Romania's east coast lies on the Black Sea. The Carpathian Mountains and Transylvanian Alps divide the country into three physical and historical regions Wallachia in the south, Moldavia in the northeast and Transylvania in the centre. Of its population, 89 percent are Romanian, but the 1.7 million Hungarians live in the Transylvanian basin. Romania shares borders with Hungary, Serbia, the Ukraine, Moldova and Bulgaria.
Bucharest, on the banks of the Dâmboviþa River, is Romania's capital and largest city and will join the European Union on January 1, 2007.
Transylvania, in a remote corner, is a region trapped in time. Known to the rest of the world for its folklore, fairy tales and legends of vampires, it was the birthplace of Count Dracula, Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler.
The ancient land of the 1000-year-old Hungarian kingdom has many castle ruins perched on hilltops, testament to bloody battles, political schemes and fantasy. It has Saxon villages, fortified churches and enormous historical estates in the shadows of the Carpathians.
Thanks to its many ethnicities, Transylvania became progressive in ethnic and religious tolerance as early as the 16th century. At that time, most of Europe was engaged in religious wars.
The little town of Bran, a five hour drive from Bucharest, attracts over a million visitors every year all to visit Dracula's castle. Bran Castle is a national monument and landmark built by the Teutonic knights around 1212 after being relocated from Palestine to the Kingdom of Hungary.
Apart from its unique architecture, the castle is famous because of persistent stories that it was the home of Vlad the Impaler. There is no evidence of that, but it is believed he did spend two days in the Bran dungeon.
In 1459, Vlad ordered 30,000 dishonest noblemen and merchants to be impaled, then held a blood-curdling festival called St Bartholomew's Day. He had tables set amongst the forest of the dead and invited his friends along. One of those friends was also impaled because he complained about the stench of the rotting flesh surrounding them.
The castle was owned by Princess Ileana of Romania, who inherited it from her mother, Queen Marie. It was seized by the Communist government of Romania in 1948. For many years it was tended to erratically, but after 1980s restoration and the Romanian Revolution of 1989, it became a tourist destination. The legal heir to the castle is the Princess's son, Dominic von Habsburg, and in 2006 the Romanian government returned it to him.
Known informally as Dracula's Castle, the local economy has benefited from souvenirs depicting the castle and the Dracula name.
In 1897, Irish author Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, with Count Dracula being the title character. Told as a series of diary entries and letters, it is more than horror fiction. The book in fact has themes dealing with the role of women in Victorian culture, convention and repressed sexuality, immigration, post-colonialism and folklore.
While Stoker did not invent the vampire, his work is singularly responsible for countless theatrical and film interpretations and the popularity of vampires in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Sighisoara, in the heart of Transylvania, is straight out of medieval times. It is a beautiful, well-kept fortified town and gives visitors the chance to travel back some five centuries. For example, Vlad Tepes' house remains and is now a restaurant.
The city's architecture is eclectic Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. A visit to the Wednesday and Saturday markets is fun villagers arrive in horse-drawn carriages to sell cheese, meat and other produce.
Romania, in south-eastern Europe.
Topdeck Tours has a 27-day European tour which includes Romania. Accommodation, transport and most meals are included. Prices start at $2848 per person. Tours run from May to September and include Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, The Czech Republic, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands. April departures include ANZAC Day in Gallipoli.
Dracula Castle entry is around $5.50 and $5 if you wish to take photographs.
Emirates has flights to Bucharest valid for sale and travel until March 31, 2007.
- Perth, $2528
- Brisbane, $2564
- Melbourne, $2574
- Sydney, $2593
- Adelaide, $3191
- Darwin, $3880
Prices quoted are correct on September 21, 2006.
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.
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