Transylvania is best known as the mysterious land of bloodthirsty vampires and howling wolves. Some may think it’s fictional, but this central Romanian region is a real place. And it’s pretty special, too.

Bordered to the east by the Carpathian Mountains, ‘the land beyond the forest’ still feels undiscovered. So, pack your garlic – here’s the lowdown on one of Eastern Europe’s most captivating regions.

The famous Bran Castle near Braşov is Transylvania’s top tourist attraction © Cristian Balate / Shutterstock

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 moniker, Vlad Ţepeş (the Impaler), the 15th-century Wallachian nobleman was said to have skewered up to 80,000 enemies on long spikes.

Despite his wicked ways, he’s considered a hero in Transylvania, so not everyone’s thrilled with the region’s bloodsucking reputation. After years of opposition from locals, the Romanian tourism board announced plans to develop ‘vampire tourism’ using European funds.

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In her 30’s, Ramona was tired of her desk job. She enjoyed being outdoors, hiking through Romani’s countryside, chatting with locals, and introducing travelers to her native country. Her ability to speak many languages since she was a kid helped her create MyRomania, a tour company that specializes in creating authentic family-friendly experiences.

Soon, Ramona’s husband quit his job too and joined the business. They moved into their parent’s home in one of the villages, where they bring up their 2 kids. Ramona is one of the friendliest people I met during my travels and it seemed that everyone knew her wherever we went in Romania.

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Foarte putini oameni din lume merg pe jos si fac bani. Ramona Cazacu e unul dintre ei. E ghid turistic si organizeaza excursii pe cele mai frumoase trasee din tara: biserici, manastiri, defilee, coaste de munte.

Ramona s-a specializat in excursii alaturi de strainii care iubesc natura si peisajele, care vor sa se bucure de frumuseti, nu sa le priveasca din goana cailor putere de la masina.

We were on the fourth day of walking and every day I had been expecting to get a lift from a horse and cart. Unfortunately, it just happened that we didn’t find one going in the right direction. On this morning we were walking along the Sas valley through Botiza village to end at its centre and then start our walk over the hill. It is a 3 km walk along the road and I said again “This is the time I wish a horse and cart would appear”. I had said the same when we were walking between Budesti and Sarbi and again between Hoteni and Breb and between Poienile Izei and Botiza.

The next day we climbed Gutai mountain otherwise known as “Creasta Cocosului” (The Rooster’s Crest). Ok, so, I have to be honest and say I didn’t climb to the absolute top of the rock. Being pregnant I thought it would be too much effort for me and I waited at the bottom. However, I taught Simon to say: “Imi faceti o poza, va rog” (Can I have a picture please!) to make sure he had a photo of himself on the top!
Anyway, climbing to the top is not as challenging as getting back home again.

We started our first walk from our homestay accommodation and headed towards Breb. The first person we met was an 80 year old lady feeding the pig in her yard. We had been attracted by the green beans hanging above the pig house to dry. I am sure she didn’t understand why we took a picture of them! In a few minutes chat I found out that she is on her second marriage and followed this husband after he promised her land and fortune. But now he is sick in bed and she is looking after him. They have no children, but a niece is taking care of them.

The “No 1” place that the travelers want to see in Romania, when they arrive for the first time, is the province of Bucovina in the north-east of the country. Bucovina is famous for its painted churches – painted, that is, on the outside rather than just on the inside which would be more usual for Orthodox churches. This feature is unique in the Byzantine world and these churches have kept their vivid colors on the outside walls despite the vicissitudes of 500 years of rough weather. Themes such as “The Jesse Tree”, “the Prayer of All the Saints”, “The Hymn of Mary” and “The Siege of Constantinople” are to be seen on a beautiful palette of reds, blues, greens and yellows.

Source: Tourism Review

I remember very well when I sow Richard first time. I had arranged to meet him in the airport, a man who had been investigating the few traditional skills that has survived in U.K. He had been to Romania a couple of times before and had been fascinated by the way that traditional life seems to have survived in Romanian and he was anxious to delve a little deeper into Romanian villages. I had been advised that an interpreter will save him significant time and frustration. He felt that is so much more to learn if only he could understand the information, which the Romanian offered so freely in their own language.

We were following the little used backroads of Transylvania, lost somewhere in the middle of Romania. And when I say little used roads, I’m not lying a bit.
I was the guide and interpreter, leading two Dutch tourists, to discover the unspoiled Saxon villages of Transylvania.
Not only was I driving but I also had to find my way along the narrow roads, winding their way up and down hills, with no trace of any signs. Every crossroad looked the same as the last one, and I needed all my powers of intuition to make progress.