Romania Travel Tip – Visit Bran Castle

Romania Travel Tip – Visit Bran Castle

“Dracula’s Castle” Do You Dare To Visit?

By Dan & Jeannette Dudek

Bran Castle in Romania

Bran Castle in Romania

Consider this, when your colleagues, friends or relatives (especially the young ones) start talking about the latest horror, vampire or sci-fi movie — you mention your visit to “Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania”. You got to admit, if you could say this, it would sound kinda cool! So consider a trip to “Dracula’s Castle”. You will enjoy the journey and get to understand more of the history of this area of the world.

Virtually everyone knows the story of “Dracula”, the fictitious vampire conceived by Bram Stoker for his 1897 book “Dracula”. (Stoker never visited Transylvania, but used that area’s reputation for superstitions, and the stories of “Vlad the Impaler” as inspiration for his book. Much of what Stoker learned about Transylvania and Vlad appears based on Emily Gerard’s 1885 book titled “Transylvanian Superstitions”.)

Well I just returned from a month’s journey of a number of Eastern European countries, starting in Bucharest, Romania. My trip started with a Danube cruise with Uniworld, a boutique river boat tour firm. Upon arriving in Bucharest I immediately signed up to take Uniworld’s optional excursion of the Bran Castle, i.e. “Dracula’s Castle”.

Carpathian Mountains in Romania

Carpathian Mountains in Romania

The 110-mile bus ride from Bucharest to the castle takes you through farming lands, i.e. relatively flat; then you climb into the very scenic Little Carpathians Mountains. The nearest large town to the castle is 16 miles to the northeast, Brasov. This town also has a train station.

By the way, Prince Charles of the UK has visited this area of Romania about a dozen times since his first visit in 1998. He owns at least three properties about 60 miles NNE (about 1 ¾ hour drive) of Bran Castle. Prince Charles can trace his ancestors back to Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia; and one can speculated that he has a legitimate claim to become King of Romania, if its citizens decide to restore the monarchy. (Note: Prince Charles and the deposed elderly King Michael are friends. Michael is a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria by both of his parents, and a third cousin of Queen Elizabeth II.)

After Vlad III died, people started to refer to him as “Vlad the Impaler” (“Vlad Țepeș” in Romanian), due to the tortuous method he used to put-to-death his Ottoman war enemies.

Ironically, Vlad II Dracul (Vlad III’s father) belonged to the Order of the Dragon, a group dedicated to the protection of Christianity. However, “Dracul” (the family’s surname) means “Devil” in Romanian; and Vlad III was known as the “Son of Dracul”, thus the “Son of the Devil. People referred to him as “Count Dracul” during his lifetime.

Vlad III led several very successful military campaigns against the invading Ottomans. While Vlad III lived in Bucharest most of his life, our tour guide stated that Vlad III supposedly used Bran Castle as his military headquarters and residence during his war campaigns. However the historical records uncovered can only document that he visited the castle once.

Visit Dracula's Castle

Visit Dracula’s Castle

When you first see Bran Castle from the village below, the castle appears imposing, awesome, mysterious and intimidating. The construction of the castle started about 1378; built on a rocky outcrop of a mountain that overlooked the Rucar Pass. The villagers of Brasov supposedly built and paid for the castle themselves, as protection against invasions from Ottomans and Turks. An excellent lookout location used by the Teutonic Knights from the early part of the 13thCentury. Even though Bram Stoker never saw this castle it matches the description of Dracula’s home in his book.

Inside Bran Castle

Inside Bran Castle

Make no mistake about this; the “castle” is more a “fortress” than anything else. If you did not figure this out at first, you will have by the time you climb almost 1,500 hundred steps to get to the base of the castle! Our Uniworld cruise director suggested that only those that are extremely physically fit should sign-up for this tour. However I observed numerous elderly, and dozens of clearly not-physically fit individuals, making the climb without any difficulty. A few stopped periodically however the castle tours guides understood and scheduled a long rest break with a lavatory stop at the top of the climb.

Visiting Bran Castle

Visiting Bran Castle

At the end of our break, the guide pointed out the location of original entrance to the castle; about another 80 feet or so higher than the base of the castle, on an adjacent rock outcrop with about a 60-foot span of space to the castle wall.

Uniworld Excursion to Bran Castle in Romania

Uniworld Excursion to Bran Castle in Romania

Before the invention of gun powder, the castle was an impregnable fortress. To gain entrance to the castle, soldiers had to climb the adjacent rocky outcrop, and then a drawbridge would be lowered across the open gap.

Visit Dracula's Castle near Brasov, Romania

Visit Dracula’s Castle near Brasov, Romania

Fortunately, tourists only have to climb about two dozen stairs to gain entrance to this 60 or so room fortress. The rooms are mostly built with timber, and most of them are small. Do not be disappointed that your tour will not take long; remember this “castle” is really a military fortress, built to house soldiers, officers and rooms for meetings, i.e. a Military Boarder Defense Headquarters. With that understanding, you can then appreciate the vistas from the porches and verandas; and the numerous antique items of furniture, tapestries, weapons and armor used over five centuries.

Inside Bran Castle

Inside Bran Castle

I should mention that one of the first rooms you enter is decorated with some items from the 20thCentury. The castle has had a series of owners, but in 1920 the citizens of Brasov gave their beloved Queen Marie of Romania the castle as a gift. She lived in the castle for many years, and although she died at Peles Castle on July 18, 1938 her heart is buried at Bran Castle as per the instructions in her will. (Note: there are several books about the fascinating life, ancestry and children of Queen Marie.) Members of the royal family continued to live in the castle until 1947 when it was converted into a museum.

Guided Tour Inside Bran Castle

Guided Tour Inside Bran Castle

Uniworld made arrangements for one of the best tour guides to be available for us. He conveyed his detailed knowledge of the castle in a way that was informative and interesting. For example, he explained that during the renovations for Queen Marie, a hidden stair case was uncovered.

Hidden Staircase in Bran Castle

Hidden Staircase in Bran Castle

It was concealed behind a fireplace and led up a flight of stairs to a library; in the library the stair’s entrance was behind one of the book cases. For easy access by tourists to the “Secret Stairs”, the fireplace was repositioned about a dozen feet.

Climbing the Hidden Staircase in Bran Castle

Climbing the Hidden Staircase in Bran Castle

All-in-all, I really enjoyed this excursion. I learned some history, got to see a lot of the Romanian countryside, heard a few vampire jokes, and enjoyed a “Blood Beer”. I even found out how to keep vampires at a safe distance!

If You Go:

Bio:
Jeannette and Dan have traveled extensively domestically and internationally; and have been to most U.S. states and Canadian provinces and about 30 countries. Besides international travel, Jeannette and Dan enjoy traveling North America in their RV, as well as handgun competitions, sailing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor sports.

Read WAVEJourney’s Uniworld Eastern Europe Explorer River Cruise Review:

Cruise Overview | Bucharest | Peles Castle | Bran Castle | Bucharest City Tour | Uniworld River Princess | Giurgiu: Embarkation | Rousse to Varna & the Black Sea | Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi | Captain’s Welcome Gala | Vidin, Belogradchik & Baba Vida Fortress | Iron Gates | Donji Milanovac | Viminacium Archaeological Site | Sava River | Belgrade City Tour | Deck Dining | Vukovar & Osijek | Cruising the Danube to Budapest | Budapest City Tour | Budapest Parliament Building Guided Tour | Gabcikovo Hydroelectric Dam and Lock | Bratislava City Tour | Captain’s Farewell Dinner | Vienna City Tour |

Notes: WAVEJourney travelled from Bucharest to Vienna as guests of Uniworld River Cruise Collection from July 25 to August 8, 2012.

 

One Response to Romania Travel Tip – Visit Bran Castle

  1. Well written article, and a nice mix of text and pictures. Makes me want to visit!

    Carol Blaney 10/07/2012 at 9:33 am

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