Transylvania's Revamped Guesthouses
In the last decade, some Romanian families have reclaimed ancestral estates and opened guesthouses in mountainous Transylvania—the infamous stomping grounds of Count Dracula and his real-life inspiration, Vlad the Impaler.
Count Kálnoky's Estate
Descendents of 13th-century Count Vincent Kálnoky have carefully restored four cottages with woodstoves, antique furniture, and thick wool mattresses. A one-time bread oven has been transformed into a sauna, and candlelit dinners are served in the 17th-century wine cellar. Guests can take part in traditional activities: blacksmithing, cooking specialties like kürtös kalács—dough wrapped around a wooden rod and baked over an open fire—and tracking wild boar and red deer in the forests surrounding the quiet farming village of Miklósvár. There are bat caves nearby, and on Halloween, locals celebrate with a bonfire and gypsy dancing. Fall foliage lasts until the end of October, when, as Count Tibor Kálnoky puts it, "Everything will be green, brown, yellow to blood red." transylvaniancastle.com, doubles from $104, packages from $1,150 per week per person including lodging, all meals, and excursions.
It's a five-hour train ride north from Bucharest to Sighisoara, Vlad's birthplace. This wonderfully preserved, fortified town is filled with narrow cobblestoned streets, medieval row houses, and Gothic churches. Facing the main square, Casa Wagner has 32 elegant rooms, some with hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings. For Halloween, a special Dracula dinner of pan-fried chicken livers, tomato soup, beef fillet, and hot brandy can be arranged in the wine cellar. About 20 miles west lies the 13th-century fortress of Biertan, one of Europe's best-preserved defensive strongholds. casa-wagner.com, doubles from $72, Dracula dinner $33 per person.
The small resort town of Sinaia grew up around a monastery at the foothills of the Bucegi Mountains, which swarm with skiers come winter. In the late 1800s, Romania's first king, Carol I, retreated to Sinaia's opulent Peles Castle, his summer residence. The former royal stables have recently been converted into the cheery 12-room Bastion Hotel. (Interior columns and hefty wooden doors from the stables' entrance are still visible.) Wander over to the castle, gussied up with silk brocades, marble staircases, and frescoes by the likes of Gustav Klimt; 500-year-old Cordovan leather lines the walls of the Imperial Suite. An hour-long drive brings you to 14th-century Bran Castle—dubbed Dracula's Castle because of legends that Vlad slept atop this rocky crag. hotelbastion.ro, doubles from $102; Peles Castle is closed each November for preservation work.
The old machine house of the 16th-century castle of Count Mikes (Mikes is pronounced mee-kesh) sits on 85 acres of private parkland. Its six jewel-toned rooms feature plush curtains, private bathrooms, and rustic touches. Try your hand with a bow and arrow, or set out on a guided 4x4 excursion or a trip to a nearby volcanic lake, which, according to local lore, is filled with the tears of virgins. Autumn is prime time for spying brown bears. "The forests of the estate are considered the best spot for bears in Transylvania," says Zsolna RoyChowdury-Ugron, the wife of one of Count Mikes's descendants. "So far, everybody who attends our tour sees bears." zabola.com, doubles from $116 with breakfast, three-course lunch or dinner $22; self-drive bear tour from $14 or from $22 with transport.
Thirsting for More?
Transylvania Live runs eight Dracula-themed tours lasting anywhere from five hours to 10 days. A raucous Halloween costume party in Sighisoara, a witch trial based on medieval rituals, or a tasting of Vlad's favorite wine could wind up being the highlight of your next trip to Romania. visit-transylvania.us, from $189 for the five-hour tour or from $360 for a two-day tour including meals and accommodations.