Transylvania is best known as the mysterious land of bloodthirsty vampires and howling wolves. There is something about just hearing the word that makes you want to break out into a creepy horror film style laugh WWWHHHHOOOAAAAA!
To get there from Bucharest we decided to attempt the Transfagarasan Pass, labelled by the Top Gear team as The Best Road in the world, it passes over the Fagaras mountains. Due to inclement weather the pass is best tackled in the morning, so we decided to rest at the bottom for the night and make our ascent 1st thing the following morning. Having found a suitable pull in at the bottom of the pass, we settled down for a restful afternoon (GPS 45.369104 24.654705). Wanting to be up and away before it got too busy we decided on an early night and had already been in bed for a couple of hours when we heard what sounded like someone trying to get in the doors of the motorhome. Paul leapt out of bed to take a look whilst I sat up rigid with heart pounding. He looked outside into the pitch black, but just couldn’t see anything, then we heard it again, this time though we realised that whatever it was, it wasn’t human, so we made lots of noise, started the engine, put the lights on and blasted the horn. That seemed to work as we heard scurrying as it retreated. The rest of the night we both sleep with one eye open, but it wasn’t until we went outside the following morning that we realised that the cover for the fridge vent had been ripped off and snapped and was lying on the floor. A hungry bear, smelling the food in our fridge probably??? We will never know for sure, but may be a little more cautious when choosing where we park in Romania in the future!
Boris’ parking spot and the broken fridge vent
Despite our shaky night we were excited about attempting Romania’s most famous road, the 90 km of twists and turns run north to south across the tallest sections of the Southern Carpathians. It was constructed on the personal orders of Nicolae Ceausescu, who, legend has it, wanted to create a strategic route across the mountains to ferry troops north should Romania be invaded by the USSR as Czechoslovakia had been previously. It was built using mainly military forces, and at a high cost not just financially but also with the loss of many lives. The endless twists and turns and spooky dark tunnels (the longest is more than 800 metres and pitch black) make it one of the world’s most scenic drives. When we left our overnight parking it was a chilly 19 degrees (yes this is cold for us now), but bright sunshine, like an excited school child on my 1st ever outing I bagsied doing the drive. Of course I’d have preferred to have done it in my old Alpha Romeo, but Boris was just going to have to do! As we climbed however my excited jitters became nervous ones as a blanket of fog ascended from the towering mountains above. With nowhere to turn around we had to crawl our way up the increasing gradients slowly as the fog got thicker and thicker. Entering the tunnel at the highest point of 2042 metres, I couldn’t see a gnats whisker in front of the vehicle, it didn’t help that the white lines on the road through the tunnel had been worn away so there was nothing to guide me through. I could have closed my eyes and seen just as much, Paul volunteered to take over driving, so we did a highly risky switch inside the tunnel. Our relief when we finally reached the bottom and the fog cleared was immense, however after a few days recovery at camping Oude Wilg (GPS 45.783922 24.5663 Cost £12 per night) and with the weather now improved we decided to attempt it again and were glad we did. The drive is both hair-raising and spectacular, but the views from the top are simply breathtaking. The pictures hopefully speak for themselves.
Dracula is real (sort of)
Bram Stoker’s 1897 vampire novel was inspired by Bran Castle and by centuries-old superstition and the real-life exploits of Vlad Dracula. Known by his murderous moniker, Vlad the Impaler, the 15th-century nobleman was said to have skewered up to 80,000 enemies on long spikes. Niiiiiccce!!! Buzzing with lines of tourists making their way through the multitude of stalls selling what we now call “tourist tat”, we decided after reading the ever telling trip advisor reviews that we didn’t want to venture inside the castle, but we did manage to get a few snapshots from the roadside.
Instead we opted to take a steep cycle ride up to the village of Pestera which rewarded our efforts with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. We stayed at vampire camping (GPS 45.527832 25.371772 cost 16€ per night without elec or 19.50€ with).
While it’s hard to avoid the creepy count, the region offers so much more, you will also find thick mountain forests, lush pastures and wildflower meadows. Travelling around Transylvania, is like travelling back in time 100 years, not only will you encounter sky hugging fairy tale castles, you will find horse drawn carts rumbling along pot holed roads, local produce growers selling their wares at the roadside, we can’t wait to see more.
Libearty Bear Santuary
Romania boasts the largest population of brown bears in Europe (over 6000), and we really wanted to experience this magnificent creature. Unfortunately like many of the Eastern European countries the welfare of these beautiful animals has a cruel history. Caged to attract tourists or used as performing circus animals the poor things had to endure horrific treatment at the hands of their cruel owners. Although becoming part of the EU meant that this kind of treatment was outlawed there were plenty of bears out there that then needed to be rescued. We decided to pay a visit to the Libearty Bear Sanctury just 10km’s from our campsite near the village of Zarnesti. This place is now home to 98 bears, all of them rescued from their previous sad existence. Although some are conditioned by their past caged life they are offered a safe environment here which mirrors the way they may have lived in the wild. They are well fed and seem to be benefitting from the sanctuary’s habitat. Although our visit was tinged with sadness with the knowledge of what the bears must have had to endure in the past, it was also good to know that our small contribution made for the visit would also go to helping them in the future as the organisations runs purely on donations. Note that visits are only allowed up until 11am so that the animals are not inundated and disturbed by too many visitors.