Few European countries conjure the dark mystery that cloaks Romania, a nation rooted in folklore as the domain of wolves, vampires and despots.
One word – Transylvania – evokes more imagery for Romania than any number of travel brochures. Its myriad castles, medieval towns, Roman ruins and ancient Saxon citadels make it one of the most fascinating places in Europe, yet it’s the vivid imagery of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula that first comes to mind when anyone mentions Romania’s most famous region. Bordered by the jagged Carpathian Mountains and graced with spectacular natural landscapes, Transylvania is just one of several Romanian districts earning new levels of interest. Having seemingly missed much of the attention won by other eastern European countries in the post-communist era, Romania has slowly come to earn a place in world tourism beyond its Black Sea resorts. The boom in river cruising has brought travellers down the Danube from the west, exploring sections from the stunning Iron Gates gorge to the expansive wetlands and rich biodiversity of the Danube delta. At the same time, coach tours weave their way from neighbouring countries like Serbia and Bulgaria to visit landmarks like the dramatic Peles Castle. Even the once unloved capital of Bucharest – long overlooked against counterparts like Prague and Budapest – is earning attention for its grand boulevards and belle époque architecture, instead of its notorious past as the seat of despotic Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu. For lovers of wildlife, Romania offers perhaps the richest natural environment in Europe, with its mountainous interior hosting species of wolves, brown bears and lynx, long lost in other parts of the continent. More recently, herds of European bison have been seen grazing in forest clearings after their reintroduction to the southern Carpathians. But at the heart of the country there’s a landmark that will always hold an allure like none other in Romania - the fearsome Bran Castle, loosely associated with 15th century Prince Vlad “the impaler” Tepes, said to have inspired Stoker’s chilling vampire tale.