Drac's back

... so we sent Sarah Marshall to Transylvania to find him

Whether he's turned up in your childhood nightmares or at a Hallowe'en fancy-dress party, one thing's for sure: Dracula is always a real pain in the neck. But who was the real Dracula? Did he drink blood? Did he have wings? Did he actually exist or was he just a figure from folklore? All roads of enquiry lead to Transylvania...

Dracula found fame in the west, fangs to (sorry - couldn't resist the pun) Bram Stoker's novel. Published in 1897, the story follows the misfortunes of English lawyer Jonathan Harker, who visits the castle of a certain count in deepest Transylvania. Although Stoker based some of his story on Romanian folklore, most of it was from his imagination.

The book went on to inspire the cult silent movie Nosferatu in 1922 and, 70 years later, Hollywood glamorised the tale with Francis Ford Coppola's epic Dracula starring Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder.

Dragon man

Unfortunately the suave, dapper character portrayed by Gary Oldman couldn't be further from the truth. Ask local Romanians for their take on Dracula and a much more gruesome image appears.

The 'Age of Draculesti' dates back to the 15th century, when most of south-eastern Europe was embroiled in battles with the Ottoman Empire. While vampires were already a common feature in Romanian folklore, the name Dracula has a diff erent origin. It refers to a noble order known as the Order of the Dragon - in Romanian dragon is dracul.

It's generally agreed that Stoker's Dracula was based on Prince Vlad, who ruled Wallachia, of which Transylvania was a province. A notorious barbarian, he earned the name Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, after his favourite method of disposing of his enemies. On one occasion, Vlad sent an unmistakable message to the Turkish Sultan Mehmed, who had travelled to receive tribute from Wallachia, by lining his route with Turkish supporters and captives impaled on high posts. No wonder they say the only way to kill a vampire is with a stake through his heart.

Local hero

His behaviour was certainly bloodthirsty, but unlike his vampish modern-day counterpart, Vlad wasn't an undead figure of the underworld. Quite the opposite - he was considered a national hero for safeguarding his kingdom against the imperialist Ottoman Empire. In 1976, the Romanian government even issued a commemorative stamp to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Vlad's death.

Party piece

So how did the ruler of Wallachia become a Prince of Darkness? If you're looking for answers, the place to start is Tirgoviste, 80km north-west of Bucharest. This is where Vlad spent his longest period in power (1456-1462) and committed most of his atrocities.

The ruins of his palace still exist, including the Chindia tower from which Vlad would observe those impaled in the courtyard below. On one occasion he invited a group of noblemen for an Easter feast, only to perform his party piece and leave them all for dead. The lucky ones were used as slave labour to build Vlad's fortified castle on the Arges River, called Cetatea Poienari and commonly known as Dracula's Castle.

The ruins are at the top of a heavily wooded, rocky mountain. On approach, the jagged structure gives a striking image against the sky. Once impenetrable to enemy forces, you can now get up to it on a rudimentary, man-made staircase. Climbing the 1,500 steps is arduous, even for the fittest visitor. Legend has it that Vlad's first wife flung herself from the precipice here to avoid being captured by the advancing Turks.

Sleepy town

It's a 220km journey north along pot-holed roads into the mountainous heart of Transylvania to reach Sighisoara, the birthplace of Vlad Tepes. The narrow winding streets of this picturesque, sleepy Saxon town played host to Transylvania's most notorious resident.

Visitors today enter the medieval Citadel through a 64-metre high clock tower, which off ers awe-inspiring views of the tree-capped Transylvanian Alps, dotted with fortified villages that date to the Middle Ages. Children with filthy tans beg in the cobblestone streets below, a reminder of the poverty that continues to plague much of the Romanian countryside. Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, more than 150 colourful stone buildings are within the well-preserved ramparts of this open-air museum. Casa Vlad Dracul, where Vlad was born, is a yellow and brown house on the corner of the main square. Upstairs, the building has been transformed into a restaurant. Although garlic is strictly off the menu, the chef conjures up a wonderful beef stew and a tripe soup - a popular local cure for hangovers. An original mural has also been uncovered and restored. According to experts, the figure is Vlad himself.

the Western image of our fangtastic friend, the hotel is 170km from Sighisoara, along a winding road through Tihuta (also called Borgo) Pass. The hotel is a favourite for Gothic conventions and the staff are quite accustomed to unusual visitors - one fan even insisted on returning home with a coffin full of Transylvanian earth. Buried in the Carpathian Mountains, the surrounding woodland is still home to wolves and wild bears. In fact, half of Romania's wild bears and a third of its wolves and lynx live here - that's more than 10,000 bears, wolves and lynx.

Treacherous crossing

As a thick blanket of night falls, guests find themselves at the mercy of nature's elements as wild animal calls echo through the mountain valleys. Following in the footsteps of the ill-fated Jonathan Harker, those brave enough can cross the treacherous Borgo Pass in a traditional horse and cart. (In Romania, working horses still outnumber motor vehicles.)

English emigrant Julian Ross owns the Stefal cel Mare equestrian centre in the area and off ers riding tours across the mountains. A former engineer employed by the London Underground, he first came to Romania in 1990 and hasn't looked back.

Slow progress

While Harker travelled at break-neck speed with the wind snapping at his coat tails, the pace is usually more leisurely now. Today's 5mph speed limit gives 21st-century travellers the chance to watch old women with pitchforks tending cabbages in small fields. And you needn't worry about being ambushed en route - as a precautionary measure, horses come equipped with red tassels which were traditionally used to ward off evil spirits.

Dead good sleep

On arrival at the hotel, guests are greeted by waitresses dressed as Brides of Dracula and taken to their personal crypts. All beds are in the shape of a coffin - a little taster of what it's like six feet under. Before dinner, you can visit the hotel's secret crypt. Guests are led underground by candlelight, where an ominous surprise awaits. (Be warned: you may not be the only one grabbing a bite to eat.)

The lucky ones who surface again may be treated to a local band in the banquet room. Their lack of musical talent provides a fitting soundtrack to thunderstorms, which are fairly common in this part of Romania. They often leaving the hotel swathed in an eerie mist so that, in the morning, any untoward experiences will seem like a dream - or should that be a nightmare?

Location, location

The final destination on a Dracula tour of Transylvania must be the impressive Bran Castle. The 260km journey south crosses some of Romania's most dramatic landscapes, including the precipitous limestone walls of the Bicaz Gorges.

Just outside Brasov, in the southern range of the Carpathians, the medieval castle has no real connection to Vlad Tepes or Stoker's novel. But if pushed to pick a perfect setting for Dracula's private parlour, this would be it. Fairytale turrets and secret stairwells (which you can imagine Dracula using to access Jonathan Harker's bedroom) have tricked the masses who flock here in a quest to untangle the Transylvanian myth. Most leave empty handed, although merchandise stalls at the castle gates sell some of the best Dracula souvenirs in Romania. Anyone for a mug equipped with bat wings or an "I Love Vlad" T-shirt?

If you follow this route, you'll discover much more of the truth about Dracula - but you can never be sure where the truth ends and legend begins, and it certainly won't help you sleep easier at night. The Prince of Darkness is never far away. That's one thing you can Count on!

Info to go

Sleep

Hotel Sighisoara 4-6 Scolii Street, Sighisoara; Tel: +40 (0)265 771000; www.sighisoara.com/hs/ 16th-century building in town centre.

Hotel Castel Dracula 4 Piatra Fantanele, Bistrita; Tel: +40 (0)724 305000; www.hotel.castel.dracula.tourneo.ro. Dracula-themed hotel.

Casa Rozelor Michael Weiss Street 20, Brasov; Tel: +40 (0)268 475212; www.casarozelor.ro Charming boutique apart-hotel.

Hotel Concordia Trandafirilor Square 45, Tirgu-Mures; Tel: +40 (0)265 260602; www.hotelconcordia.ro Stylish hotel in central Tirgu Mures.

Eat & Drink

Casa Vlad Dracul, Sighisoara. Tel: +40 265 771596; Printul-Dracula@teleson.ro

Festival 39 Muresenilor Street 23, Brasov; Tel : +40 (0)722 470129.

Best bar in Brasov with a quirky interior.

Riding Holidays in Transylvania Bolovanul Street 340, Lunca Ilvei; Tel: +40
(0)263 378470; www.riding-holidays.ro

Bran Castle Traian Mosoiu Street 489; Tel: +40 (0)268 238333; www.brancastlemuseum.ro

Travel

Rent a car from Romana in Bistrita from €€37 per day. Tel: +40 (0)263 234020/ (0)740 527161; www.romana-car-rent.ro

Powrót Drakuli

Kim tak naprawdę był Drakula? Pił krew? Miał skrzydła? Istniał w rzeczywistości, czy też tylko w ludowych wyobrażeniach? Wszystkie tropy prowadzą do Transylwanii...

Drakula zyskał sławę dzięki powieści Brama Stokera z 1887 r., opowiadającej o perypetiach angielskiego prawnika, Jonathana Harkera, przybywającego do Transylwanii na zamek pewnego księcia. Co prawda, część wątków zaczerpnął autor z rumuńskiego folkloru, jednak cała historia narodziła się w jego wyobrażni. Potem przyszły dwie ekranizacje powieści: kultowy film Nosferatu z 1922 r. i - kilkadziesiąt lat póżniejszy - Drakula w reżyserii Francisa Forda Coppoli.

Istnieje zgodność co do tego, że pierwowzorem bohatera powieści Stokera był panujący na Wołoszczyżnie książę Vlad. Z uwagi na sposób, w jaki rozprawiał się z wrogami, otrzymał przydomek Vlad Tepes, czyli Vlad Palownik. Kiedy sułtan turecki, Murad, przybył na Wołoszczyznę po odbiór haraczu, Vlad zgotował mu nie lada powitanie - wzdłuż drogi stały ustawione w szpaler pale z nabitymi na nie tureckimi jeńcami (nie dziwi więc, że jedynym sposobem na rozprawienie się z wampirem jest przebicie mu palem serca).

Wszystko to działo się w XV wieku, w „epo ce Draculesti", kiedy południowo-wschodnia Europa zaangażowana była w walki z Imperium Osmańskim. Imię Drakula wzięło się od nazwy Zakonu Smoka (smok to po rumuńsku dracul). Vlada, jako wyzwoliciela kraju z sideł Osmańskiego Imperium, okrzyknięto bohaterem. Wycieczkę szlakiem miejsc związanych z Drakulą najlepiej zacząć od Tirogviste, 80 km od Bukaresztu. Są tu ruiny pałacu, w którym Vlado spędził większość swego życia. Jadąc 220 km na północ, dotrzemy do niewielkiego saksońskiego miasteczka Sighisoara. Przy rynku stoi dom, w którym się urodził - Casa Vlad Drakul. 170 km stąd znajdziemy Hotel Castel Dracula. Kelnerki, ubrane w ślubne stroje narzeczonej Drakuli, prowadzą nowo przybyłych gości do krypt, w których czekają na nich łóżka w kształcie trumien. W programie wycieczki powinnien się również znależć, położony 260 km na południe, średniowieczny zamek Bran Castle. Po takim objeżdzie bezsenną noc masz gwarantowaną.

Książę Ciemnośći nigdy nie śpi!

Drakula visszatér

Akár a rémálmainkban, vagy egy jelmezbálban, Drakula újra és újra felbukkan az életünkben. De vajon ki volt ez az alak? Tényleg vért ivott? Létező alak volt, vagy csak a román néphagyomány agyszüleménye? A válaszokért Erdélybe vezet az út...

Drakula neve Bram Stoker regénye nyomán vált világszerte ismertté. A történet egy angol ügyvéd, Jonathan Harker útját kíséri végig, akit ügyei egy Erdély szívében fekvő kastélyba szólítanak.

Stoker Drakulájának ötletét Vlad Tepes, a vérszomjas herceg adta. A „Tepes", vagyis „Felnyársaló" nevet azzal érdemelte ki, hogy ellenségeit karóba húzatta, majd a felnyársalt testekkel szegélyezte a török szultán útját.

Ha a legendát meg akarjuk érteni, több helyszínen is Drakula nyomára bukkanhatunk. Az Arges folyó partján találhatók a Cetatea Poenari, az egykori kastély romjai. Az egykor bevehetetlen kastélyhoz ma ezerötszáz lépcsőfok vezet, ami még az edzettebb turistáknak is komoly megterhelést jelent.

A kétszázhúsz kilométerrel távolabbi Segesvár, Vlad Tepes szülővárosa az UNESCO világörökségei közé tartozik.

A városban mintha a középkorba lépne vissza az utazó. Bár Drakula szülőházában található étteremben a fokhagyma szigorúan tilos, a pacalpörkölt kiváló. Segesvártól százhetven kilométernyire pedig, a Hotel Draculában, csatlakozhatunk a gothikosok és Drakula-rajongók táborához. Az erdélyi havasok között megbúvó hotel környékén feketébe öltözött fura fazonokon kívül medvékkel vagy farkasokkal is találkozhatunk. A legelszántabbak kocsin vagy lovon tehetik meg Jonathan Harker útját. A rossz szellemektől persze nem kell tartani: a lovakra erősített vörös bojtok távoltarják a gonoszt.

A Drakula-túra utolsó állomása a lenyűgöző Bran kastély. Bár a középkori kastélynak nem sok köze volt a valódi Tepes grófhoz, mesebeli tornyai és titkos átjárói között szinte megelevenedik a horror-történet. S ha a legenda eredetére nem is, az ajándékboltban egy „I love Vlad" pólóra vagy denevérszárnnyal teli bögrére biztosan rábukkanunk..