Transfixed by Transylvania

The Merry Cemetery in Romania

I have often dreamt of visiting the mysterious Carpathian Mountains of Romania to get a glimpse of Transylvania today – to see if there's anything to the legend of Dracula, and so we set out to examine some of the spookiest bloodthirsty legends in the country, its intriguing Romani people and its thick, dark and impenetrable forests. According to Bram Stoker, that is.

My husband, my two-year-old daughter and myself started our road trip from Cluj-Napoca, the unofficial capital of Transylvania, from where we drove to Sapanta close to the northern border of Romania.

Seven days in the country and we realised that Romania is truly exciting, but maybe not all that scary, but the imagination helps.

Sapanta is home to one of the most unique cemeteries around the world – most of the tombstones are painted in a striking blue colour, mirroring the sky. The Merry Cemetery gets its name from the poems, paintings and stories that are inscribed on all the 600 tombstones in this cemetery. The paintings often cite a funny anecdote from the deceased one’s life, such as an angry mother-in-law or a flirtatious drunk.

This cemetery is not one to miss if you are a taphophile or a tombstone tourist – as the blue cemetery is one of those rare cemeteries that do not leave you feeling blue but happy.

Next on the cards for us were the centuries-old wooden churches of Maramures, eight of which have been awarded Unesco World Heritage Site status. These tall and imposing wooden churches with imposing doorways were built over different eras with timbre from the surrounding Carpathian forests, and they are every as bit mysterious. They have stood the test of time and faith, and it is not uncommon to see pilgrims from around the world at these churches. 

As darkness falls and as the last of the tall dark wooden churches fade into the horizon, we drive south towards Transfăgărășan, one of the Europe’s highest and most expensive roads.

Transfăgărășan is, without a doubt, the most stunning road we have ever driven on, and we have done all the top drives of Europe: the winding roads interspersed with stunning glimpses of Lake Balea completely did us in but the imposing fortress of Vlad The Impaler looming in the distance was definitely the cherry on the cake.

Bran Castle, 25 kilometres southwest of Brașov, is popularly known as Dracula’s Castle; it is one among several locations linked to the Dracula legend, including Poenari Castle and Hunyadi Castle, both of which are a must visit.

As it gets dark and winds start whispering in the woods, we set out to grab garlands of garlic and wooden crosses to keep us safe until our return to sunny Dubai.

Until we meet again. Dead or alive.