In 2008 we had booked a tour of Turkey with our daughter who was working in England. Whilst planning the trip it was decided we had to go to Jersey to visit the zoo, Durrell, we had to visit Vienna because I love Vienna, I love the music of Strauss and, of course, there is a zoo! My daughter wanted to go to Budapest as she had really enjoyed the book Csardas by Dianne Pearson. Great book, and we had never been to Budapest, so we added it to the list. So the question became, “how do we get from Budapest to Istanbul?” Bucharest seemed an obvious choice, but we couldn’t find a lot to recommend it and after having been in capital cities we thought something more provincial would be nice.
Through a travel site called Responsible Travel , I found a guesthouse, which specialises in eco-tourism, in a small village in Transylvania, that is owned by a ‘real’ count! http://www.transylvaniancastle.com/ Images of Dracula and Sesame Street immediately sprang to mind and we were sold.
We caught the train from Budapest to Cluj-Napoca where we spent 1 night in the aptly named Hotel Transylvania. (It came before the animated movie.) We then moved on by train to the Count’s estate in Miklósvár where we were greeted at a nearby station. The train trip is long, not luxurious and the weather was very hot which added an element of discomfort to the trip, however the countryside was alluring, interesting and different. As we travelled into Romania we passed farms and villages that were almost mediaeval. Farmers brought in their hay with pitchforks and horse-drawn wagons.
The estate was a fantastic place! Rustic, beautiful, and so peaceful. There were storks nesting on the roofs and chimneys in the biggest nests you’ve ever seen.
On arrival we were offered a drink of carraway cognac and everyone was so welcoming. The accommodation was all-inclusive and each day we had a choice of local tours to do with an English-speaking guide and just a handful of guests in a minibus. We ate all meals with the other guests so we had the opportunity to meet new people and the food was plentiful and delicious. Dinner even included wine. It was high summer so we ate breakfast outside under a vine-covered trellis, it was sublime.
Our day trips included Sighisoara (pronounced Siggishwara), which is a must see for anybody travelling in the area. If you have been to some of the mediaeval towns in Germany, such as Dinkelsbuhl and Rothenberg, the first thing that will strike you when you enter the town is that it looks German! That’s because the Saxons built the town in the 12th Century, so it is. The Saxons came to Transylvania as mercenaries at the request of King Geza II of Hungary to assist in the defence of the southeastern border of Hungary. Sighisoara is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes ,known as Vlad the Impaler, ruler of the province of Walachia from 1456 to 1462. It was Vlad the Impaler who inspired Bram Stoker’s fictional story, Count Dracula. Sighisoara is just gorgeous, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, although it is somewhat over-run by cheap Dracula souvenirs.
We also visited the Saxon fortified Church at Viscri, near Sighisoara, another must for visitors.http://romaniatourism.com/castles-fortresses.html#viscri
We did a scenic drive to Lacul Sfanta Ana (Lake St Ann) and the Mohos peat bog, where we went on a guided walk along stepping ‘stones’ through the peat bog, learning about all the poisonous berries and carnivorous plants along the way! Fascinating, scary and beautiful all at once. The Park was home to a couple of volcanic lakes, the largest of which many visitors were playing and swimming in – near the shore of course. The area was a huge attraction for a day out for the locals, we were the only tourists. So with three Aussies in the group (actually there were five, but two piked out!) we swam across the lake and back. Despite the extremely hot weather, the water was a tad chilly. My daughter can say that she made it – just – as like her father, who was one of the abstainers, she sinks like a stone. http://transylvaniantravel.ro/en/prg/9/5/lake-st-ann-mohos
We did a walk through the village of Miklósvár, past Prince Charles’ house!, through the woods to a sulphur cave. Sitting in the cave is claimed to cure a myriad of ills, particularly arthritis. The sulphur smell gives me a headache so I stayed outside and watched a woodpecker instead. Woodpeckers are very difficult to photograph when you are not expecting to see them!
Before heading to Bucharest to fly to Istanbul, we stayed a night in Brasov, the region’s largest town. I really liked Brasov, it had a great feel to it with pedestrian squares, lots of outdoor dining and attractive buildings – all surrounded by green hills.
Brasov is known for the Bear sanctuary which has been established nearby. I intend to return one day to visit the sanctuary.