I’m writing this in the Carpathian Mountains, it’s late in the night and I’ve just turned the last page of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The wind is blowing so I decide – cautiously – to shut the windows. Like most people with a resourceful imagination in this situation, I hear wolves howling and bats flapping at my window…but it’s all just fantasy, right?
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It's true that people here have slightly more pointy canines and there is a certain fog in the cold months that adds to the mystery, but the locals eat far too much garlic and like their steak well done, to send a chill down my spine. They are superstitious and their houses are blessed once a year by the priest. It looks like the only bloodsuckers are the mosquitoes in the summer.
“People here have slightly more pointy canines and there is a certain fog in the cold months that adds to the mystery...”
So, no vampires?
The region is steeped in myths and supernatural stories. The most fearsome are the ones about strigoi, the troubled souls of the dead risen from the grave. Some strigoi can be living people with certain magical properties, such as the ability to transform into an animal and to drain the vitality of victims through their blood.
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And the most famous bloodsucker of all? Count Dracula was based on Vlad the Impaler, a local ruler from the 15th century – at around the same time as Henry the VIII ruled England. Vlad was both loved and feared. He fought for independence against the Ottoman Empire and did a lot of good for his country, but he was merciless. His preferred method of executing enemies and outlaws was to impale them, pushing a stake through someone’s bottom up to their shoulders so they died days later in horrible pain.
Still want to go in search of vampires and spooky places?
Dracula’s castle is a disappointment if you are looking for vampires or even a connection to Vlad the Impaler. He never even visited it! Still, Bran Castle is a delightful 14th-century castle outside Brasov. Although the castle has been transformed into a holiday house by the former Romanian royal family you can still imagine the Count flapping his wings at the windows and swooping down the outside walls.
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Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler and there is even a nice fresco of the event in the restaurant with the same name. This charming medieval citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage site with cobbled streets, nine towers that once belonged to different guilds, narrow passages, little cafes and good hotels.
There was talk of a Dracula Park here and the whole area as well as the wider Romanian economy would have benefited, but it never happened. Imagine if Dracula was from the US or UK… There is so much potential for vampire tourism here!
Outside Bistrita towards the Borgo Pass, as described in the Dracula book, there is a ‘castle’, today a hotel that tries to satisfy the tourists’ need for bloodthirsty myths. The hotel and the little theatrical act they put together is not as scary as the surroundings. Here you really can hear wolves howling and the fog and the wildness of the landscape help bring the atmosphere of the book alive.
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Sibiu (Hermannstadt) is the place where houses have eyes. It is a beautiful medieval town, rich in history, sights and cultural life – it was even the European Capital of Culture in 2007.
Image by Gaspar Serrano on flickr
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There are many walking routes through unspoiled scenery, from village to village, over hills and through woods. And although 60% of the brown bears in Europe live here, you’d be really lucky to encounter one.
As for road trips, there are two stunning routes through mountains similar to the Applecross in Scotland, the Vrsic Pass in Slovenia and the Trollstigen in Norway; steep and filled with hairpin bends, but the views are just to die for – literally. So focus and drink in the views from the top!
Image by Mircea Gheorghe on flickr
What’s the scariest place you’ve ever been? Was it haunted? Were there any vampires?!