I’m not sure if it’s my eternal disappointment about never attending Hogwarts, or my rural Australian upbringing, but I am forever fascinated with castles and secret passageways. There’s just something about them… something about their mysterious history, their daunting beauty, that has me craving more. So I booked a ticket to Romania, repacked my bags, and detoured to Romania in search of some of Europe’s most beautiful castles.
The two castles I decided to visit are called Peles Castle and Brans Castle (aka Dracula’s castle!). They’re located just out of Bucharest, and if you’re heading to Romania any time soon (and I think you should be, look out for upcoming post on this soon), make sure to include them in your itinerary!
SO, HOW DO WE DO IT?
I searched far and wide on how to achieve seeing these two castles in the best way. From pouring myself over train and bus timetables, private drivers websites and comparing differing car hire options, I literally read every literature on how I could manage to see the castles in the most efficient and economical way. In the end, I decided to ditch the notion of getting there myself (no idea what I was thinking) and opted to book Travel Maker’s Two Castles In One Day tour.
Priced at €69, I was expecting an impressive tour… and I got one. Not only are you chauffeured around Romania to Peles and Bran Castles, but your tour guide also coordinates the purchase of castle entrance tickets (which are not included in the price), offers a personal tour of Bran castle, and fills the bus rides with stories of Romania and the history of each castle.
‘The only vampires in Romania are in Parliament” (I knew I was in for a fun day after Valentina sneaked this into the conversation!)
My tour guide Valentina was genuine and charismatic, who did everything within her power to ensure everyone had a great day. It was one of the first companies I have experienced that demonstrates a genuine interest (beyond financial reasons) in ensuring clients enjoy their experience. Her knowledge of and personal interest in the stories she relayed created a contagious aura of excitement, and it was exciting to enjoy a tour from someone who enjoyed it with you.
BUCHAREST ➝ PELES CASTLE ➝ BRASOV ➝ DRACULAS CASTLE ➝ BUCHAREST
The day kicks off at 8am departure from Bucharest, the capital of Romania. The bus is small but comfortable, with WiFi(!), plush seats and headrests making for a comfortable journey. From Bucharest we first drove to Peles castle, which is one of the most beautiful castles in Europe! During the 2 hour journey we were treated to a Romanian history lesson, covering Romania from it’s invasion of Dacia to the fall of the Communist reign and 1989 revolution, so before I had a chance to plug in my headphones we had already arrived at our first stop!
Peles Castle is everything and nothing like you imagine it to be. Built in the 19th century and costing the equivalent of a whopping $US 120 million dollars, it’s an eclectic combination of international trends merged into this one, incredible castle. Wandering from room to room is like apparating (HP reference guys) from Romania, to Germany, to India, to Arabia to back again. The best way to experience this castle is with a guided tour, which our tour group took part in. So after a brief 15 minutes spent exploring the castle grounds whilst our tour guide purchased our tickets (the perfect chance to snap some impressive pics of the castle’s exterior, gardens and surroundings), we were all rounded up to tour the castle.
Our guide was incredibly knowledgable and made the tour of the castle rather intimate, despite its size. Caressing over fine details, from architectural decisions to broader historical notions, the guide encompassed the full history of the castle, without making it sound like a Year 8 history class! As one of the most beautiful castle’s in Europe (it actually won an award for its’ beauty in the early 20th century), there’s certainly a lot of detail and decor to take in!
After the hour tour of Peles castle, we jumped back on the bus and headed off to Brasov for lunch. This stop lasted some 2 hours, which I spent eating (what’s new) and wandering the local market stalls. The market provided a good opportunity to snatch up some authentic Romanian jewellery, clothes and ornaments, and the abundance of restaurants offered almost every cuisine, so it was the perfect spot to stop.
To add icing to the cake, Brasov is one of those small European towns that have you falling in love and planning how you can quit your job and move here quick stat- each shop and house facade is prettily adorned with European architecture, bright flowers are abundant and the mountain backdrop behind the market square makes for an impressive background. You can even take a cable car up to the top of the mountain if you have the time (which we didn’t) to experience some grand views of Romania. Pretty neat for a small country town, hey!
After lunch we drove for another 40 minutes on to Brans castle, aka, Dracula’s castle! If you’re not familiar with who this is (though I’m sure you’re few and far between), the story of Dracula came alive in a book written by Bram Stoker. The character of Dracula is said to be loosely based on Vlad the Impaler because of his name (Vlad = Dracula in Romanian) and his violent reputation. Stoker based on his depiction of Dracula’s castle based on what he knew of Bran’s castle, hence why it is known today as Dracula’s castle!
The castle, which was first built in 1212, is a wooden fortress rich in history and beautiful views. Complete with a secret passageway for residents to hide when necessary, there’s much to explore within its walls. Because there is no official guided tour, with tourists welcomed to wander the castles on their own, our tour guide gave us a personal tour of the castle. Because it is a medieval castle, it is architecturally completely different to Peles castle, and difference that provides an interesting contrast to Peles daunting beauty.
At the foot of Brans castle is another bazaar where we spent 15 minutes wandering more local stalls, admiring the sites and stocking up on cold drinks to cool down (it was 30+ degrees on the day I went!). This is a perfect spot to grab some souvenirs, homewares, clothes, food, or anything in between, before you head back to Bucharest
From Brans castle we hit the road again for the 3 hour slog home (broken up by a quick stop at a service station for snack + toilet break), and after an hour delay due to heavy traffic, we finally arrived home at 9pm that night. Note that the tour is no picnic – with 400 kms driving and a 12 hour return time in total, it was a long day, so by this point most of us were struggling to stay awake!
WHO SHOULD BOOK THIS
Whether you’re a history nut, chasing hidden passageways (aka like me), have a spare day in Bucharest to kill or want to see some of Europe’s most remarkable castles, this tour is for you! Even if you’re not really into history, but just want to see some cool European sights, you’ll adore this tour. If you prefer chasing landscapes than you do chasing passageways, don’t be discouraged- the countryside of Transylvania is actually really beautiful (to the point I’m already planning when I can return to explore more) and road travel is one of the best ways to see this. The views from the castles are also impressive- the rolling hills covered in huge pine trees makes for quite the sight!
WAIT… VEGAN IN ROMANIA?!
The more off the beaten track you travel, the harder you may think it would be to find vegan food… I digress! The more rural you go, I find the friendlier people get and the more willing they are to accommodate your needs. My tour guide, upon learning of my vegan diet, found some eateries in Brasov where I would be able to easily find some vegan food (there are a Japenese and a Thai restaurant near the Brasov bazaar), and at Peles castle there was also a lady selling fruit baskets (which I couldn’t resist, obv). Between all of these options and the snacks I had brought for myself (oreos, popcorn, fruit, pretzel sticks, crackers), I was far from starving!
HANDY HINTS TO KNOW
▲ I would recommend booking this tour on Tuesday-Friday, when the crowds will be much smaller. The weekend crowds are daunting and can make the castles feel slightly claustrophobic. Plus, we were delayed an hour because of the traffic out of Brans castle.. Crazy!
▲Make sure to bring some cash for lunch and castle entry (which isn’t included in your tour price). Total additional cost is about 100 lei ($30).
▲ Pack a picnic. It’s a long day with a lot of driving, and you’re gonna need some snacks, so be prepared!
▲ If you can, travel in the Summer when the weather is clear so you can appreciate the sights in all their glory. During the Winter the weather tends to be rainy and overcast, which can add a miserable undertone to your day.
▲ Easiest way to book is via the Travel Maker website!
Wonderstruck Fawns would like to thank Travel Maker for welcoming this review. My opinion is, as always, my own.