Count Me In
The long, dark shadow of history casts a gloomy air across the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. In a country where the tyranny of Nicolae Ceau@escu is still a recent memory, an even more ominous legend has taken hold of the imagination—a legend that, like its namesake, refuses to die. Vlad III the Impaler, who inspired the legend of Count Dracula, was a murderous ruler famed for his bloody torture and executions; impaling his victims and displaying their bodies in public was his favorite method of planting terror in the minds of his numerous political enemies. The sites where Vlad was born, lived, and was buried are now open for visits.
Most tours of this ruggedly beautiful country begin and end in the capital city of Bucharest. Dracula tours to Transylvania (a region in west-central Romania) will usually include sites such as the citadel of Sighisoara, where Vlad was born, and the Snagov Monastery, where Vlad was buried after his assassination. Though some tours include stops at Bran Castle, an impressive medieval fortress, Dracula purists know that the ruins of the castle at Poienari are more likely to have been Vlad’s redoubt.
Separating historical fact from Hollywood-style vampire stories can be difficult, and some commercial tours seem to highlight the kitschier aspects of the Dracula legend. Vampire-themed hotel rooms with velvet-lined coffins, dinners with blood-wine drinks, and costumed entertainers driving stakes through an actor’s heart, however amusing, might not be suited to every visitor’s tastes. (You may have to forgive your waiter if his plastic vampire teeth fall into your goulash.)
None of this silliness, however, should detract from the dramatic beauty and cultural charms of a region that seems rooted in the past. Quaint villages, grand cathedrals, and vibrant cities are yours to enjoy, as long as you avoid the man in the black cape with the bad teeth.
Romanian National Tourist Office ( 212/545-8484; www.romaniatourism.com).
Tours: Adventure Transylvania ( 40/727/394-727; www.adventuretransylvania.com). Dracula Tour ( 203/795-4373; www.dractour.com).
When to Go: May–Oct.