Go for a long walk in the dramatic Piatra Craiului (‘Rock of the King’) National Park, and if you're lucky you might see a bear, wolves or even lynx.
Tom, Original Traveller
Folk ballads in Transylvania have a common ending. 'If he has not died,' the closing line goes, 'then in some place he is still alive.' It's a particularly apt sentiment in a region where a simple agrarian lifestyle of horses and carts, grass cutting by scythes and passionate religious beliefs still clings on while the world beyond the mountains changes at a bewildering pace.
Why we think you’ll love it
- No wooden stakes, crucifixes or garlic cloves required, but let's kill off one misconception once and for all: Transylvania's Bran Castle was never home to Count Dracula, or his factual inspiration Vlad the Impaler. The castle is still most definitely worth a visit, though
- Venture deep into Transyvania for healthy scenic walks, volcanic lakes, bear spotting and a taste of rural life around the Prince of Wales's Zalanpatak property
From the gallery
Our guide to holidays in Transylvania
But to suggest that Transylvania is only worth a visit to see a traditional way of life preserved, as if in amber, would be to miss out on many other facets of this beguiling destination. This is also a region of staggering natural beauty, fascinating (and extremely complicated) cultural diversity and 'nature red in tooth and claw' the like of which hasn't been seen in Britain since the 1600s. Oh, and on the subject of those teeth, they belong not to the vampires now commonly associated with Transylvania, but to the bears, wolves and even lynx that still call this place home.
The road north from Bucharest offers little hint of what is to come as you pass mile after mile of farmland as flat as the proverbial pancake and dotted with nodding donkey pumps and vineyards - respective producers of possibly the world's two most important liquids: oil and wine. Then, rising like a vast barrier perpendicular to the road, loom the Carpathian Mountains that form the southern and eastern boundaries of ancient Transylvania.
The Prahova Pass through the mountains is suitably spectacular and helps to explain Transylvania's splendid isolation from the modern world. Not that this was always the case. For centuries tribes - some with more peaceful intent than others - passed on an east-west axis through the region. Such was the beauty and - more importantly - pastoral possibility of the landscape that many of these itinerant groups even put down roots, leading to a situation where Saxons hired by Magyar kings 800 years ago to patrol their eastern borders live cheek by (often mutually suspicious) jowl with Roma gypsies, originally from India.
To further complicate matters the area is also home to large numbers of ethnic Hungarians, and was only carved off the rump of the defunct Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of the Great War. So, hardly a homogenous entity, but the melting pot mentality and physical isolation of the region have created one of Europe's, if not the world's, most interesting cultural destinations. Within a few miles of each other you can visit centuries old fortified Saxon villages and hamlets where the entire population still speak Hungarian, and where villages, towns and cities have three names - Romanian, Hungarian and German.
As to the natural attractions, the Carpathian region has been called the 'Yellowstone of Europe', and the mountain scenery is certainly some of the most spectacular in easy reach of the UK. One particular highlight is the 15-mile long and heavily wooded saw tooth ridge of the Piatra Craiului ('Rock of the King') National Park. Ascents to the ridge itself are only for experienced climbers, but there are a number of easier treks through the gorges and forests of the foothills that are highly recommended.
The Carpathians are also home to a staggering third of all the big carnivores - bears, wolves and lynx - remaining in Europe, and we can arrange for excursions to well-disguised hides deep in the forests where you might be lucky enough to see these impressive beasties in their natural habitat.
Elsewhere, the perfect way to explore the idyllic rolling pastures and wildflower filled meadows of central Transylvania is on horseback, as there are few roads and not a fence as far as the eye can see. This is the place where shepherds still tend to their flocks accompanied by huge dogs to ward off hungry carnivores, and that Patrick Leigh Fermor described as 'the very essence and symbol of remote, leafy, half-mythical strangeness.' This is possibly the last place in Europe that an almost medieval way of life remains. As the saying goes: 'in some place he is still alive.'
Fortunately, a growing number of sustainable tourism projects are springing up across Transylvania to keep it alive. Several faithful renovations in many of the most remote rural areas are underway, and at the vanguard of these admirable conservation efforts are Transylvanian nobleman Count Kalnoky and our very own Prince of Wales, who between them are helping to preserve a number of properties and villages including the majority of the accommodation we recommend for a truly special Transylvanian stay.