24-Hour Room Service: Zabola, Transylvania, Romania

That a journey through deepest Transylvania should be a hair-raising experience is not that surprising. But it was the partially surfaced roads, seemingly non-existent speed limit and renegade horse-and-cart drivers – rather than shades of Gothic horror – that made our drive from Brasov to Zabola an alarming 45 minutes. Drawing up at the tall iron gates of the estate at dusk, however, our spirits lifted – this was the kind of entrance that would have made Dracula proud.

The romance continued as we rolled down a tree-lined drive, past a lake towards the 16th-century house that dominates the estate. Seized from the ancient Hungarian Mikes (pronounced "Mickesh") family by the communists in 1949, the building served as a children's camp, school and TB sanatorium before being finally returned in 2005.

Now, the new generation of Mikeses, Gregor Roy Chowdhury and his brother Alexander, are restoring their ancestral home. They have started with a 16th-century outbuilding known as the Machine House. With its whitewashed walls and open fireplaces, the six-bedroom building is comfortably rustic.

The guesthouse ethos is "home from home", which – for me at least – translates as being left to your own devices, while knowing that there is always someone on hand to cater to your whims.

Anyone wedded to standard hotel facilities may find things a little basic at first, but who needs a mini-bar when you are free to wander into the kitchen and ask Judit, the cook, to knock you up a gin and tonic? Meal times continue in the same homely vein – that is if your diet at home consists of three-course Transylvanian blow-outs: trout and wild boar are served in the dining room.

It would be easy to do little more at Zabola than enjoy the beauty of the estate – verdant in summer, a riot of russet and gold in autumn and a fairytale wonderland in winter – but there is plenty more on offer. Take the boat out on the lake, borrow a bike and explore the trails in the woods or ask Laszlo, the manager, to arrange a hiking tour, a pony-and-trap ride or a bear-watching excursion. We opted for the latter and, after a respectable tally of two bears and innumerable bats, returned after dark to find a snack and bottle of red wine waiting for us.



LOCATION

Zabola Estate, Mikes kastely, Zabala, Judetul Covasna, Romania (00 40 724 00 3658; zabola.com). The estate lies at the edge of the village of Zabala (Zabola is its Hungarian name), at the foot of the Carpathian mountain range. It makes a great base for exploring the countryside, which is dotted with beautiful Saxon villages, such as Viscri, whose 12th-century fortified church is a Unesco World Heritage site.

Time from international airport: The nearest town is Brasov, around an hour's drive from Zabola. Brasov can be easily reached via a two-and-a-half-hour train journey from Bucharest Nord (look for the Express or "Accelerat" services), winding past medieval villages and stunning mountain landscapes. From Brasov the hotel will arrange a transfer for 75 Romanian Leu (£17) for up to three passengers.



COMFORTABLE?

The six spacious bedrooms (five doubles, one twin) are refreshing in their simplicity. High ceilings and large windows make for a light and airy daytime atmosphere, while the warm rust and terracotta coloured walls, wooden floorboards and heavy, traditional linens create a cosy feel after dark. We were lucky enough to bag the "red room", with a free-standing antique cast iron bath that provides the blissful opportunity of wallowing while enjoying views of the surrounding forest .

Historic pictures of the estate decorate the walls and a leaflet recounting the tale of a roguish monk who haunts the grounds was left thoughtfully on my pillow.

Freebies: You'll have to bring your own toiletries, but you can help yourself to fresh fruit in the sitting room and are free to borrow books, board games and bikes.

Keeping in touch: Don't come to Zabola unless you are prepared temporarily to forget the rest of the world to some extent – there are no phones in rooms, but there is a main landline, free Wi-Fi and Laszlo will kindly let you borrow his laptop or mobile.



THE BOTTOM LINE

Double rooms start at €100 (£83) including breakfast. Lunch and a three-course dinner both cost €15 (£12.50) per person.

I'm not paying that: Fifteen minutes' drive from Zabola, the pretty town of Targu Secuiesc (the Hungarian name is Kezdivasarhely) also makes a good base for exploring this part of Covasne County. A double room at the basic but comfortable Taverna Panzio (00 40 7 29 103 726; taverna-panzio.ro) costs 200 Romanian Leu (£45), including breakfast.



The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice