Romania: Vlad the Impaler, in Five Bites

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE STORY of Dracula was based on the life of a 15th-century Romanian ruler, Vlad the Impaler, who gained his name, fairly predictably, by impaling enemies on stakes. If you want to find out more about this cheery chap, or get a better idea of his macabre deeds, join the trail in Romania.

5 Cositorarilor st, Sighisoara

This is where Vlad the Impaler was born, in around 1431. His father, Vlad Dracul, was then a humble guard commander in local mountain passes, but a few years after his son's birth, he was promoted to ruler of Wallachia, probably thanks to the knighthood he received from Sigismund of Hungary, for services against the Turks. The two-storey house is now a restaurant (00 40 65771596) and there's a museum to Vlad's life next door in the Clock Tower.

Tirgoviste

When Vlad's father became ruler he moved to a princely residence in Tirgoviste (about 75km north-west of Bucharest), where Vlad grew up until he was taken hostage in a local rebellion. After his father was murdered, Vlad returned to claim the throne in 1456. Three years later, he took retribution on some of the suspected murderers by impaling them on stakes round the town. You can visit the remains of the Princely Court at 17 Calea Domncasca (00 40 45613278), including the Sunset Tower (23, Calea Domncasca), another museum on Vlad's life (00 40 45612877).

Arefu

About four km from Arefu, in the remote north of Romania, is "Dracula's" castle. Building began here in 1457 and the few enemies who had escaped Vlad's ultimate revenge were sent here to help build his new home. Today the castle is inaccessible and uninhabited - but open to anyone prepared to make the climb from the Poienari hydroelectric power station.

The entrance, via a narrow wooden bridge, leads to the remains of two towers (much of the castle collapsed down the hillside in 1888). The prism- shaped tower was where Vlad lived, and, according to folklore, was the place from which his wife jumped to her death, rather than become the captive of an invading Turkish army.

Castle Bran

North-west of Bucharest, near the small village of Bran, is another castle (00 40 68236720) with connections to Dracula. Built in 1377, the link with Vlad is somewhat tenuous - he apparently besieged the castle during one of his raids from Wallachia. Despite this, it remains a popular part of Dracula tours, since the remote mountain setting is fairly evocative of the famous vampire tales. Castle Bran is in good shape, thanks to extensive restoration, and is much easier for tourists to visit than the the castleat Poienari.

Snagov

The lakeside town of Snagov, 40km north of Bucharest, is commonly believed to be Vlad's final resting place. An island in the middle of the lake is home to a 14th-century monastery, to which both Vlad and his father gave money. Apparently, after Vlad was eventually beheaded by rival Boyar rulers the monks felt obliged to bury his body in a tomb on the island. The tomb bears no inscription but, when the body was exhumed in the 1930s, it was exquisitely dressed in the manner of a medieval ruler, and had been decapitated. Motor boats are available but only from May to October. Outside the summer months, tours can be arranged through the Company of Mysterious Journeys in Bucharest (00 40 12314022). To book in the UK, contact the Romanian Travel Centre (01892 516901), which also offers a "Five-Day Dracula Tour".

Anthony Spitteler

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