QWhere will I find authentic Dracula country and experience the mountain villages and creepy castles we associate with the famous Count?
Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula (1897), never actually set foot in Transylvania. He’s believed to have based his novel’s infamous lead character on the 15th-century Romanian warlord Vlad Tepes, nicknamed Vlad the Impaler, after the gruesome method he used to dispose of his enemies.
So anyone who goes in search of Dracula country is either looking for Transylvania as Stoker imagined it, or searching for the stomping grounds of a real-life medieval tyrant (idolised in his homeland). As such, it can be difficult to pin down, but perhaps the best place to start is Brasov, an attractive, historic city surrounded by the southern Carpathian mountains.
As well as being incredibly atmospheric, Brasov is a short hop away from stunning Bran Castle which, while having no links to either Stoker or Tepes, is often referred to as Dracula’s Castle simply because it looks and feels like you’d expect it to.
Tepes’ real-life hometown is Sighisoara, another beautiful, well-preserved medieval settlement. Tourists can visit his birthplace — today a weapons’ museum and restaurant.
Other Dracula hotspots include Arefu, an ancient village steeped in vampire folklore that also has Tepes links, and the neighbouring Poenari Fortress, Tepes’ dramatic clifftop castle built in a week and accessed via a 1,462-step climb.
Built for tourists
For example, the lofty Tihuta (Borgo) Pass, which featured in the novel as the gateway to Dracula’s mountain realm, is today home to the Hotel Castle Dracula — built in the 1970s.
At the end of the pass is the village of Bistrita, where protaganist Jonathan Harker stayed at the fictional Golden Crown hotel (Hotel Coroana de Aur). A hotel of the same name has since been built for tourists.
Published in the October 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)