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Bringing to mind spooky alpine forests, isolated peasant villages ideal for a Deliverance movie sequel, and, of course, Bram Stoker’s ghastly ‘Dracula’, Transylvania is Romania’s most well known region. After a week in the enigmatic region, I discovered some interesting facts about the town..including the true story behind Dracula.

Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ Was Real – but not quite as you imagined

The blood-sucking lord of the undead is one of the country’s chief tourist attractions. While less supernatural, the real Dracula was just as blood-thirsty. Bram Stoker based his ghoulish villain on Vlad the Impaler – who, true to his cognomen, favored impalement as the method of executing his enemies. The name ‘Dracula’ was taken from ‘Order of the Dragon,’ a medieval chivalric order of which Vlad was a member.

Vlad, despite his renowned cruelty and sadism, was also seen as a great leader and Romanian patriot in his wars against Turkish Ottoman conquest. Vlad’s birthplace – Sighisoara – was one of my favorite stops of the entire trip. It’s little more than a sleepy village, featuring rows of medieval, pastel-colored houses, but well worth visiting. Avoid Bran castle, which is frequently – yet inaccurately – touted as Vlad’s residence. Instead, visit the more modest but accurate Poenari castle, which was one of Vlad’s chief fortresses in the 15th century.

Has the 2nd highest, arguably most stunning road in the world

The Transgarasan road is, simply put, a very impressive feat of engineering. Built by communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in the 1970s, the mountain route winds up and across the Fagaras Mountains, reaching a peak altitude of over 2000m. The ambitious project took its toll, killing at least 40 soldiers and using more than 6 million kilograms of dynamite in its construction.

Despite its macabre history (something Romania doesn’t seem to lack), it is one of the most thrilling, spectacular drives in the world, with winding hairpin bends, and mountains looming in every direction. Most visitors will arrive from the southern side, accessible from nearby Sibiu, which is a mere 30 minutes away. The winding drive will take you through and above alpine forests, where you’ll eventually reach Lake Balea at the foot of the Fagaras Mountains, the perfect spot for a picnic, a swim, or a hike – if you’re feeling energetic like we were!

Contains 40% of Europe’s Wolf and Bear Population

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Wolves, cats, and bears. Oh my, indeed. While we didn’t have the privilege of witnessing any of these fascinating predators in our travels, each of these species form key links in the ecosystem of the wilderness of Transylvania. The region also hosts some of Europe’s most pristine, sprawling forests. As such, the potential for development is high, bringing with it risks to the country’s rich host of wildlife and nature. So go and visit Transylvania while it remains the last truly wild, natural bastion in Europe. It is unlikely to remain so for very long.

It’s one of the most cultured, historical regions in Europe

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There’s definitely a pervading stigma about the whole of Romania. That is – poor gypsies, feral dogs, and disintegrating soviet bloc architecture. For me, Transylvania spun that stigma on its head entirely. Stunning, fortified medieval towns such as Brasov were originally founded by migrating Saxon Germans, paid to defend the region from invasion. Sibiu – a town that won the culture capital of Europe in 2007 – is reminiscent of Central Europe, with its Gothic churches, rows of quaint, red-tiled buildings, boutique stores and internationally-renowned eateries.

The region has no shortage of extravagant, charming castles, either. Besides Bran Castle –incorrectly touted as the seat of Vlad the Impaler – there are a whole slew of others, including the ridiculously ornate 19th century Peles ‘castle’, the mighty, Gothic-Renaissance ‘Corvin Castle’, and the fascinating fortified churches of the region, including Visci, which Prince Charles of Britain chose as his personal holiday spot.

Conclusion

Transylvania is shrouded in myth and mystery, and that, perhaps, makes it an even more tempting destination. However, the region’s natural beauty, rich, complex history and varied culture was truly astonishing. When you do visit (and you should) remember to leave your expectations at the door. The Transylvania you imagine will surpass your expectations and surprise you entirely.

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