Not sure what to do in Romania? Well, if you’re feeling brave, you could always take a trip to Transylvania, best known as the mysterious land where bloodthirsty vampires and howling wolves roam.
Many people think Transylvania is a fictional place, but this mountainous area in central Romania is very real, and also extremely picturesque. So, if you do ever emerge from “the land beyond the forest”, you should have some pretty good snaps to show for your trip.
The famous Bran Castle is Transylvania’s top tourist attraction, and although the author of the 1897 gothic novel Dracula, Bram Stoker, never actually visited Romania, he made the castle the home of the book’s central character. It was this that gave rise to Transylvania’s reputation as the vampire capital of the world.
But before you dismiss the idea of vampires as fiction and put the garlic away, we have to point out that Bram Stoker’s story of the dreaded “Count Dracula” had its roots in real life. The fictional character from the Dracula novel was in fact based on a Romanian prince of the 15th century, called Vlad III. He was sometimes known as Vlad Dracula, and gained the nickname Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes in Romanian). As the nickname suggests, Vlad was pretty bloodthirsty himself and had a reputation for brutally punishing his enemies.
Vlad’s preferred method of execution was impalement, but as well as being a sadistic way to dispose of his enemies, this was also a clever method of psychological warfare against his more powerful foes.
When the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II invaded Wallachia, the region where Vlad ruled, he found nothing but the rotting remains of Ottoman prisoners impaled on spikes. This was Vlad’s gruesome way of scaring away an enemy that was vastly superior in numbers.
While some historians have suggested that Vlad himself drank human blood, their interpretations seem to be flawed. However, there is a 15th-century German poem that describes how Vlad liked to wash his hands in the blood of his victims before he ate.
Of course, any story as well as known as Dracula is going to lead to a fair number of vampire ‘sightings’, as well as a few gruesome copycat events. In 1969, there were several reports of dead animals in Highgate Cemetery in London, whose bodies had been completely drained of blood. This was followed by sightings of a tall, dark figure with a face contorted in horror floating above the graveyard at night. Self-proclaimed graveyard hunters descended on the graveyard en masse and even dug up a few graves, but nothing was found
In the early 20th century in Hanover, a man named Fritz Haarmann became one of Germany’s most infamous mass murderers. In his youth, Fritz spent time in an asylum and was in and out of jail for petty offences like pickpocketing and burglary. After WWI, he decided to up the ante by becoming probably the closest thing to a real-life vampire the world has ever seen.
With the help of two accomplices, Haarmann would overpower his victims and fall upon their throats, chewing the flesh until they died. Haarmaan was charged with 27 murders, but it’s thought he could be responsible for as many as 50.
Bucharest in southern Romania is the country’s capital, and it’s the perfect place to base your trip. Bran Castle is just a couple of hours away by road, so you can set off for a day of vampire-hunting and return to the safety of the capital by night.
There are plenty of reasonably priced hotels in Bucharest, including a number of 4-star and 5-star options to help you make the most of your stay. If you’re travelling on a budget, there are also some 3-star hotels that are comfortable, cosy and cost no more than around £50 a night.
There are cheap flights to Bucharest direct from a number of UK airports, including Stansted, Luton, Gatwick, Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow, giving pretty comprehensive coverage across much of the UK.
Once you reach your destination, car hire in Bucharest is a great way to travel from the airport to your Bucharest hotel, and to explore the scenic, mysterious and historic region of Transylvania.