The communists had appropriated it during their rule and only recently had the family managed to reacquire it. The two sons and their mother, the Countess, are painstakingly restoring it to its former splendour. The countess herself showed us around the estate and told us a little of her history, though clearly some times were too painful to talk about in detail.
The old machine house has been beautifully redeveloped into a hotel with its own restaurant and full access to the gardens and lake of the estate. There is a hammock to relax in, an outdoor bread oven and lovely trees under which you can enjoy an alfresco meal. Cooked of course only from local ingredients from the village or self grown. The swimming pool is accessed up some stairs past beautiful flowering trees, and there is a rowing boat that you can take out on the lake. I really enjoyed the Horse & Carriage trip around the village; a lovely way to be introduced to the village and people, as well as visiting Gelence to see a 13thCentury frescoed Church. It really is a wonderful place to relax for a couple of days.
The next afternoon I drove through wilderness forest to meet an old man who took me up at dusk up a track to a hide in the middle of nowhere. We sat and waited and waited and about 2 hours later a family of bears came out right infront of us. The father bear was clearly irritated by the cubs attentions and after trying to chase the mother and cub away , gave up and left after a short time , whilst the mother and cub played right infront of us for several hours. It was a very special couple of hours in the heart of the Tranylvanian forest with my own private display of nature! When we decided it was time to leave I did feel a bit nervous and vulnerable walking back down the track to where the car was in the dark. Especially when the man showed me where a bear had laid down on the grass and dented it near the track since we had gone up earlier. I was quite pleased to get into the car I have to confess as the Daddy bear had been huge !!
The next day I decided I wanted to explore more. It was late May/June and the hay was being harvested. The roads were filled with horse carts taking the hay to the barns, jostling with cars and buses. The fields were full of people cutting and piling the hay into haystacks. An incredibly evocative sight, though clearly very hard work for the people of the villages who only had scythes with which to cut it by.
Transylvania contains a selection of wonderful castles –including Bran Castle – better known as Draculas Castle clinging ontop of a hillock which has been thoroughly restored and contains a museum. The local town is full of Dracula mementos and stories and is a mecca for visitors! Whilst Bran Castle was a bit of fun to visit, for me my favourite castle was the much quieter and less visited Rasnov Fortress. Now a ruin but clearly you can see the extent of the fortress which was built to be a place of refuge over an extended time period containing houses, a school and chapel. Its high up and the views are lovely. A peaceful spot.
There are several wonderful medieval towns in Transylvania, not least Sighisoara which is the last mediaeval inhabited citadel in Eastern Europe. In some ways little has changed there with its cobbled alleyways, earth streets and a long long wooden enclosed staircase leading up to the top of the town. It was a long drive, esp with all the horse carts on the roads, but the journey was so unusual with stunning views and tiny villages that I’d had a fascinating time before I even got to Sighisoara. It is difficult to believe that places like that exist now in Europe so close to home – it really did feel like I was back in the medieval times !
The Unesco site Viscri was worth a visit on the way back, as well as some of the Church fortifications from the Saxon days, built to store the villagers most valuable goods in times of attack. I had these places to myself. Ridiculous considering how interesting, well preserved and in what lovely locations they were.
Finally I visited Peles Castle, the summer residence of the royal family until 1947; A stunningly preserved castle – think French Chateau for a better picture in your mind – where a guided tour will show you its highlights and explain how advanced it was in its time with its electricty, Murano Glass and German engineering. Set in Sinaia in the Mountains it is a super stop on the way to the airport and in sharp contrast to the other 2 castles I had seen.