, thick doors and archers’ windows. There’s even a secret passage for escape in case of attack.

Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania

In winter temperatures it is sobering to think of the harshness of medieval life. I can imagine knights striding about in their long chainmail shirts and black cloaks. Stoker’s vampire count was based on Vlad III, who wore an Ottoman fashion turban and curved sword adopted during a time of imprisonment in his youth.

Vlad III’s famous moniker was ‘The Impaler’ and it is thought this was another connection to the vampire legend. In fact impaling was a common punishment at this time and Vlad was mainly famous for perfecting the cruel torture by keeping victims alive as long as possible.

His life is a long history of war and betrayal. He was known more for being a great general who other European rulers regarded as an effective shield against the Ottomans and he was good to his people, improving the lives of the peasants of what is now Romania.

Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania

At the market outside the gates of Bran Castle you find evidence of the tourism appeal that has grown up around the Dracula connection, for example in the bottles of ‘vampire wine’ on sale. But Transylvania is still a deeply traditional region, with many people living in ways that have not changed for centuries.

Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania

The best views of the very romantic Bran Castle in Romania are to be had from across the valley at a restaurant called Vila Bran up on the hillside behind the town. Here they serve hearty helpings of goulash and stuffed cabbage with polenta and sour cream – so good!

Bran castle, Transylvania, Romania

By Natasha von Geldern

I stayed at the comfortable boutique Hotel Moxa in Bucharest, Romania.

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Bran Castle Transylvania Romania

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14 Replies to “Romania: Exploring Bran Castle and Transylvania”

    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      Thanks Andrea. It is quite a spectacular setting and a surprisingly unspoilt part of Europe.

      Reply
  1. Sherry

    This place kind of reminds me of Forks, WA where everything has to do with vampires as well. I heard count Vlaud didn’t actually live in Bran Castle and that it was just a temporary place for him to stay when he was in the area. Though, your post and errie photos, especially with the chilling weather really makes me want to go despite its touristy punchline. If nothing else to try the vampire wine 🙂 What a great experience for you.

    Reply
    • nicola hampsey

      Are you serious? I have been to both… Forks is a run down town with a couple of vampire shops dazzled by twilight and sullys burgers gave us some freebie teeth…. Bram Castle is by far more superior and isnt a tacky run down town.wow

      Reply
    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      I was there last winter – before I knew you! I had a fantastic local guide and loved hearing all about the history of Romania and the culture. It was an all too brief trip but I definitely want to return 🙂

      Reply
  2. Boris

    Thank you so much for visiting Romania, even though Europe today is full of bad rumors against Romania.I hope you enjoy it here in the romanian land of Transilvanya.Greetings from Dracula country!

    Reply
  3. Anne Leonard

    Great blog. Just got back from Bran and have posted two blogs on my personal website, but am now attacking the more serious project of blogging for my company — so needed true Dracula history. Glad you had good food. For the most part we did not, causing one fellow traveler to comment: No wonder Dracula took to a diet of blood.

    Reply
    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      LOL we were lucky to have a good guide who took us to a lovely local restaurant – great views and authentic food. It’s a really beautiful area. Thanks for your comment Anne!

      Reply

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