Bran

For many travellers, Bran, 30km soulli of Bra?ov, is their first or only glimpse of rural Romania. This gives a skewed vision of reality; not every village in the country shakes with the rumble of tourist buses and the rattle of Dracula key chains. Bran was the first part of Romania to be devel oped as a tourist hub in the 1960s. Many properties were never nationalised and cash was poured into the little village to make it the gold mine it is today. With its luxury villas kitted out with hot water and indoor plumbing, and tourist buses with German, French and Italian license plates clogging the streets, the town is far from representative.

Bran is nestled in a mountain pass between the Bucegi and Piatra Craiului

SKIING AT POIANA BRA$OV

Poiana Brajov has only two black slopes (though each is over 2km in length) but guarantees good intermediate skiing (maximum drop 755m) from December to mid-March. This resort is popular with snowboarders, and has the best-developed boarding and downhill-ski school in the country. There is little off-piste skiing here. The longest run is almost 4km long, easy but very scenic. Overall there are 12 runs, and the resort boasts three cable cars, one chairlift and eight drag lifts. Check out www.poiana-brasov.net for regular reports from skiers.

A gondola, stationed near Hotel Teleferic, takes you up to Cristianul Mare (1802m). Cable cars -one departing from next to the gondola station and the other from near Hotel Bradul - drop you off near Cabana Cristianul Mare (1690m; €3 return). Two of the more popular ski lifts are beyond the Hotel Poiana and are favoured by snowboarders for the slalom in the area.

A number of the hotels run ski schools, but the largest is run by the Ana Group ((Hj 407 330). A six-day ski school, consisting of four hours' group tuition a day, costs €50/36 per adult/child (four-day course €24/17, five-day course €40/30). Private lessons are €12/20 for one/two adults an hour, and €8/14 for children. A three-day snowboarding course costs €24. Ski instructors speak English, German and French. Skis, poles, boots and snowboards can be hired through the ski school or at some hotels for about €10 a day.

i auges, and during the 15th and 16th centuries was an important frontier town on lite main road leading from Transylvania lulu Wallachia. Today tourists come for mily one thing: to see the so-called Dracu-Ifi s Castle and to stock up on Dracula T-ihlrts, mugs and ashtrays. Bran is also the , iid point of several daring hiking trails ai coss the Bucegi mountains.

Orientation & Information

I he centre of Bran lies either side of the niiiin north-south Bra$ov-Pite§ti road (Str l'rincipalá). The entrance to Bran Castle, •lanposted 'Muzeul Bran', is on the left an you enter the town from Bra$ov. The main cluster of shops, cafés and currency exchanges is centred on this junction.

The bus stop is just south of the junction mi Str Principals, next to the park, on the other side of which is Str Aurel Stoian. The i nitral post and telephone office is south of llran centre, past the Vama Bran museum mi the road to Moieciu. There's a 24-hour Internet club (Str Principal 504; per hr €0.26) right next to the sprawling souvenir market at I lie castle entrance.

A good organisation based here is Centrul Agroturistic Bran (® 238 308; www.turlsm-bran.ro; Str l'rincipalá 504). It mainly organises tours (taking in Rá§nov and Bra^ov) but can suggest individual routes too.

Bran Castle

I »espite popular myth, Bran Castle (adult/child (1.60/0.50; S9am-5.30pm Tue-Sun), most commonly known as 'Dracula's Castle', was not built by Vlad Tepe§, the 15th-century Wallach-ian prince upon whom the novelist Bram Stoker is (incorrectly) supposed to have based his vampire, Count Dracula. The castle, perched atop a 60m peak in the centre of Bran village, was in fact built by Saxons from Brajov in 1382 to defend the Bran pass against Turks. The closest the place comes to anything remotely connected with Dracula is that Vlad might have sought refuge here for a few nights on his flight from the Turks in 1462, following their attack on the Poienari fortress in the Arge§ Valley (see pi86). For real Dracula country, head north to Bistrija (see pl59).

From 1920 the castle was inhabited by Queen Marie and it remained a summer royal residence until the forced abdication of King Michael in 1947.

Bran Castle, with its fairytale turrets and Mediterranean whitewashed walls, is far from menacing. Many rooms have gone through a modern redecoration and look as if they are inhabited by rich eccentrics. Much of the original, fabulous furniture imported from Western Europe by Queen Marie is still inside the castle; indeed, these wonderful pieces are the highlight of any visit here. To appreciate the castle's nooks and crannies, arrive as early as possible, before the groups start parading through. A fountain in the courtyard conceals a labyrinth of secret underground passages.

Free guided tours of Bran Castle are available in English, French, Romanian and Italian. Your ticket for the castle includes entrance to the small open-air ethnographic museum at the foot of the castle and the Varna Bran Museum (see the following section).

Around Bran Castle

From the castle, walk south along Str Principals past the centre of the village to the Varna Bran Museum (entry incl with Bran Castle admission; ® 9am-5.30pm Tue-Sun), housed in the former customs house. Various archaeological treasures as well as many photographs of the castle are displayed.

Opposite the former customs house are some remains of the old defensive wall which divided Transylvania from Wallachia (best viewed from the soldiers' watchtower in the castle). On the southern side of the wall is an endearingly petite stone chapel, built in 1940 in memory of Queen Marie. The church, now boarded up, is a copy of a church in the queen's palace grounds in Balcic, Bulgaria (formerly southern Dob-rogea). A memorial tomb where the queen's heart lies has been carved in the mountain, on the north side of the wall.

Festivals & Events

September is the month of the Sambra Oilor, a pastoral festival celebrated with great gusto in Bran and its surrounding villages. To hang out and get ghoulish with US Peace Corps volunteers, arrive here at Halloween.

Sleeping

There is no shortage of places to stay in Bran -which also means that privacy and quiet are at a premium. Wandering around town, you'll see dozens of cazare signs in private homes, and there are at least 30 two- and three-star pensiunes (whole houses given over to tourists) plus a few hotels to choose from. See www.ruraltourism.ro for detailed descriptions of several pensiunes in Bran.

Antrec (@ 236 884; Str Aureli Stoian 340; ® 9am-8pm) This outfit arranges accommodation in private homes in and around Bran. It's best to call in advance as the office is often closed, regardless of the stated office hours.

Cabana Bran Castel ((§ 236 404; dm €5) Just 600m from the castle, this place serves meals and is open year-round. From the bus stop, turn right along Str Principals then right along Str Aureli Stoian (or cut across the park instead); continue for 50m and then turn left onto a narrow path by I In side of the yellow-painted hospital. CroM the bridge over the stream and bear left up to the cabana.

Hanul Bran (fD 236 556; Str Principal; d/tr €13//0I You get a private shower and toilet (hill water not guaranteed) but in ratty stir roundings whose grungy corridors even Count Dracula would not have darkened It's just two blocks north of the castle.

Vila Bran (@ 236 866; [email protected]; Str Printl pala 238; s/d €15/23) Sublimely located in a pie turesque orchard, where you can lounge and swing in hammocks, this two-building complex also has a billiard room and tennis court. Rooms are bright, comfy, snug and decorated with pine furniture. Farm ani mals complete the picture.

Popasul Reginei (@ 236 834; Str Aureli Stoian 39», d €27) Rooms in this villa-style hotel are very comfortable. The restaurant is decidedly ho-hum but has the most varied menu in the village and is probably your best bet. There's an outdoor pool.

Eating

Aside from the Popasul Reginei (see above), there are a few pizzerias near the Vama Bran Museum, and several convenience stores on the main drag. However, nothing can beat the home-made cheese, jam, fuicit (fruit brandy) and other culinary delights you will be treated to if you stay in a pri vate home.

Getting There & Away

Buses marked 'Bran-Moeciu' (€0.50, one hour) depart every half-hour from Bra^ov's Autogara 2. Return buses to Bra?ov leave Bran every half-hour between 5.30am and 7.30pm Monday to Friday and between 6.40am and 5.40pm Saturday and Sunday. All buses to Bra?ov stop at Ra?nov and Cristian.

From Bran there are also 11 buses daily to Zarne§ti (€0.30, 40 minutes), and two to Pitesti originating from Bra?ov.

Snowboarding Fun

Snowboarding Fun

If you are thinking about getting started with snow boarding then it really does not have to be as difficult as you are probably imagining. For a start, you can be sure that whatever you are planning to do you can be sure that as soon as you hit the slopes you will almost certainly enjoy yourself.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment