Locals sometimes shake their heads over the ‘Dracula connection’, but there’s no denying a sense of spookiness about this broad, mountainous, culturally rich region, which fills the bulk of Romania’s centre. But really the Dracula thing is such a small part of a visit here, and you’re likely to forget about it along the way. Saxon towns such as Sighişoara, Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca and Braşov evoke medieval life; all make fine hubs, with hikes, ski runs, horse markets and cute villages within an hour or two. Much of the fun comes from hikes through the interlocking Carpathians (sometimes called the Transylvanian Alps), which create a U-shape on all of Transylvania’s sides but the north. Skiing is best in the Bucegi Mountains’ Prahova Valley, but outdoors enthusiasts debate what’s best for summer fun –hiking to underground rivers of the Apuseni, rock climbing at Piatra Craiului National Park, biking atop the flat Bucegi plateau, exploring the largely unknown Retezat or hiking the knee-torturing Făgăraş.
Transylvania, part of Romania only since 1918, benefits from its diverse ancestors. Saxons occupied southern Transylvanian towns, and most villages you pass are dotted with fortified churches that date back half a millennium. Going an hour north into Székely Land and towns like Târgu Mureş (Marosvásárhely) with sizeable ethnic Hungarian communities, feels like going into a different country. Throughout you’re likely to spot many Roma villagers – identifiable by black cowboy hats on the men and extravagant red dresses on the women – who sometimes usher passers-by in for meals.
So much is in Transylvania – it’s no surprise that it’s often the only part of Romania experienced by tourists.
‘We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.’
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