Nearly everyone has heard the tales of how Count Dracula terrorized the world after leaving his castle in Transylvania. So I humored my husband and agreed to take a Viking River Cruise pre-cruise tour to Transylvania which includes a visit to the Bran Castle, often referred to as Dracula's Castle. My husband sadly discovered that there was no actual Dracula.
The three day Pre-Cruise Tour to Transylvania is offered by Viking in conjunction with the Passage to Eastern Europe Cruise. The package includes bus transportation, a knowledgeable Viking concierge guide, hotel accommodations, and breakfasts.
As we traveled through the picturesque Romanian countryside, Flavia, our tour guide, shared stories of her childhood there. She told us that her grandparents and their neighbors grew the vast majority of the foods they ate and she recalled her barnyard friends. Most families there still grow their own food.
After a short stop at a modern regional shopping center where my husband enjoyed an iced latte, we traveled through the Carpathian Mountains to the Peles Castle in Sinaia in the Prahova Valley. The Castle contains 170 rooms. Flavia told us that construction of the castle was started in 1874 and fully completed in 1914.
Only a small portion of the ornate castle is open to tourists. The main entrance room contains exquisite wood carvings. Each room is decorated in a different theme. Several rooms are devoted to weapon collections from various cultures and time periods.
The castle also contains a music room and a movie room. King Carl and Queen Elizabeth often used the various rooms for entertaining domestic and foreign dignitaries.
Following our visit to the castle we enjoyed lunch in Sinaia at a restaurant with tasty local Romanian food and a scenic view.
After a short ride over the mountains, we arrived at the town of Brasov, 103 miles north of Bucharest. A city of 253,000 inhabitants.
We visited the Black Church in Brasov which is said to be the largest Gothic style church in Southeastern Europe. The church, located in the center of town, derives its name from the black façade which was the result of a fire in 1600. The church has been home to several different Christian denominations through the years.
We spent the night at the Ramada Inn then boarded our air conditioned bus for the hour drive to the Bran Castle, the alleged home of Dracula in the Northern area of Transylvania.
After a scenic drive over the mountains past several ski resorts, we arrived at the Bran Castle. Our guide Flavia had already broken the news to us that Count Dracula never actually lived in the castle. In fact, the infamous Prince Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, the man whose legend prompted Bram Stoker to create the Count Dracula character was not even from Transylvania. He lived in Bucharest.
The Bran Castle, a landmark citadel was built in the 14th century. It is Gothic with baroque furnishings and decorations. The stark grey stone walls and its height over the valley only added to the mysterious effect. From the outside, the castle really did look like something out of a Bram Stoker Dracula novel.
Even though we knew it wasn't true, as we toured the castle, we could imagine Dracula living there stalking victims in the area, and flying through the halls as a bat.
After checking out the inevitable souvenir shops right outside the castle, we had a quick lunch, and returned to Bucharest with many napping during the entire 2½ hour ride. The following day is left open for cruisers to explore Bucharest on their own prior to starting our Viking cruise. Flavia did offer many suggestions and options for places to go, sites to see, and restaurants to enjoy.
The pre- cruise excursion offered by Viking River Cruises gave us an opportunity to see other areas of Romania and learn more about the countryside and the Dracula legend. The castle is reportedly for sale if you want to buy it. The bus was comfortable, the guide was knowledgeable, and the hotels were fine. The excursion was enjoyable and educational and a nice way to meet some of our fellow travelers. We recommend the Viking Passages to Eastern Europe Cruise pre-cruise to Transylvania.