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Translating from Latin as the “land beyond the forest”, Transylvania has perhaps unsurprisingly remained relatively shrouded in mystery. Rarely considered a tourist destination, this Romanian region has inspired artists and creatives for centuries, thriving on the exaggerated fables that travellers take away with them.
Beyond myths of bloodthirsty counts and creepy fortresses, Transylvania is brimming with flower-filled meadows, colourful baroque buildings and quaint villages, all framed by towering, snow-capped Carpathian Mountains. Hop between the ancient cities of Sibiu, Braşov and Cluj-Napoca to get a real feel for the region. Germanic architecture and medieval walls nod towards 12th-century Saxon settlers, while cobbled old towns, gothic churches and Hungarian features hint at the sheer variety of the region’s cultural history.
Outside of the cities, rolling hills and oak forests make the perfect destinations for those searching for unspoilt nature. Transylvania is one of the largest European strongholds for bears, wolves and bats, so it isn’t hard to understand why ghastly rumours gained traction. Head to any of the four national parks to hike up mountains, stroll along rivers or take a dip in Saint Anna Lake – the only intact volcanic lake in Europe.
Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, was inspired by the region’s intriguing history, wildlife and the real-life stories of Vlad the Impaler. This 15th-century prince fought the Ottoman army and was notorious for his ruthless treatment of his own countrymen. Although Dracula’s fictional castle was indeed imaginary, it has become inextricably linked to 14th-century Bran Castle, just outside the city of Braşov. Visit the fortress to explore its twisting turrets and towers, or head to the mountain resort of Sinaia or Hunedoara for similar fairy-tale-esque forts such as Peleş Palace and Corvin Castle.
Who to take with you
Someone in need of some natural R&R. The region has several resort towns famed for their thermal springs. Several areas are rumoured to have therapeutic waters – head to Sibiu to soak in the salty pools of Ocna Sibiului, said to heal arthritis and rheumatism, or take a dip in the mineral mud of Bear Lake, which allegedly cures infertility. If you have no ailments and just fancy a dip, try the naturally heated Felix Baths, located on hilltops just outside the mountains of the Crai Forest. Temperatures can reach up to 50°C, meaning the baths can be visited year-round.
When to go
While Transylvania is beautifully colourful in spring and summer, November is the best time to go. Darker evenings make for excellent castle visits, colder weather makes the hot springs even more inviting and the snowy hills mean you can spend days skiing down the mountains.
Where to stay
Hole up in Copsamare Guesthouses for a truly Romanian escape. Located in the tiny village of Copşa Mare, the guesthouses are near the Unesco World Heritage Site of Biertan, right in the centre of the Transylvania Triangle (formed by the historic cities of Braşov, Sighişoara and Sibiu). Come for organic, locally sourced food (including honey from the village priest’s bees) and charming houses in which you can cosy up with a glass of palincă – the local tipple, a type of fruit brandy.
Most likely to bump into…
Cattle-herding villagers and local palincă brewers.
Essentials to bring with you
Wrap up in this Acne Studios Rives oversized knitted cardigan, and be sure to pack these Blanche shearling-lined velvet ankle boots by Moncler for hikes around the countryside. No need to pack any garlic…
How to get there
Fly into Bucharest’s Henri Coandă International Airport and transfer to Transylvania. Alternatively, fly into Budapest to follow a romantic countryside train route to the heart of Transylvania.
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