- Saxon scenes, forests green
- Horses, chickens and viticulture
Transylvania is as wild as the bears, wolves and lynxes that roam its woods: cold-shouldered by the craggy Carpathian mountains, with a tangle of dark forests, flowery meadows, verdant vineyards and streams as sparkly as scattered glass.
If you’re a Latin-boffin or ancient Roman, you’ll already know that Transylvania means ‘land beyond the forest’. No doubt the Romans were just being factual, but it’s an aptly intriguing description for such an imagination-stirring landscape. Unfenced fields dotted with mediaeval churches, Saxon houses painted in primary colours, sleepy villages, a culture rich in tradition and superstition – someone should write a gothic thriller about Transylvania. (Oh wait, Bram Stoker already did.) Lazy Dracula references aside, the real Romania is more compelling than any haemoglobin-hunting Count. Way before Vlad the Impaler was sharpening sticks, various tribes and nations squabbled over the territory, including the Hungarians and Saxons (they're to thank for the area’s hearty goulashes, sour soups and cabbage-y creations). More recently, the region’s seven fortress towns (Bistrita, Brasov, Cluj-Napoca, Medias, Sebes, Sighişoara and Sibiu) wobbled under Ceauşescu’s Communist regime. Unlike the disgraced leader, they emerged relatively unscathed, and were swiftly restored to former finery. Popular culture casts Transylvania as a nocturnal vamp, but its pleasures – skiing, walking and wine tasting – are designed for daytime.
Something looms over Transylvania, and it’s vampire-shaped. In penning Dracula, Bram Stoker rewrote this swathe of central Romania – thanks to him, the region will always have a hint of the macabre to it. The inspiration for Stoker’s be-caped Count was Prince Vlad III, born in Sighişoara, and one of the cruelest leaders in European history (he particularly enjoyed putting people on sticks).
- It’s easy to flag down taxis in the main towns, including Sibiu, Medias and Sighişoara; if you’re in a village, it’s best to book ahead. Try OK Taxis on +40 265 777 777 or +40 265 770 020. If you’re staying at Copsamare Guesthouses, staff will book your cars.
- Tipping culture
- Tips aren't expected, but they are appreciated.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Nothing unusual to report here: shops and banks are open throughout the week, closing on Sunday. Similarly, restaurants and bars stick to European norms when it comes to opening hours.
- Packing tips
- The climate has a split personality: even on the sunniest days, nights are nippy, so bring warm layers. If you’re the superstitious type, remember rosary beads/garlic/a big wooden stake to keep vampires at bay.
- Recommended reads
- William Blacker lived with Transylvanian farmers and Romanian gypsies for several years, falling in love along the way. Read about his experiences in Along the Enchanted Way. Nostalgic, tender and insightful, The Pigs’ Slaughter is a glimpse of Romanian family life under a Communist regime; in it journalist Florin Grancea remembers the Christmas of 1989, when Ceauşescu’s dictatorship came to a bitter end. Get into the gloomy, gothic spirit of things with a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written in 1897.
- The local fare is hearty and wholesome, with strong Hungarian and Turkish influences. Cabbage, pork and polenta are the key players.
- Regional specialities
- Try apple juice from Malancrav and beer (we like pale-gold Timisoreana lager and Ursus beer – advertised as the ‘king of beers’). Sample one of the sour soups – the porky ciorba ardeleneasca de porc served at Unglerus (+40 269 806 698) in Biertan is particularly good. Order meat-stuffed cabbage rolls at Casa Wagner (+40 744 388 321; www.casa-wagner.com) in Sighişoara.
- Leu (LEU).
- Time zone
- GMT +2.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for Romania: +40. Sibiu: 269.
- Do go/don't go
- Spring and autumn are balmy and pretty; winters are bitterly cold; even in the warm summers, evenings are chilly.
Don't go home without...
Admiring the pottery in Horezu, a town in in Vâlcea County that’s famous for its colourful ceramics. (If you like the boldly patterned plates on display at Cosamare Guesthouses, stock up on your own here.) While you’re visiting this historic town, admire the Unesco-protected monastery.