It is a region of surprising natural beauty that provides an unlikely link between Spring Breakers star Selena Gomez and Prince Charles, so how could HELLO! Online resist taking a bite out of Transylvania?
As Selena's newest family animated film Hotel Transylvania 2 – starring Adam Sandler as Drac, the vampire host of a castle-home turned tourist destination – hits the shelves, we travelled to Romania to experience the fangtastic real-life inspiration for the spooky scenery.
First on the list was Bran Castle, the 14th century fortress home to the Dracula legend. Novelist Bram Stoker was inspired by the legend of Vlad the Impaler, who ruled Walachia from 1456-1462. Nestled in the Carpathian mountains, Stoker was inspired as much by myths that Vlad hid his wife and children from invaders there, as he was by the imposing gothic site.
Nestled in the Carpathian mountains, Bran Castle - known as Dracula's Castle - has inspired countless tales
Queen Marie of Romania, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, later transformed the imposing building into a stunning summer home, and tourists can see her sophisticated renovations alongside perfect replicas of medieval torture devices (perfect for your little monsters!).
Whether you choose to dine in the village that has sprung up around the castle or take a short drive further up into the mountains, you can’t miss the spectacular views. The Garden Resort is one of a few standout restaurants that serve delicious traditional cuisine along with breathtaking scenery that we never expected.
The Carpathian mountains provide incredible views, skiing and scenic hikes all year round
We set up base in Brasov, one of seven medieval fortress cities and only 40 minutes by car from Bran Castle. It boasts the remnants of an impressive 11th century city wall and tower, Catherine's Gate, as well as the eerie gothic Black Church – so called thanks to smoke damage form the Great Fire of 1689. The city was also the site of one of Vlad's most famous massacres, which locals will be pleased to share!
Though the city has a rural vibe, it was once a major trading town and there are plenty of restaurants and bars for an evening of entertainment. Easily the best-loved restaurants in town is Sergiana, where staff in traditional Romanian dress serve modern takes on delicious classics (we can't recommend the Transylvanian Goulash enough!).
For after dinner drinks, cool bars include the artsy Tipografia, while Publick and Café 13 will satisfy any dancing queens and kings. The Aro Palace Hotel chain caters for most budgets, and will be much improved for UK travellers once the country’s indoor smoking ban kicks in on March 16.
You can visit the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Zarnesti
Another benefit to a Brasov base is its proximity to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary, an inspiring rescue centre for bears traumatised by their previous captivity, where they were caged and mistreated to attract tourists. Following in the footsteps of famous fans like Alicia Dixon and Bridgette Bardot, it was the absolute highlight of our trip.
The sanctuary is an astonishing testament to its founder Cristina Lapis and her staff, who care for the inhabitants of 69 hectares of mountainside. There’s also a growing Teddy Bear museum on site, which includes a donation from Kensington Palace after Prince William and Kate welcomed Prince George!
The quaint UNESCO medieval fortress of Sighisaora is the picturesque birthplace of Vlad the Impaler
Back on track, a two-hour drive will take you to UNESCO fortress Sighisoara, where Vlad was born. His birthplace still stands, though it is now a vibrant restaurant next to the clocktower. For lunch, sample the soup at Hotel Sighisoara, served up inside a loaf of fresh bread (a novel way to avoid the washing up!) and visit the craft store selling delicious chocolate and traditional trinkets.
Other fascinating Transylvanian towns include the grand Sibiu and artsy culture capital Cluj-Napoca, as well as the UNESCO world heritage village of Viscri, where the Prince of Wales rents out one of his two Romanian estates as a regally rustic holiday home! But we were keen to explore the country’s modern capital, Bucharest, located just two hours from Brasov through impressive mountain roads.
The Palace of the People is the second largest building in the world, and the communist era's lasting legacy upon Bucharest
Experiencing some old Romanian glamour at the Grand Hotel Bucharest, we were perfectly situated for visiting communist era landmarks such as the Palace of Parliament (the world’s second largest building after the Pentagon), as well as the city's Old Town, punctuated by artisan Turkish covered markets by day and a party atmosphere that lasts well into the small hours. Sample traditional Romanian cuisine at nearby Hanu’ Berarilor – mici sausages, polenta and cheese and bean casseroles are all absolute classics.
If still keen to continue your search for Dracula, the Old Town also boasts the remains of his Princely Court. A bust of Vlad, who is considered by many Romanians to be a heroic and honest figure, stands amid the ruins.
While Bucharest is certainly earning its reputation as a city of celebration, areas like Transylvania are catching up quickly to interest from tourists keen to experience this country of many contrasts. Our guide, Vali, said it best: "People might come to Transylvania for the stories, but we know they will go away with a much more beautiful truth."
Selena Gomez and Adam Sandler provide the voice for this fangtastic family film, available to buy from Monday 15 February
Hotel Transylvania 2 is out on Blu-ray and DVD Monday 15th February
Flights to Bucharest are available from £60 return with Tarom airways
Plan your trip with rolandia.eu (http://www.rolandia.eu) and Romanian Tourist Board (http://romaniatourism.com/)