Bran, Romania: A Transylvanian Christmas at Dracula's Castle

Bran Castle, Strada General Traian Moșoiu 24, Bran 507025, Romania

On my final day in Transylvania, I set out to 'Dracula's Castle' in Bran to separate myth from man: Bram Stoker's Dracula versus Vlad the Impaler. The stakes *hehe* were high - I was cutting it fine if I was to catch my flight back to London from Bucharest - but I was more than determined to sink my teeth *ha* into this last endeavour, the final nail in the coffin *huhu* in my tour of Romania, so to speak. How could I ever look myself in the mirror *chortle* again if I went all the way to Transylvania without visiting Bran Castle aka Dracula's Castle? 

Romania very cleverly capitalises on the fascination with Dracula, superstition, and vampires. Bran especially so, every place of trade is prefixed with 'Vampire'---vampire camping, vampire cafe, vampire antiques. Clearly the 'vampire tourism' approach works because every year more than half a million people pay something like 25 RON / £4.50  to visit Dracula's Castle. And someone must be buying the tacky vampire paraphernalia and Vlad the Impaler t-shirts from the throngs of souvenir stalls at the foot of the castle. Of course it had to be me (above). I just had to. That, and because I ran out of clean clothes to wear. Judge me if you will, but I am loving my souvenir stall get up, accessorised with a Romanian Orthodox cross. That tee is so metal.

On my way up the cobblestoned hill to Bran Castle I met a very friendly wolf-like dog who danced with me (Dances With Wolves: The Transylvanian Sequel) and followed me up the hill. You can see him just behind me, on my left (your right). I suspect he is a spy working for Count Dracula. 

The entrance to Bran Castle. 

I've heard mixed reviews about Bran Castle. Some slate it for being a soulless tourist trap capitalising on that convenient misunderstanding about it being the castle of Vlad the Impaler, the 'original' Dracula when really Bram Stoker was careful to make no distinction between his Count and Vlad himself (the confusion arose from Vlad the Impaler's nickname 'Dracul' - 'the dragon' or 'devil') and beside there was never any evidence to prove that Vlad ever made it his residence. The critics bemoan that there's nothing to see inside the empty castle, that the only thing vaguely vampiric about the place is the hordes of souvenir stalls around the castle flogging Dracula t-shirts (one of which yours truly proudly sports), Dracula mugs (we bought three) and Dracula masks (I really wanted one but there weren't any for sale). 

But possibly these naysayers formed their opinion pre-2009 before the castle was returned to the Hapsburgs, the children of Princess Ileana of Romania. In three astonishing weeks the Hapsburgs restored the formerly barren castle back to its days of splendour, filling it with art and furniture collected by Queen Marie and opening the castle as a museum. The Bran Castle I visited was tasteful. Sure, these was an exhibition of medieval torture instruments on the second floor but for the most part the artefacts on display were informative and the museum is well-proportioned with everything spread out nicely and not overwhelming so you can appreciate the objects. There are rooms with dioramas of traditional Romanian life: family portraits, models in traditional dress, table laid with fruit, rooms laid with royal furniture, a room explaining the genealogy of Vlad Tepes, and I even climbed a secret tunnel up to the highest balcony with sweeping views of Transylvania (above). 

Personally, I recommend Bran Castle a must-see if you are in the region of Transylvania. If not to make the distinction between Stoker's Dracula and Vlad Tepes, then to support the efforts of the Hapsburgs in restoring a national icon, and to see for yourself the castle and the landscape that inspired the story and mythology that has endured in so many imaginations...and nightmares.

Oh, and did I also mention that Bran Castle is up for sale? Yours for a cool £47 million. 


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