From Sofia, we flew to Bucharest in Romania and rented a car to explore the country for the next 5 days. When I hear Romania, my mind immediately jumps to Transylvania’s medieval towns, castles, and Dracula. Romania today is created by the union of Moldavia, Wallachia, Transylvania, Bukovin, and Bessarabia. For a while after World War II, Romania was a socialist republic until after the 1989 Revolution when it began the transition towards a capitalist democracy.
We picked up our rental car at Bucharest airport and began our road trip by driving north towards Brasov in the historical region of Transylvania in central Romania. After driving for about an hour and half, we arrived at the fairytale-like Peles Castle set in the Bucegi Mountains near the town of Sinaia. Peles Castle is a Neo-Renaissance castle built between 1873 and 1914 for King Carol I under whose reign the country gained its independence. This alpine castle follows both German and Italian design aesthetics and even though it is referred to as a castle, it is actually a palace. All the 160+ rooms are lavishly furnished and each has a different style inspired by Florentine, Turkish, Moorish, Baroque architecture etc. There is a movie theatre and concert hall here, doors inside cupboards, a room shaped like an upside down boat, and even a stained glass skylight that can be opened in the summer. You can join a guided tour to visit the ground floor only or both the ground floor and the first floor of the castle which I think is worthwhile. Many locals and visitors think Peles Castle is far more impressive than the more famous Bran Castle.
From Brasov, it is about a 50-minute drive to one of the most well known places in Romania, Bran Castle. It is more commonly known as Dracula’s Castle and is referred to as Dracula’s home in Bram Stoker’s book Dracula. However, Bran Castle is not crumbling as described in the book, nor does it have strong associations with Vlad the Impaler who inspired the character of Dracula. It was believed that Bran Castle may have once held Vlad the Impaler prisoner and that is as far as the association goes. Vlad the Impaler was known for his cruelty and bloodlust. He liked to torture people and would impale his enemies. That is what inspired Stoker to create a bloodsucking vampire character Count Dracula. Bran Castle was built between 1377 and 1388 by the Saxons, but it is actually older than that. It was built initially by the Teutonic Knights in 1212 as a wooden castle to guard an important mountain pass, but was destroyed by the Mongols in 1242. Nowadays, it is a museum largely devoted to Queen Marie of Romania who was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and the last queen consort of Romania.
The castle shrouded in myth and legend continues to stand perched on a cliff surrounded by the forests of Carpathian mountains. I have to admit I was slightly disappointed in Bran Castle for not being what I had always imagined based on Bram Stoker’s book. In any case, I am glad I came and saw for myself.
Next post will be on Brasov which was our base for our Transylvania adventure. Stay tuned!
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