Bram Stoker never visited Transylvania. Murnau, Coppola and Polanski weren’t particularly bothered either by the fact that Vlad the Impaler was a national hero who fought for independence from the Turks. In this stunning region of central Romania, its historical and natural appeal has been overlooked in favour of the horrific legend of a figure that has inspired over 200 films and 1,000 novels.
The essayist and philosopher Emil Cioran (1911-1995) was born in Transylvania, and you can visit his house in Rasinari, twelve kilometres from Sibiu. Here, he spent his childhood, responsible for many of his most fervent thoughts about suicide and death. A friend of the village gravedigger’s son, people say that from a young age he played football with human skulls, something that defined his morbid streak.
The concept of celebrating death can also be found in another location in Transylvania: the ‘merry cemetery’ in Sapanta. Here, graves are accompanied by primitive coloured paintings and epitaphs that describe, happily and poetically, how the people buried there lived or died.
Transylvania is a region full of medieval cities, well-preserved castles and lush landscapes close to the Carpathian Mountains.
However, not everything this side of paradise is focused on death! Transylvania is a region full of medieval cities, well-preserved castles and lush landscapes close to the Carpathian Mountains. At 1,500 km long, these mountains are home to the largest population of grey bears in Europe.
The perfect base to visit this hidden gem is the city of Brasov, home the to the monumental Black Church. This is a breath-taking Gothic cathedral whose colour is due to a fire suffered in 1689, and is just a stone’s throw away from the city’s main cultural and natural attractions.
Although Transylvania produces 35% of Romania’s GDP, travelling through most of its territory is like returning to a pre-industrial age. However, its famous Peles Castle, which is the former summer residence of King Carol I and of Ceausescu, was the first building with electricity and central heating in the whole of Europe. Nowadays it is one of the visual symbols of the country, along with the fairytale-like Bran Castle from the 13th century that for a short period of time, was home to Vlad Tepes.
The significance of the country’s cultural base is most notable in cities like Sibiu. The 2007 European Capital of Culture is home to an unusual group of buildings, representing all styles. Home to Romanians, Germans, Hungarians and Gypsies, this melting pot includes an enormous number of museums, theatres and festivals. Its ‘houses with eyes’ are famous, gaining this nickname because of the eye-shaped windows in their roofs. You also have to visit the trendiest city Cluj, with its allure of a hip urban lifestyle, or the medieval citadel in Sighisoara, which is the only one still populated in Europe and where Vlad the Impaler was born. Although we can’t get rid of its ominous vampire legacy entirely, you won’t need to carry garlic or stakes for protection.