True Blood Cast. (Photo: HBO)
It’s hard to avoid vampires these days, or at least the pouting, sex-crazed Hollywood-ized versions you find in HBO’s True Blood. In light of the hit series’ final season premiere, which viewers drank up this weekend, we took a quick spin through Transylvania, the history-steeped Romanian backcountry that gave rise to Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic. With its villages, citadels, and wine cellars, it’s a place all fang-toothed sanguivores can call home. Here are five stops you can’t miss — and still escape with all of your blood intact.
The UNESCO World Heritage city center of Sighișoara. (Photo: Sergiu Luchian/Flickr)
For those looking to connect their Romanian odyssey to some actual vampire lore, a good place to start would be Sighișoara: the country’s only medieval citadel still inhabited by modern people. Perched high on a hill, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is not only a visual treat, it’s also the alleged birthplace of Vlad the Impaler. (Vlad’s surname, Dracul, served as the inspiration for the sinister protagonist in Stoker’s novel Dracula, which kicked off Vampire obsessions everywhere.)
Drive up to the city’s historic center, a gray cluster of houses and narrow alleys that feel suspended in the sky, and visit Casa Dracula, the domicile of history’s most ruthless blood-spiller — marked, appropriately, with a steel dragon over the door (dracul is derived from the Latin word for dragon).
Dracula kitsch abounds in Transylvania. (Photo: Jorge/Flickr)
We can almost picture vampire Bill in his ruffled linen and cape, prowling the maze of winding, cobblestone streets for a late-night snack. If you find yourself in a similar situation, stop in at the elegant Hotel Sighișoara for a traditional Transylvanian repast of carpaccio salad and charred eggplant topped with parsley, garlic, and tangy telemea cheese. For dessert, try a plate of clatite, small crepes with a sweet cheese filling (consider it the next best thing to faerie blood).
Twisting roads in Transylvania’s mountains. (Photo: Alex Schechter)
True Blood’s season six cliffhanger left us with a brief but enjoyable view of Alexander Skarsgård sunbathing on a Swedish mountaintop. An equally stunning panorama (minus the nude Swede) awaits at Făgărăș Mtn, a 6,500-foot peak in the Carpathians.
The Bâlea Lake Chalet (Photo: Camelia TWU/Flickr)
In your car, leisurely ascend along the Transfagarasan Highway past pine-dense forests and lush sloping valleys, and watch the scenery become progressively more dramatic with each hairpin turn. At the summit, disembark for lunch at Bâlea Lake Chalet, a ski lodge serving up thick mamaliga (polenta) and salty fish soup served in copper bowls. In the summer, visitors linger on the outdoor terrace enjoying the Swiss Alp-like views.
The grounds at the Rhein Azuga Cellar. (Photo: Andrew d’Entremont/Flickr)
Rhein Azuga Cellar
Maryann Forester’s Bacchanalian rituals were a major talking point of season two of True Blood (though a few of us had to draw the line at the attempted human sacrifice of Sam Merlotte). Wherever you stand on the maenad spectrum, a free tasting at Rhein Azuga Cellar, Romania’s oldest sparkling wine manufacturer, surely won’t go amiss. In operation since 1892, the owners rely on traditional methods of fermentation (no machine-added carbonation here), by which each bottle is rotated by hand to distribute the sediment evenly.
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A horse-drawn carriage in Transylvania. (Photo: Alex Schechter)
True Blood vampire rules state that no vampire can enter a mortal’s home without a verbal invitation. But folks in medieval times liked to take extra precaution — hence the many “fortified churches” found throughout Transylvania. These bastions of stone and wood served two purposes: religious meeting places, and, in times of war, defense hideouts. For travelers, these centuries-old relics are a wonder to behold; most impressive is the one in Prejmer, whose church dates back to 1213. Surrounding the church is a 13-foot-thick wall containing 272 fully-furnished rooms where villagers would hide in times of war.
The Fortified Church in Prejmer. (Photo: Vutu/Flickr)
After a never-ending succession of supernatural trope mash-ups (werewolves, brujos, shape-shifters), it somehow made sense when, at the beginning of season four, Sookie stumbled through a secret portal into a parallel dimension of vaudeville faerie folk. We felt a little like that when, after several days twisting and turning through the sleepy farm villages of western Romania, we landed in Sibiu.
The Piaţa Mare in Sibiu (Photo: Camelia TWU/Flickr)
Situated three and a half hours northwest of Bucharest, the vibrant city was designated a European Capital of Culture in 2007; seven years on, it’s still got plenty going for it. The downtown area is anchored around Piaţa Mare, a granite-paved square lined with attractive outdoor cafes and restaurants. Adjacent to the square is Brukenthal Museum, which contains works by European masters such as Van Dyck and Rubens, as well as an impressive antique book collection.
Each summer, the 10-day Sibiu International Theater Festival showcases works by young, up-and-coming talent from around the country. With an estimated 600,000 visitors expected next month, the jam-packed lineup of indoor and open-air performances proves the region has more to offer than just vampire jokes and old churches.
Alex Schechter is a Brooklyn-based travel writer and editor whose work has appeared in New York magazine, Monocle, Conde Nast Traveler, and ShermansTravel. When he’s not busy hopping planes to strange cities he collects honey jars, practices Chopin, and rides his bike.