A fairytale land of pine-veiled valleys, gothic fortresses and villages untouched by time, Transylvania is an eastern European region shrouded in legend and mystery. Lodged in Romania’s misty green heart and cradled by the Carpathian Mountains, Transylvania has long occupied the darker corners of the human imagination. This isolated destination is most famous for being the home of Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century ruler of the state of Wallachia. Earning the nickname for his gruesome method of dispatching his enemies, some regard the prince as a national hero, others a savage tyrant.
But for the gothic novelist Bram Stoker, he was the inspiration for one of literature’s most infamous and enduring characters, Count Dracula. Shadowy folklore has soaked deep into the soil of this region, but before you drape a string of garlic around your neck, take comfort, visitors who make the journey to Transylvaniadis cover more than just dark legends. From the Romans to the Saxons, Transylvania’s many conquerors have left their cultural marks. And nowhere is this rich social tapestry more evident than in the picture book streets of Sibiu. Sweeping skyward from the heart of the city is Sibiu’s proud symbol, the Council Tower, whose medieval stones were first laid in the 13th century.
Down below, take a stroll around the grand square, Piata Mare, where attic windows known as the city’s eyes seem to follow your every move. Follow the rolling hills west, past secluded hamlets and scattering herds, to the city of Hunedoara, where the turrets and spires of Corvin Castle rise from the horizon. This 15th century Gothic-Renaissance treasure is one of the wonders of Romania. Look past its fairytale façade, however, and you’ll discover the dark secrets and embittered spirits that roam its halls and ramparts. Creep through the vaults, where Vlad Tepes is said to have descendedin to madness during his seven-year imprisonment, before emerging to unleash his reign of terror. Travel north to the reassuring 21st century bustle of Cluj Napoca.
Rising from the stones of a 2000-year-old Roman citadel, over the centuries this city has matured into the elegant heart of Transylvania. Once your nerves have settled, take the 20-minute drive west to Hoia Forest…but don’t venture too far from the paths. Tales of disappearances, UFO sightings, and paranormal weirdness abound here, earning Hoia the title of the world’s most haunted forest. When you’ve finished ghost hunting in the forbidden forest, take the two-hour drive into the welcoming embrace of Târgu Mures. Having endured war, the black death, fire and revolution, this city has at last emerged, as a sparkling celebration of Romanian and Hungarian culture and pride.
Just to the south of Târgu Mureş feel the hands of time turn backwards in the walled city of Sighisoara, the birthplace and boyhood home of Vlad the Impaler. Wander the cobblestone streets where the future tyrant played, but fear not, the bright pastel colors of this enchanting city keep the sinister shadows at bay. Uncover another medieval gem, just a two-hour drive southeast of Sighisoara. Fringed by the pine-veiled peaks of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains, Brasov, was founded by the Teutonic Knights. Visit the Black Church, renamed after it was scorched by the Great Fire of 1689.Walk the square where legend has it the Pied Piper and the Children of Hamelin reemerged after disappearing from Saxony, over 1000 miles away. Continue your journey back through time in the nearby streets of Rasnov.
Rising high above the town, is Rasnov Fortress, a vast medieval citadel built to hold back invading Turkish and Tatar hoards. More than a fortress, the citadel contained gardens, homes, a school and a chapel, providing shelter and comfort in times of prolonged siege. Seven miles away, stand before Transylvania’s most famous landmark, Bran Castle. Though it’s unknown whether Vlad the Impaler ever actually stayed here, the towering turrets of this brooding cliff top castle were enough to inspire Bram Stoker when he searched for the perfect lair for his famous vampire. And today, that connection draws thousands of travelers each year, who come to gaze out from the ramparts of “Dracula’s Castle”. Transylvania is one of those rare places that blurs the lines between fact, folklore and fantasy. Whether you’ve come for the ancient citadels or the secluded fairytale hamlets, the stirring landscapes or the dark legends, Transylvania is a destination that is hard to define, and impossible to forget. Transylvania is immortal.