Following Dracula's footsteps across Romania
With Halloween upon us, we thought it was the perfect time to revisit the most famous vampire story of all time - that of Count Dracula. Born out of the imagination of Irish writer Bram Stoker, the eponymous vampire of his celebrated Gothic novel was inspired by one of the most significant figures in Romanian history, Vlad Dracula. Also known as Vlad the Impaler (thanks to his propensity for punishing his victims by impaling them on stakes), he was the ruler of Wallachia three times between 1456 and 1462.
An armchair traveller, Bram Stoker never visited Romania himself, but carried out extensive research on the myths and legends of Transylvania. It wasn’t just Vlad Dracula that inspired Stoker - he also took his cues from Romanian mythology, and tales of sinister creatures known as moroi or strigoi (troubled spirits rising from the graves at night). Based on his extensive research, Stoker managed to fill his novel with a number of real locations in Romania which can be traced back to both myth and the image of Vlad Dracula himself.
By tracing the locations in the novel, not only can travellers unravel the intriguing cultural history of Vlad Dracula, but they can discover some of the most beautiful destinations Romania has to offer.
The birthplace of Vlad Dracula, this medieval gem is renowned for its impressive clock tower, from which 16th-century Saxon houses can be seen lining the narrow cobbled streets. Notable attractions include former torture chambers and a small restaurant and themed museum of weaponry.
Situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, Bran is located in Braşov, where Vlad led his raids against Saxon merchants. The centrepiece of this mysterious region is Bran Castle, mistakenly thought to be "Dracula's Castle". Sitting on a 200-foot craggy clifftop, it is enveloped by the Southern Carpathian Mountains and is one of the most visited places in Romania.
North of Bucharest in Ilfov County, this commune is home to Snagov Monastery. The unmarked tombstone in front of the altar is the alleged resting place of Vlad Dracula, but when the tomb was excavated in 1933, no body was found inside.
Close to the Făgăraş Mountains this impressive 13th-century fortress is the real castle of Vlad. Falling in love with Poenari Castle in the 15th century, Vlad recognised its potential as a major stronghold against the Ottomans due to its superior vantage point, and transformed it into one of his main places of residence. We can see why - the sweeping views over the Argeș River and surrounding countryside are amazing.
South of Poenari is Arefu - a small village inhabited by the alleged descendants of those who helped Vlad Dracula escape a Turkish siege at Poenari Castle. Those visiting the village can stay with a local family and hear tales about the adventures of Vlad and their forebears as a part of their agro-tourism scheme.
Old Palace of Targoviste
Vlad Dracula lived here for seven years as the ruler of Wallachia. Whilst the palace itself is now in ruins, a clock tower and a church Vlad Dracula regularly attended can be found fully intact. Sitting 80km northwest of Bucharest in the Transylvanian Alps, the town of Targoviste is strewn with statues of Vlad, each paying tribute to his military defence against Ottoman invaders.
Represented by a raven and a gold ring, this castle is a fairytale construction. In spite of the fantastical façade, it contains dark secrets, and some historians believe Vlad Dracula was imprisoned here for seven years until eventual madness. Rich in Gothic architecture, the castle is in the heart of Hunedoara, in Cerna Valley near the Poiana Ruscă Mountains.
Cobblestone streets and colourful homes define this former capital of Transylvania. Home of the Bridge of Lies, Goldsmiths' Square, the oldest museum in Romania, and the first hospital in the country, it is also purported to be the location of Vlad's first impalement! Ten thousand people were reportedly impaled in Sibiu in 1460.