Transylvania is best known for being the mysterious land of vampires and wolves. And even though some may think it’s fictional, but this vast land in central Romania, flanked by the Carpathian Mountains is very real, and home to preserved medieval towns, a dynamic university city and boundless hiking trails. Here’s a list of what you need to know before traveling to Transylvania that will certainly convince you to book the next flight there!
Dracula is real (sort of)
Bram Stoker’s 1897 vampire novel was inspired by centuries-old superstition and the real-life exploits of Vlad Dracula. Known by his murderous nickname, Vlad Tepes (the Impaler), the 15th-century Wallachian nobleman was said to have skewered up to 80,000 enemies on long spikes.
You could spot a bear!
Did you know that Romania has the largest brown bear population in Europe? In Transylvania bears regularly descend from the Carpathian foothills to nearby towns looking for food. That is the origin of the famous Romanian expression: “plimba ursul” (literary “go walk the bear”) which means “go away” or “leave us alone”. So, say “plimba ursul” to all of your mundane problems and come to Transylvania to find the ultimate truth, about yourself and about life! One of the safest ways to do so is to book a tour, and a good option it the Wildlife Tour from True Romania Tours.
If nature and hiking are part of your life, go to Apuseni. These mountains are located in the western part of Transylvania and belong to the Carpathians. A large area is included in Apuseni Natural Park.
Photo by Nicu Moldovan
In Apuseni, there is also the region known as Tara de Piatra or Tara Motilor. It is one of the most charming areas, with houses scattered along valleys and ridges, with idyllic landscapes and villages barely touched by modernity. Plan to stay at least one week to enjoy nature.
Accommodation, food and drink are really cheap by European standards. You can get an ensuite private room in the city centre of Brasov for the same price as a bed in a hostel dorm in many Western European cities, and a meal for two plus a bottle of wine usually comes to around €15. There are several budget airlines in Europe and over ten daily flights from London to Bucharest, from where you can take buses or trains into Transylvanian locations. You’ll get to see a beautiful country with minimal spending. One good tip is the Zocco Caffe, great food, service, and price!
Even though some might say it is heavily based on meat, Transylvanian cuisine is so varied that you will undoubtedly find your favorite dish. But do not expect exquisite specialties. It is not at all a sophisticated cuisine; it is a blend of Romanian, Hungarian, Transylvanian Saxonic flavors, but with a special, delicious taste.
Sour soups, stuffed cabbage, walnutpound cakes just taken out of the oven, are easily entered the list of culinary preferences of travelers.
It’s like stepping back in time
Traveling around Transylvania is described as ‘the last truly medieval landscape in Europe’, because it feels like you’ve gone back 100 years, with shepherds tend their flocks while villagers make hay in the sunshine.
Just know that it also comes with a few disadvantages our ancestors had to deal with few hundred years ago! This means poor infrastructure, such as potholed roads and slow trains, so you’ll need a bit of patience. Trains are slow, so buses are your best bet between towns and cities, but you’ll need to hire a car to explore the countryside (try Autonom). Driving conditions aren’t as bad as some make out and the odd stray dogs are your biggest challenges.
Castle hunting is a must!
Certainly one of the biggest selling points about travel to Transylvania is all the incredible castles you can visit there. In this part of Romania you’ll find castles that easily compete with castles in Germany or France, in terms of both beauty as well as history. What’s more, you’ll find that they’re far less overrun with tourists than their western European counterparts. If it is your first trip to Transylvania, these are sights you don’t want to miss.
Sitting atop a forested hill on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains, Bran Castle is quite an atmospheric, medieval castle. Be sure to take all the hidden staircases that run through the castle, even though they can be a bit disorienting.
Corvin Castle, on the other hand, is just plain magnificent. Also known as Hunyadi Castle, this beautiful Gothic castle looks like it belongs in Disneyland rather than outside the small city of Hunedoara. While it’s classic view is from across the elevated bridge, make sure to also go inside and see its stone hallways.
Visit the village of Alma Vii
The small village of Alma Vii is a rare presence even in a region like Transylvania that’s world famous for its traditional rural landscape and multicultural heritage. Located at the end of a country road, nestled between forest-strewn hills, the scenery of the fortified church and the rustic houses form a picturesque view that looks like it was taken from a fairytale. But the most valuable treasure of Alma Vii, most say, is the people – a varied yet harmonious community of ethnicities and personalities who live together, preserving authentic rural customs.