Everyone’s heard of New York City at Christmas, cruises in the summertime. But Halloween holidays are somewhat unheard of amidst conversations about travelling. It’s not really a commonality, or at least I haven’t heard about it before.
So when my mother said she wanted to book a trip to Transylvania in Romania for the Halloween break last Autumn I was intrigued to say the least. On some level I knew Transylvania was a real place but it’s not something I’d ever really thought much into. My knowledge of the place was synonymous with Transylvania stereotypes – spooky castles, graveyards, vampires and bats flying around, you know the ones.
But Transylvania is a real place, and not at all what you would think it is. A region in central Romania, it’s scattered with medieval villages, surrounded by the picturesque Carpathian Mountains and absolutely saturated in history.
We arrived in Bucharest a couple of days before Halloween last October after enduring the most torturous, claustrophobic – but thankfully, short, flight I’ve ever been on. On the coach ride out of the city we drove past tiny run-down homes, massive unfinished mansions, typical industrialised areas and oil plants which did not smell like anything you want to smell on your holiday.
We stayed in a hotel directly in the centre of a little mountain town called Sinaia. During winter it operates as a ski resort and attracts a lot of tourists for that reason, but in late October the town was peaceful and extremely quiet.
Upon our arrival at the village it was pitch dark outside and my first impression of it was that it was beautiful, but not anything particularly special. I admired all the Addams family reminiscent houses we passed on the way in, the architecture was stunning but it didn’t really live up to what I’d seen on the internet.
Then I woke up the next morning. In the bright of day we discovered we were surrounded by vast miles of mountains covered in trees. The little village seemed ridiculously tiny nestled in between all the nature that surrounded it.
Our first day we visited Castelul Peles, the former summer home of the Romanian royal family. The castle – which was more of a palace was only a short bus ride away from where we were staying. We had a tour guide on our trip who explained the palace’s history to us as well as giving us recommendations about where to go and what to look at.
This trip was a particular favourite on the trip because of the sheer intricacy of the architecture and artwork. The palace is huge and is covered in frescoes, surrounded by beautiful sculptures, landscaping and of course the gorgeous mountain view.
The standout excursion of our trip however, was Bran Castle on Halloween. This castle is known as Dracula’s Castle by tourists and is located in the town of Bran which is just south of the medieval city of Brașov.
You can take a guided tour around the castle which rises tall on a 760m peak or you can explore the castle alone.
The rooms in the Castle are decorated with furniture collected by Queen Marie of Romania and the history of the castle is displayed in various mediums as you wander through the halls. The castle’s relation to Vlad the Impaler – the ruler who inspired the character of Dracula is complicated but also very interesting.
Visiting Dracula’s apparent tomb was also something to remember. I say apparent because archaeologists and historians are still unsure as to whether Vlad the Impaler was actually buried there. It’s located at the remote Snagov Monastery on an island in the middle of a lake and definitely worth a visit regardless of the mystery surrounding it.
The island can be reached by a little footbridge and on your trip across the water to the monastery you can see the mansions of some of the richest people in Romania which surround it.
Overall, a trip to Transylvania is definitely worth consideration if you’re someone who loves exploring countries with beautiful scenery, architecture and rich history. Food and drink was also incredibly affordable even in the more tourist populated areas and if you decide to try one of the cakes you’re in for a surprise.
It’s not a trip you have to take at Halloween time but I feel October was the perfect time to go there and enjoy the spooky-themed activities.
Image Credit: Kirsty Dowdall