Transylvania – in the shadow of Dracula

Banffy Castle – fit for a Count!

Transylvania  means literally, ‘the land beyond the forest,’ but for most of us, Transylvania is inextricably linked to Bram Stokers’ fictional character, the blood thirsty Count Dracula. At least it is linked in the minds of most people in the world, apart from the people who live here. To them Transylvania is their home, and Dracula just a story made up by a writer, albeit one based on a real and very fearsome Transylvanian count – the so called Vlad the Impaler.

Generally bad – Vlad

We set off on our last day back to Cluj Napoca and the prospect of the next day’s flight home. On the way we stopped at a local market where I bought polyflora honey and honey comb, a huge bag of bilberries and a pot of local medicinal cream. The bilberries made my tongue and teeth go purple and I couldn’t really work out what the cream was meant to do, but the honey looked very promising. There aren’t a great many things to buy in Romania, so it’s good to stock up on local produce. It was quite tricky to even track down a Dracula fridge magnet, which you might imagine would be ubiquitous in this part of the world.

I had expressed a wish to see a Dracula type castle while on this trip, and the one which most people associate with the story, as it is the only one that really fits the description in the book, is Bran Castle.
Bram Stoker’s character, Dracula, is a Transylvanian Count with a castle located high above a valley perched on a rock with a flowing river below, and this is just the setting for Bran Castle.
However, as this castle was several hours drive away, I was happy with a visit to the nearest Dracula type castle, and I was not disappointed.

Martin found a bat

Transylvania is littered with amazing turreted castles which all look like an illustration straight out of a fairy story, and we made our way to Banffy Castle which our hosts had not visited before. Although now a ruin, it is on an endangered buildings list, is slowly being restored and remains in the Banffy family. In 1944 the castle was burned by retreating German troops in retaliation for pro-Allied efforts on the part of Count Miklós Bánffy. After the war, when Romania came under Communist control, the castle suffered neglect, and was looted for building materials. Vandals and natural decay further damaged its fabric. In 2012, the Transylvania Trust established a pioneering project, the Electric Castle music festival, which has brought over 200,000 people to Bánffy Castle. Revenue from the music festival is helping to support conservation work, and it is expected that the castle complex will be completely restored by 2026.

The bat shot

It was a glorious day for our visit, and we had our picnic next to a small lake where we could admire the vista of the castle. After a couple of plastic beakers of our favourite Romania Rose wine, I became excited at the discovery of a stage in front of the castle and determined that a dramatic recontruction of the Dracula story should ensue. Several members of our group drifted away into the background, looking uneasy, but even with only a skeleton cast I was able to elicit a rudimentary performance from the less inhibited members. We were in Transylvania – you’ve got to do Dracula!

Die evil Dracula!

I loved my trip to Transylvania and felt very lucky to have been given this opportunity to explore this unique part of the world by the Green Village project. I learnt an awful lot, as well as meeting lovely people and eating some of the freshest food I have ever had. Romania is a country of splendid mountains and picturesque rolling green hills, rivers and lakes.

Romanian rainbows

Forest still covers over a quarter of the country and is inhabited by wild bears wolves, deer, lynx, chamois and wolves. About a third of the country consists of the Carpathian Mountains, also known as the Transylvanian Alps, and the rest of the country is covered in vineyards orchards and fertile farmland. It’s a beautiful place – the film ‘Cold Moutain’ was shot here – and it was also the home of legendary gymnast Nadia Comaneci. I was very taken with Transylvania and hope that one day I may have the opportunity to return to this fascinating place of such history, culture and stunning natural landscapes.

Red wine only – of course..