Bistrita-Nasaud "Dracula Country"
Village of Sant, Somes Valley
Bistrita-Nasaud county, nestled between the peaks of the Rodnei, Caliman and Suhard Mountains in northern Romania, represents the archetypal 'Transylvania' of beetling crags, and dark forests described in Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. In the novel, Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to finalise a property deal with Count Dracula at his castle in the "Borgo Pass". His journey takes him by train to the post-town of Bistritz (Bistrita) where he dines on 'robber steak' and drinks 'Golden Mediasch' wine at the Golden Krone Inn, before journeying onwards to the castle despite the warnings he receives from the locals. Most of the movies open at this point! You can stay at the inn, rather the 'Coroana de Aur' hotel, enjoy the same supper and even continue to the 'Borgo Pass'. The journey was described well, from the fruit orchards to the dark forests cloaking the mountain sides, until the silhouette of a castle appears standing boldly against the pass. But, there was no castle until the 1980s when the enterprising local tourist office erected Hotel Castle Dracula. The hotel was almost immediately renamed by order of Ceausescu, incensed at comparisons made of him with Dracula by the press in the West!
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|Masked balls, and candlelit banquets can be organised at this bizarre, somewhat kitsch, hotel which boasts its own crypt and cemetery. The wonderfully remote location is encircled by mountains, while sunsets viewed from the Moon Tower are memorable, as are the night-time howls of wolves which occasionally echo round the pass. Bistrita and Hotel Castle Dracula feature in most of our Dracula Tours, and we even recreate a journey by horse-drawn calèche to the castle, from Lunca Ilvei. |
However, there are far more reasons to visit Bistrita-Nasaud. It encompasses some of the most beautiful, unspoilt mountain scenery in the Carpathians with picturesque, traditional villages located in the valleys and basins, ideal bases for hiking, riding or discovering their vivid tapestry of old customs, handicrafts and folklore. Myths and superstitions abound, passed on from generation to generation - listen to tales of ghosts, apparitions, witches and werewolves, or the mysterious Forest Maiden, a beautiful apparition who lures young shepherds from their flocks. Orchards cloak the lower slopes around the historic Bistrita - here you will find the finest "Tuica" (plum brandy)! Bistrita is one of the original 'Siebenburgen' with a fine Saxon church boasting the highest spire in Romania. It is a pleasant, relatively prosperous, town and a local transport hub with
frequent buses to Nasaud and the Somes Valley, trains to Cluj and an overnight sleeper train to Bucharest. In the surrounding region, you will find the charming Saxon villages of Dumitra (Mettersdorf) and, well off the beaten track, Târpiu (Treppen), both with typical churches and brightly painted houses. Further afield are Lechinta (Lechnitz) and Herina (Mönchsdorf), the latter with an unusual Saxon church, recently renovated. Lechinta is also well known as a wine region, and wine-tasting can be organised in the town cellars.
|SOMES VALLEY - FOLKLORE & COLOUR |
The Somes is known throughout Romania for its wealth of folklore - traditional costumes, dance and music have been preserved and may be seen at weddings, inpromptu celebrations or folk festivals. One of the best examples is the large, rambling village of Sant, an ideal starting point for trekking in the Rodnei Mountains: Mt. Ineu and Lala Lake. It's name, which means "trench" refers to trenches dug as a defence against Tatar incursions. It is especially known for its weddings, and the traditional costumes worn with pride for celebrations and dances. Almost every home is decorated with weavings, embroidered towels and hand-painted ceramics, the fruit of many winters of work on the loom, and part of the dowry for the daughters of the family, togther with quilt covers, pillow cases and intricate costumes. Other communities in this lengthy valley are also known for the wealth of folklore, the costumes differing from village to village, and also their dance troupes and traditional folk songs. There is a folklore museum at Maieru (see below), a village museum in Bistrita while the homes of the poet Cosbuc and writer Rebreanu are open to the public.
The forested slopes around the Rotunda Pass are rich in wildlife and offer endless opportunities for rambling or simply relaxing with a picnic in a flower-filled meadow beside a stream, or one of many mineral water springs("borcut") in the valley. There is also the spa of Sangeorz-Bai with a wide range of natural mineral waters and you will find Romania's deepest cave system near the remote village of Parva.
Maieru Folklore Museum
The Folklore museum was set up in 1959 by a group of school children inspired and lead by Sever Ursa, a teacher of Romanian, whose lifelong preoccupation with Rebreanu's work determined him to organize a small exhibition displaying some of Rebreanu's personal objects in the school; the museum has significantly grown as a result of the dedication of its initiator (who had also been in charge of setting up Rebreanu's memorial house in Prislop) combined with the contribution of the local schoolchildren and teachers. Nowadays, it has over 3000 pieces on display and has gained a well-deserved prestige as a touristic attraction as well as a place where the cultural heritage is preserved - the museum's name, "Cuibul Visurilor" or Dreams' Nest, relates back to the metaphorical name Rebreanu used to refer to Maieru, the village where he "spent the happiest moments of his life"; There are no fixed opening times. The museum is open on request but it is preferable to announce the director by telephone about your planned visit (Mr. Sever Ursa, tel. 0263-372031).
|LUNCA ILVEI & THE ILVA VALLEY |
Lunca Ilvei is a traditional village rambling between woods and meadows in the Ilva valley - it offers peace and tranquility as there is no through road - however, it may be reached by regular express rail services travelling along the route Timisoara - Cluj - Ilva Mica - Vatra Dornei - Suceava - Iasi.
A wide range of homestay accommodation is available in addition to endless opportunities for trekking through the mountains on foot or horse back. There are various trails leading into the Bârgau Mountains and up to the Bârgau Pass, or towards the Rodnei Mountains and Rotunda Pass via an old Roman Road which leads to Sant in the Somes Valley. A good circular route (see riding holidays) follows the "Muncii Insirati" ridge. There are fine views from here over a high, secluded region of alpine pastures called "obcinas" (meaning bare crests of mountains) where shepherds spend six months of each year without machines or electricity. Of special interest is a naturally regenerating pine forest, described by a visiting naturalist as "the finest natural European forest after the great Bialowieski reservation in Poland". One section was, until 1920, the eastern border of Austro-Hungary and the setting for the great Romanian novel "The Hanging Forest" by Liviu Rebreanu - "the Romanian Kafka". The ancient beech forest is home to wolves, lynx, foxes,deer and other animals.
English run "Stefan cel Mare Equestrian Centre", run by a British expatriate and his American wife. The centre uses quality saddlery and strong, reliable locally-bred horses and ponies. You can also take a ride in a horse-drawn caleche, recreating Jonathan Harker's journey in "Dracula", following forest trails and cart tracks to arrive at the Borgo Pass and Hotel Castle Dracula in about 4 hours.
ROMANIAN COSTUMES & FESTIVALS
Romanian folk costumes are characterised by different regional styles
and patterns. The principal colours of the costume are black and white.
The mens shirts are generally white, whilst women wear blouses
embroidered with a profusion of fascinating motifs, abstract figures
which usually represent either flowers or animals. These motifs are
painstakingly stitched in bright colours: red, blue, yellow, orange,
silver and gold.In Maramures the red and black bands of the aprons
are very distinctive.The main materials used are of animal (wool) or
vegetal origin (flax, hemp).
We can incorporate demonstrations of costumes, embroidery and
even folk dance in bespoke itineraries, and festivals in our set tours.
Some of the the best opportunities to observe costumes, customs
and dance are at various traditional festivals which occur throughout
Romania as the year progresses. Some relate to Christian holidays,
particularly Easter and Christmas, others to the rural calendar such as
the beginning of the agricultural year, the crop harvest, or the vintage.
The best known are 'Sâmbra Oilor' (Measurement of the Milk),
celebrating the departure of the flocks to their mountain pastures in
May or June; 'Tinjaua' (Ploughmans Festival) in May; 'Cocosul de Horezu',
one of the most important ceramics fairs (June); 'Targul de Fete', the
famous 'Maiden Fair' on Mount Gaina in the Apuseni region (June);
'Prislop Hora' a great gathering of people and folk groups from
the counties Suceava, Bistrita-Nasaud and Maramures in August,
and the Masked Winter Carnival at Sighet.
|Hotel Castel Dracula, Borgo Pass / Beekeeper, Bârgau Mtns / Lake Colibita |
Old Bistrita / Sant in the Somes Valley / Red Tassles ward off the Evil Eye!
Winter, Sant village / Somes Valley costumes / Orthodox church, Bistrita
Threshing near Nasaud / Caliman Mountains / Horse plough, Somes Valley
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