I can highly recommend Transylvania as the ultimate romantic destination for a break this or any other Christmas. For die-hard horror buffs of a certain age Transylvania will forever be the setting for favourite Hammer films from the 60s and 70s starring the likes of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Ingrid Pitt. Modern computer-aided productions just don’t seem able to capture that delicious frisson of spine-tingling terror, and whizzo graphics often seem to be attempting to replace a good storyline. Or maybe age has something to do with it as well. Equally, the old stop-motion dinosaurs of Ray Harryhausen seem a lot more solid than the one’s you get these days. But I’m rambling.
Bucharest has a good international airport and from there you can take excursions to the stunning castles in the surrounding countryside. A round trip will take about an hour and sets out from the Roman Athanaeum in the centre of the city, Sector 1. Bucharest is still divided up into Sectors like a Cold War novel or something out of the Hunger Games.
This is a brilliantly picturesque, snow-covered route through the magnificent scenery of the Carpathian Mountains, which takes in two of Transylvania’s most stunning fairytale castles.
Peles Castle is actually quite recent, completed in 1914 in the district of Sinaia for the late lamented Romanian Royal Family as their official summer residence, but it certainly looks extremely Gothic and its museum is the finest in the country. The castle is now a plush hotel with fine dining and excursions to local sights.
Bran Castle is probably the most famous fortress in the horseshoe of these famous mountains, because Vlad himself is reputed to have stayed over for a few nights. It was built in the 14th century and guards the main route into Transylvania, so it has seen a thing or two in its time.
On the road back to Bucharest’s Revolutionary Square there’s a stopover in the delightfully medieval town of Brasov, which hasn’t changed a great deal in six centuries or so. It’s a bit like Brugge transposed to Central Europe and knocked about a bit, and the walking tour is excellent. This is what the cities in these parts used to look like when the rulers of Romania were a main bulwark of Christendom against the Turks.
The likes of Suleiman the Magnificent and other Ottoman sultans were always pushing their luck each year in the campaigning season to see how far they could penetrate into western Europe, and once made it to the gates of Vienna before throwing in the towel, or rather kilim. It’s easy to forget that in those days Europeans were as afraid of a Turkish invasion as they were of a Soviet one during more recent times.
With a comfortable air-conditioned and heated coach and an English-language guide, this is a fabulous introduction to Transylvanian castles whether you’re a Hammer Horror fan or not.