My trip to Romania was a prime example of ‘book now, sort out the details later’, so when I paid for my flights to Bucharest I then set about looking at all the things I could do, see and eat in the capital as well as researching trips to the famed Dracula Castle, because that’s a bucket list must-see if there ever was one! With a sinking heart I discovered Bran Castle isn’t exactly a stones throw away from Bucharest and is actually a fair few hours north of the city, near to Brasov.
Now, I’m no stranger to public transport but the route to Bran Castle didn’t look altogether straightforward and seemed to include a stretch on the train, a stint by foot and potentially another section by bus! I had nightmarish visions of missing a vital connection and being left abandoned in the Transylvanian forest. (Less ‘lions and tigers’ but certainly ‘bears’! oh my!)
With only a few days in Romania and determined to make the most of my time I came across Mr.Tripp Tours who offer up guided coach services around the country. With a hotel pick up and door-to-door drop offs, I could see the highlights of Transylvania in one day without the hassle. Where do I book?!
After already spending two days discovering Bucharest we were due an early-ish bedtime to guarantee we’d be fresh for our epic thirteen hour jaunt around some of Romania’s world famous sights.
Spot on time for our pick up, our driver greeted up at our hotel lobby and drove us to the North of the city to meet up with the remainder of our small group. A few sleepy ‘hello’s’ later and after nesting down into our seats whilst the sun rose, our tour guide Rodica explored the background behind Bucharest, Romania and the history of the country; painting a picture of the people behind the legend and myth busting our views of ‘Dracula’ to tell us the real-life story of Vlad the Impaler!
Our first stop would be up in the breath-taking mountain region of Sinaia where we would venture to the Romanian Royal Family’s Summer Residency; Peles Castle. They say most people come to Romania for Dracula, but when they see Peles Castle it blows them away, and this is the place that captures the imagination the most. As soon as we hit Sinaia with the January sun beating down on the thick blankets of snow it was just like trespassing on a film set!
Winding streets led us up through the mountains with cute alpine-style log cabins on each side and when we finally found the peak and parked up at the entrance, the landscape that greeted us on the other side of the gate could have been straight out of a fairy-tale.
I’ll pause for a moment; just take this in!
I’m a sucker for a snow-scene on a good day but this was like all my Christmases had arrived at once! The Romanian countryside was a sight for sore eyes; it was bloody beautiful!
We were gifted a really good amount of time at Peles; our Mr.Tripp tour included a guided walk around the inside of the castle, which was just about the most ornate building i’d ever set foot in. Pristinely preserved, the interior truly flaunted the wealth of the family. I couldn’t take any photos inside without purchasing a ‘photo pass’, and even though each wall, ceiling, window and floor was more than Instagram-worthy, it was refreshing to take in the details without a lens for once.
Having been without my camera for half an hour, I went a little snap-happy on the outside, but, come on! Look at the place. It’s wonder how the royals ever managed to tear themselves away from the place at the end of summer if it looked this damn good in the winter sun!
Trust me, whittling down the 60-odd photos of Peles Castle to choose which pictures to publish here was no mean feat, but these two below have to be a couple of my favourites. If anyone asks me for a reason to visit Romania, I’m going to shove these wanderlust-inducing snaps under their nose! 🙂
Our second stop came after a further drive North and over the boundary to the Transylvania region; the famed ‘Dracula Castle’ or Bran Castle to give it it’s actual name. Rodica managed our expectations well, and gently reminded us that although it truly isn’t a place to miss, this attraction was also uber-touristy, naturally, and explained that we should expect lots of fangs, blood and general Vampire based merchandise on the walk up to the castle. So, yes the Vampire-theme is strong in stalls at the foot of the hill but for me, it didn’t make the scene any less fantastic.
The castle is much smaller and much simpler when compared to Peles but it’s also delightfully gloomy, nestled in the shadow of the trees, teetering precariously on the mountainside and really is actually everything you ever wanted from Draculas Castle. And despite (myth-buster alert!) there being no evidence at all that Bram Stoker, novelist and creator of the ‘Dracula’ actually visited Romania, making the link between Bran Castle and the Vampire legend pretty sketchy, I was still thrilled to pretend, like thousands other visitors, that some blood-sucking monster was holed up in a coffin in the closet biding his time until the witching hour…
…and to take in beautiful views like these!
Our third stop was to the historic town of Brasov which gave us chance to do more sightseeing but also re-fuel at one of Brasov’s restaurants (because Vampire hunting is thirsty work, duh). We trusted our tour guide for her recommendation and after a brisk walk around the old town square, found a corner in Gustari Restaurant for some traditional Romanian food.
After grub, we just had enough time for another quick guided tour around Brasov to show us the highlights of the town, including the ‘Black Church’ which gained its name following a fierce blaze that pretty much levelled the rest of the town, leaving the walls of the church black.
It was just as the sun was setting that we bundled back into our mini-bus for the drive home. It was then that I fully appreciated having the comfort of the coach which meant all of us were able to kip happily for the return journey to Bucharest, whilst (get this!) our phones charged in the dedicated sockets; having live tweeted the entire experience, my iPhone really needed that juice top up.
Was it worth it?
On paper, the full day journey of over twelve hours seems excessive, but the reality of it is that the day glides by. The pace of the tour is perfectly set so you’ve got the right balance of time to yourself and time with the guide, with a very fair amount of time at each stop. Rather than feeling like you’re being herded around the Romanian countryside it feels like you’re still in control, with the added benefit of having a wonderfully knowledgeable and friendly guide at your deposal!
Would I choose to do this tour on my own by public transport? Not this route, no. Honestly? If I’d have tried to visit these places myself on my own steam within one day, I almost certainly would have had to compromise on at least one of these sights and would have to drop a huge chunk from the itinerary. Frankly, I wasn’t willing to do that. So really it’s a small price to pay to eliminate the stress and make sure you’re spending your time wisely whilst holidaying in this amazing country.
Sounds great, I want to go!
Romania is getting more and more popular. Bucharest for one is cropping up on loads of European city guides as an ‘affordable alternative to consider’, so with the draw of Romania’s capital as a quirky budget weekend break, you’ll probably want to visit Transylvania whilst you’re in town! 🙂
If you consider Mr.Tripp offers door-to-door, no fuss, professional tours from Bucharest to Draculas Castle from 79 Euro, including a modern coach, fantastic tour guide and driver (thank you Rodica and Lucian!) and entrance tickets to both Peles and Bran Castle, it’s brilliant value for a once in a lifetime trip!
*Disclosure: We were generously provided with a complimentary tour from Mr Tripp in return for an honest review of their guided tour service. All opinions here and across my blog, are as always, totally honest and completely my own.