In a Lost Corner of Central Europe
The figure of Count Dracula that captured the imagination of 19th-century author Bram Stoker did exist. Prince Vlad Dracula of Walachia (c. 1431-1476), who allegedly lived in Bran Castle in the wild and raw region of Transylvania, was never known in his lifetime for drinking blood – that was something born of Stoker’s fantasy as he researched the vampire-related tales prevalent in the folklore of eastern and southeastern Europe.
However, he was known for his ruthless cruelty, including his habit of having his perceived enemies impaled alive on enormous stakes – a practice from which he derived the nickname Tepes (the Impaler).
No one’s all bad, though, and in his native land Vlad is remembered as a hero for his battles with the Ottoman Empire. There is no proof that the prince actually ever lived at the medieval Bran Castle, but that hasn’t stopped the steady trickle of thrill-seekers, who find in this “land beyond the forest” (the Latin meaning of Transylvania) one of the last great European wildernesses, a time-locked country that seems never to have felt the 20th century’s touch, never mind the 21st’s.
Among the forest-blanketed Carpathian Mountains bordering Transylvania are ancient Saxon towns where farmers drive ox-drawn carts and maintain a simple life that by no means curbs the sense of hospitality for which they have long been known.