Riding Holidays in Transylvania-equestrian tourism in the land of Dracula

About Transylvania

Myths and reality | The "real" Dracula | Travel to/from Transylvania

Myths and Reality

Thanks to the writing of Bram Stoker, Transylvania is inextricably linked with the character Dracula in the public imagination. Visitors often arrive with visions of forbidding castles and mysterious cloaked men.

While visitors will find castles, they will find much more in Transylvania. The breathtaking natural beauty of the quiet, unspoiled mountains shelters a land and a way of life that has changed little in generations. Working horses still outnumber motor vehicles, providing transportation for people and goods and cultivating fields. Food is grown and produced locally, using age-old methods. The hardworking, hospitable people gather in close communities where family is the centre of life.

Transylvania is alive with history, having served as a crossroads between the East and West. Settled at various periods in history by the Romans, Saxons, Hungarians, and other Eastern Europeans, in addition to its original Dacian inhabitants, the influence of these diverse peoples can still be seen today in the art and architecture, food and crafts. Minority populations of Hungarians, Saxons, Poles, Czechs, Greeks, Tatars, and others continue to thrive in Romania today, interspersed with the ethnic Romanians. Part of the Habsburg Empire for centuries, Transylvania is home to the elegant Austrian-influenced city of Cluj-Napoca and the Hungarian-nationalist-style city of Targu Mures, as well as the historic Saxon walled towns of Brasov, Sighisoara, and Sibiu. Roman remains abound, and more recent monuments include the 15th and 16 th century painted monasteries of the Bucovina. One only has to read the accounts of travellers—Sitwell, Leigh Fermor, and Starkie amongst them—to marvel at Transylvania 's history and variety.

The Transylvania of today is a mix of old and new as Romania joins the European Union. Transylvania's cities bustle with industry and construction and Western goods and services are becoming more common. The old man driving the horse cart may well have a mobile phone and a house without running water may nonetheless have a teenager surfing the internet. The people see opportunity ahead—as Westerners discover the country and tourism increases—while still holding fast to their traditions.

 

The "real" Dracula

The Dracula of Bram Stoker's novel was in fact based on a real person, Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, who lived in the 15th century. Born in Sighisoara, Vlad was the Prince of Wallachia, a province that is now in southern Romania, and earned his gruesome nickname due to his penchant for impaling his enemies. Feared by all, he was instrumental in holding back the Turks from invading Europe. His castle remains in ruins high on the southern flank of the Carpathian Mountains at Poienari. [Note: This castle, as well as the ruins of Vlad's palace at Targoviste and his grave at Snagov, can be visited on a special sightseeing trip.]

In contrast, Stoker set his fictional "Castle Dracula" in the Borgo Pass—a real place visited on the centre's trail rides. A modern hotel has been constructed there where guests spend the night during the tour. People often confuse the historic Bran Castle, near Brasov, with Dracula's castle; however, neither Bram Stoker's Dracula, nor the historic Vlad ever set foot there.

 

Travel To / From Transylvania

By Air from Great Britain

Many visitors fly to Bucuresti (also called Bucharest) Otopeni airport, from where transfer options are available directly by train and also by road and train with sightseeing en-route. There are daily flights from London Heathrow and regional UK airports to Bucuresti Otopeni airport, with standard fares around £185-£245 per person return, including taxes. At some times of year special offers may be available. Operators include British Airways, Tarom, KLM, Air France, and Lufthansa.

From January 2007, there will be budget flights between London Luton and Bucuresti Baneasa airports through WizzAir (www.wizz.hu). These are Saturday afternoon flights. Visitors travelling with WizzAir will need to leave the equestrian centre on the Friday evening, returning to Bucuresti using the overnight sleeping car train. The centre can arrange transfers that fit in with WizzAir schedules.

Malev (www.malev.hu) offers convenient daily flights between London and Cluj-Napoca with one change at Budapest. The transfer from Cluj-Napoca to the equestrian centre is three hours by road or rail, and Stefan cel Mare can help arrange your transfer.

 

By Air from the Republic of Ireland

Malev, KLM, and other airlines offer services between the Republic of Ireland and Bucuresti without the need to change flights in London.

Malev (www.malev.hu) offers convenient daily flights linking Dublin and Cork with Cluj-Napoca, with one change at Budapest. The transfer from Cluj-Napoca to the equestrian centre is three hours by road or rail, and Stefan cel Mare can help arrange your transfer.

 

By Air from Western Europe

There are direct flights to the nearest airport, Cluj-Napoca, from a number of European cities, including Budapest, Frankfurt-am-Main, Munich, Vienna, and a number of Italian cities.

Visitors from Germany and Austria have direct flights with Tarom (www.tarom.ro) and Carpatair (www.carpatair.ro) from Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, and Vienna to Cluj-Napoca. Visitors from Italy also have a range of Carpatair services to Cluj-Napoca airport. If you use these services then you would generally fly out on the Saturday before your ride and fly home on the Saturday following your ride, since most Carpatair services operate Monday to Saturday only.

It is also possible to fly via Budapest (Hungary) with onward transfers to/from the equestrian centre by train—please contact the centre for advice.

 

By Air from the U.S. and Canada

Many visitors fly to Bucuresti (also called Bucharest) Otopeni airport, from where transfer options are available directly by train and also by road and train with sightseeing en-route. There are daily flights with connections from a wide variety of North American airports.

Cluj-Napoca is also a popular arrival point and is served by Malev via Budapest. Malev has direct daily flights from New York's JFK airport and offers through-ticketing with selected U.S. carriers.

 

By Train

Another option if you want to do some sightseeing on the way is to travel all the way from the UK and continental Europe by train. See www.seat61.com/Romania.htm for more information and http://bahn.hafas.de for European train times.

 

By Car

It is also feasible to drive to Transylvania from the UK and continental Europe in order to do some sightseeing en-route. The journey from London to the equestrian centre, one-way, is around 2,200 kilometres (1,350 miles).

 

Please note that schedules and prices are quoted to the best of our knowledge and may be changed by the operators at any time. All arrangements (air tickets, transfers, meetings, etc.) may be booked in advance. For more information on international travel to Romania, we recommend that you call the UK travel agency Transylvania Uncovered, Tel. 0845 3000 247, Int. +44 1539 531 258, Fax. 01539 530 648, Web. www.beyondtheforest.co.uk.