9 Things To Do Before Heading To Transylvania
First and foremost, before heading to Transylvania, I want you to go on a huge vampire binge. I’m talking Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Bela Lugosi—maybe just leave out the sparkle incarnations of Meyer’s imagination because frankly, they don’t really fit.
But all jokes aside, Transylvania, apart from being the birthplace of a legend that has inspired such an obsession every generation, is a charming, medieval, beautiful part of Romania that calls to nature lovers and culture junkies just as much as it does to those who love the legend.
And mainly the reason I tell you to binge on stories before heading to town is so you don’t fall trap to the tourist hotspots--when you’re there, there’s so much more to see.
Book accommodation fit for a prince.
If you’re trying to get away from history, then Transylvania isn’t your place to go, but if it is, trust me, they do it right.
In a joint project with the Prince of Wales (yes, that one), Count Kalnozky has taken on the endeavor of preserving medieval houses, hunting lodges, and preserving the ancient architecture that has made up the landscape of Transylvania for over 700 years.
When it comes to booking a room, you can choose between accommodation that’s located in the areas between Sighişoara and Braşov, there are availabilities in in the villages of Micloşoara and Valea Zălanului, and most likely comes from the 1800s, but some date back much older. Check out their website for more details on rooms, house sizes, and availability. And if you’ve got the time, take a guided tour of one of the renovations from the Count himself.
Buy new hiking gear.
There’s a lot of hype when it comes to the Swiss Alps, but the Romanian mountains sport equally beautiful scenery, adventurous endeavor, and spectacular vistas, which makes a trip to Transylvania an absolute bust if you don’t get your butt over the Carpathians at least once.
Either you can grab a private hiking tour that spans a few days, like any of the self-designed ones you can create with the help of Mountain Hiking Holidays, or you can opt for a day hike that shows you the beauty of the region without requiring a tent or some other inventive sleeping arrangements (caves may be popular folklore, but for the night I wouldn’t suggest it unless you plan on glamping it up).
Learn to rock climb.
If merely walking atop the hills isn’t quite enough adventure for you, there is an opportunity for you to scale them as well.
Head to Belvedere for the mind of scaling that would make a mere mortal do a double take, as will the Bucegi Mountains that you’ll get a chance to peek at once you get to the top. While the climbing is certainly not for amateurs, the limestone crag makes for a beautiful outdoors adventure during the summer with almost exclusively vertical climbs.
Brush up on your history.
From the Saxons to the social problems sorted by the real Dracula, Transylvania has a storied past that is full of legends and tales that have nothing to do with sucking blood.
From the fortified churches that are UNESCO World Heritage sites, to the Carpathian villages that still sport villagers pulling water out of wells, the culture is rich, the history deep, and much more complex than a guy and some stakes. Learn about how the Saxons affected the region (hint: it has to do with some Tartars and Turks), why there’s so many bears still left in the Stramba Valley (it’s got a communist connection), and why the Wallachia region Peles Castle will fulfill all of your fairytale dreams.
Though this one may leave you shaking your head, the truth is, there is a lot of cultural diversity in this region of Romania, and knowing some Romanian, English, and a handful of Hungarian is a great way to be hospitable in your travel location of choice.
A couple of phrases that might come in handy include hello (szia!), Good day (jó napot!), thank you (köszönöm), please (kérem), sorry (sajnálom) and goodbye (viszlát). Yes (igen) and no (nem) are also two great ones to have in your arsenal! And my favorite word, egészségedre (it means cheers!), is perfect for toasting the pub after a night at the bar, or on your first night in your new digs, where it’s a customary greeting to take shots with just arrive guests (don’t question it—it’s good luck!).
Compile your souvenir list
While you may be inclined to buy bloodthirsty replicas, the key to bringing home memorable presents is to keep it simple: local and handmade.
From wooden spoons to handmade art, take home a piece of the real Romanian history with something a little more ingenious than bottle holy water or silver stakes (though taking home some fresh garlic sounds tasty rather than kitschy so go ahead with that one). Hereus Art Bazaar is a place to get the unique items; everything from ceramics to handmade clothing, this little souvenir shop is a classic place to stop for items.
For something a little more invested, grab handmade honey from a local beekeeper (many of local clergy keep their own), or a couple of bottles of wine (see #7!)—not only are they delicious, but it helps out the community (a major plus) and is so much better than a wooden stake.
Download cool travel apps
Life without the iPhone is long regarded as a thing of true beauty; I hear about people going off on vacation and leave their phones off. For good.
But for many, the phone isn’t just a connection to the outside world, it’s our computers, our diaries, our information central, and if you’re one who likes to plan, check on the weather every morning before getting out of bed, or read a review for a restaurant you want to go to dinner before you commit, then taking the phone on vacation to Transylvania is right for you (and also for your Instagram habit).
For traveling through this cool part of Romania, apps like the DBahn Navigator (the German train schedule, allows you to access trains throughout Europe and book tickets as well), Postagram (you can upload your travel photos and send personalized postcards all over the world), Dark Sky (so much more than a free weather app, it tells you about approaching systems in real time and excels at hyper localization and awesome radar maps) and WhatsApp (it will keep you connected to your friends and family without having to sap up all your data) will really save the day. Whether it be for pleasure or for hard facts, apps can help make your Transylvanian adventure that much easier.
Practice Driving Down Winding Roads
It’s true—most of Transylvania is full of unpaved roads that will throw your rims for a loop. But one road in particular, the Transfăgărășan Road, was built as a military route in the late 1970’s and has a couple of things that make it worth a day or so of travel.
Not only are you winding your way in the valley of the Făgărăș Mountains (more of those divine mountainous vistas), but you go through tunnels, zig-zag paths, and the Wallachia region woods along your way. Plus, with it only open a couple months of the year—heavy snowfall can make this route treacherous during the more snow-friendly seasons—it’s a cross of your international bucket list that not many people are going to be able to compete with.
Bring the camera.
Many may claim the title, but none can actually live up to “medieval” quite like Romania.
While the legends of werewolves, bears, and of course, vampires, lives on in touristy Bram Castle and surrounding areas, the rest of Transylvania is left in relative peace from the mainstream and you can see the largely agricultural population out in the fields tending to their crops or flocks, not so very differently from the way they’ve been doing it for centuries. Add in the castles, the dense forests, the unpaved roads, horse-drawn carts, and you’ve got a photo essay that would look killer among the pages of National Geographic.
Don’t worry if the only reason you know about Transylvania is thanks to an Irish writer who never even visited the region; it’s not about what gets you to the gorgeous, historical part of the world. Instead it’s all about what you do while you’re there--so don’t skip the Bram Castle, just make sure you branch out into the wild mountains, the winding roads, and down the tiny town roads. Bon voyage!