Today we were up pretty early and out the door to catch a tour. We signed up with Viator to see Bran Castle, Râšnov Fortress and Peleš Castle. After a bit of a kerfuffle, we met our tour guide and driver Manuella (Manu) and the four others on our tour. We loaded up the mini bus and were on our way to the town of Bran, where Bran Castle lies.
Bran Castle was built by the Teutonic Knights in 1212 and belonged to various Saxon and Hungarian kings until the 20th century when Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia finally united to become the country of Romania. The castle became a favourite residence of Queen Maria who spent a lot of her time there.
The castle is probably more famously known as Dracula’s Castle. There is no evidence that Bram Stoker spent any time there whatsoever, but in the 1970s the Romanian Communist government discovered what a big money maker vampire-related things were, so they funded a bunch of research to see which castle beloved Wallachian monarch Vlad Dracula probably spent the most time in, and their findings (???) were that he probably spent the most time at Bran Castle.
The weather was appropriate for the castle – some blue sky, by mostly rainy and misty. Our tour guide Manu talked to us about the history of the castle on our drive there and how the Romanian people LOVE Vlad Dracula as he had the courage to stand up to the aggressive and ever-expanding Ottoman Empire. She also explained his name, as he is known as Vlad Dracul, Vlad Dracula, Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Tepeš. It turns out that his dad was Vlad Dracul (the Dragon) and as our Vlad was the first born son, his was known at the time as Vlad Dracula (son of the Dragon). He wasn’t called Vlad the Impaler until 200 years after his death, and Tepeš is Romanian for Impaler.
We parked the bus, walked a gauntlet of cheesy chachki, trinkets and trash and climbed the steep, slick stone path up to the castle.
The interior of Bran Castle is not spooky or gloomy at all. The decor was pretty tasteful and walls were all painted white. We filed through a sunny courtyard, secret passageway (claustrophobics BEWARE), library and bedrooms.
Manu advised us that the best time to visit the castle is in November as crowds are the most thinned out and that in July and August it’s an absolute nightmare – people shuffle through so slowly the halls and passages become unbearably hot and stuffy.
After about 30 minutes inside we headed back down the hill to a trail crossroads where Manu said is the best vantage point to take photos. By that point the sky had really opened up and we were caught in the downpour.
We all loaded back in the bus and sped off to our second visit, Râšnov Fortress. The fortress is about halfway between Brašov and Bran Castle, perched high on a hill and, like Brašov, boasts its own Hollywood-style sign.
Râšnov was again built by Teutonic Knights in the 1200s and Romanians boast that it is the only undefeated heavyweight champion of fortresses (they don’t count the time in the 1600s when an Austrian ruler heard that fact, decided to conquer it out of pride, almost gave up, but then found the fortress’ water source and blocked it, effectively making the fortress surrender. They say that it wasn’t technically conquered in “battle”. Semantics…)
Anyway, we parked the bus again and climbed aboard a tractor headed for the top of the mountain. On the way up we passed by a Dino World. There have not been any dinosaurs dug up in Romania, it was just another money-making idea.
Most of the fortress is in ruins or in various stages of deterioration, but we climbed all the way to the top over some jagged and precarious rocks for a pretty stunning view of the forested mountains around and green valley below.
After we had had our fill of the fortress, we hopped back on the tractor for the ride down the mountain. Then we were back on the road, stopping at a gas station for a coffee and a snack. Turns out gas station food in Romanian is really fresh and tasty and a popular place to get snacks, unlike the Russian roulette of “meat” and “sandwiches” and “sushi” that Canadian gas stations offer.
We then headed to our final stop, Peleš Castle, which was a 40 minute drive. On the way, Manu told us about Romania’s relationship with their favourite animal, the European Brown Bear. Romania is one of the only countries left in Europe where you can find a lot of wildlife, including bears, and they are very proud of that. She told stories of how there used to be so many bears on Mount Tampa in Brašov that people were routinely getting attacked and that the bears would often wander into town looking for food. They also joke about the “Brašov Friendship Test”, stemming from a bear attack a few years ago (two American students went hiking on Mount Tampa after 1800hrs, which is advised against, when they startled a bear and started running. The bear chased them, and one of the students tripped and fell and the bear attacked him. The other student came back for his friend, kicked the bear and got his friend to safety), as well as their bear sanctuary that rescues bears from circuses and zoos the world over.
We entered the town of Sinaia, a beautiful resort town, popular in the summer for the cool and refreshing air and popular in the winter for the mountains and skiing. Like a Romanian Whistler. There were stunning hotels and guests houses lining the streets, and at the end of a cobbled road arose the exquisite Peleš Castle.
Construction on this Neo-Renaissance masterpiece was started in 1873 after King Carol the First fell in love with the alluring surroundings and fertile hunting grounds. It took just over 40 years to complete and sadly King Carol could only enjoy the castle for a short time as he died a few months after construction was completed. Eventually in 1947 the monarch of the time King Michael was forced to abdicate the throne and the castle was seized by the Communist government and used for government meetings and functions. After the Romanian revolution in 1989, the castle was deemed a heritage site and re-opened to the public.
The castle boasts a lovely manicured gardens, complete with statues and fountains.
We gawked at the pretty exterior until it was time to start the guided tour. We don’t often do guided tours when we travel, and today was another reminder why we made that decision – although the castle was beautiful and well worth seeing, we hate getting corralled through, everyone together, most people rude or pushing or not following the rules. Nonetheless we put on our blue protective booties, paid our photography tax and started shuffling through with the rest of the group.
Although I haven’t been to many castles, Peleš is definitely the stand out – sumptuous woodwork and elegant glass and mirrors highlight the rooms.
There is even a beautiful two storey library with a spiral staircase and a secret passage (it’s the cabinet on the right, where the books look flush with the glass).
After 40 minutes in the castle, our tour of not only Peleš was done, but so was our grand tour for the day. Manu dropped us off right in front of Drachenhaus and recommended a restaurant in the old town called Bistro de l’Arte for dinner. We said our goodbyes and headed for dinner, enjoying our meals while watching the clouds roll in. We got back to our hotel just in time to enjoy another thunder and lightning storm for our final night in Brašov.