Snagov

The tomb of infamous tyrant Vlad Tepe§ lures visitors to this delightful spot - as much as the large lake and leisure complex. Devour the legend of Dracula by visiting the tomb where his headless torso is said to lie, buried in the famous 16th-century church & monastery (admission €1), which is tucked away on an island in Snagov Lake. So tiny is this pretty island that only elderly nun Maria and a priest inhabit it, giving small tours of the historic site. Deep forest surrounds the lake, which is estimated to be 576 hectares large and an impressive 18km long.

A simple wooden church was built on the island in the 11th century by Mircea eel Batran. A monastery was added in the late 14th century during the reign of King Dan I (r 1383-86), and in 1453 the wooden church was replaced by a stone edifice that later sank in the lake.

In 1456 Vlad Tepe§ (the Impaler) built fortifications around the monastery. He also built a bridge from the island to the mainland, a bell tower, a new church, an escape tunnel, and a prison and torture chamber. Nicolae Balcescu, leader of the 1848 revolution in Wallachia, and other 1848 revolutionaries were imprisoned in Snagov prison for a short time. A mass grave for those who died in the prison wan dug in the grounds. The remains of the prison can still be seen today behind llir present-day church.

The present stone church, listed as a Unesco World Heritage site and currently under renovation for several years, dale from 1521. Some paintings date from 156.1, The body of Vlad Tepe? was reputedly bin ied below the dome, just in front of the church's wooden iconostasis. However, when the grave was opened in 1931 it waj reported to be empty. Nevertheless, there is mounting credibility given to the presence of a headless torso, evidence that the unfor tunate owner may have been killed by the Turks, as decapitation was a favourite Turk ish execution method. Today, the humble grave inside the church, marked by a simple portrait of Vlad, is simply known as 'Dracu la's tomb'. Daily services are held in the new, wooden church that stands close to the old, stone church.

The early-20th-century Snagov Palace, just across the lake from the island, was built by Prince Nicolae, brother of King Carol II, in the Italian Renaissance style. During the Ceau^escu era the palace was used for meetings of high-level govern ment officials, and today houses a restaur ant, conference centre and hotel reserved exclusively for state guests. Ceau^escu had a summer home on Snagov Lake, Villa No 10, now occasionally rented to rich and famous tourists.

You can hire a boat to row yourself to the island from Complex Astoria (see Sleeping & Eating p78). It costs €6 per hour. Alter natively, you can call upon the services of the burly Ana, who will row you there and back for €1.50 per person from the village of Silestru on the northern lakeshore - go to the end of the small wooden jetty at the foot of the radio mast and call out 'Ana'. To get to Silestru, continue north along the E60 past the 'Snagov Sat 11km' turn-off and turn right in Ciolpani.

Some winters, in December and January, it is often possible to walk or ice-skate across the frozen lake to the monastery.

Sleeping & Eating

Complex Astoria (§ 313 6782; tent sites €5, 2-room villas €120), a 10-minute walk from Snagov Plaja train station on the southern side of

To Ploietfi (18km), Brafov (126km)

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AHOUND BUCHAREST

llic lake, is a large wooded complex with I'lciily of space to pitch your tent. It also I t.is wooden huts and villas to rent, and Micro's a hotel on site with singles/doubles liu (34/50 a night.

To get to here by car, turn east off the I lit) (signposted 'Snagov Sat 11km') and Inllow the road for 11km to Snagov village, i ontinue past the village, ignoring the sign ■ iintru' for a further 2km to the complex (signposted 'Baza Turística Snagov').

Admission to the complex costs €5 Monday to Friday for nonguests, and €1.50 on Saturday and Sunday.

Complex Turistic Snagov Pare (§ 794 0236; sites per sq metre €0.50, d with shared shower €20; S May-Sep) I bis place on the northern lakeshore is another large complex, with sites and double rooms There are paddle boats to hire (€5 per hour) and a clean beach to lounge on.

Vila 23 (® 312 0448; r €38, ind breakfast) A true blast from the past, filled with men in dark glasses. It's an ageing hotel near Ceau§escu's pad on the southern side of the lake. The grandiose reception hall is a visual treat.

Getting There & Away

The best way to get here is to grab a maxitaxi, which go hourly from the Piata Universitatii via Piata Romana, and the Press House in Bucharest (€1 each way).

Otherwise, there are five local trains that run between May and September to and from Gara de Nord and Snagov Plaja - a stop in the middle of oak forest - which is 10 minutes' walk from Complex Astoria.

Both Elvis Villa (p68) and Youth Hostel Villa Helga (p68) arrange informal guided tours to Snagov, and both charge €10 per person.

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