Transylvania fangtasy: A bite of alright

TRANSYLVANIA has been crowned the world s top region to visit in 2016 by Lonely Planet for its thriving culture scene, vigorous nightlife and outdoor adventures.

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QUALITY: The Carpathian Mountains

Spine-tingling tales of vampires have put the mysterious land of Transylvania on the map. This vast and diverse region in Romania is rich in folklore and blood-sucking Count Dracula is one of its biggest draws. The character was dreamt up by Irish author Bram Stoker in 1897, based on the real-life Romanian ruler Vlad the Impaler. Since then, the Count has featured in scores of movies, the latest being the animated hit Hotel Transylvania 2. I used my trip to Transylvania to get to know its famous fanged resident, while discovering what this enigmatic part of eastern Europe has to offer.

My adventure began in Bucharest, the capital of Romania and the country s most vibrant city, mixing elaborate architecture with shopping malls, slick hotels and buzzy bars. I checked into the lush Grand Hotel Bucuresti on Victoriei Avenue, in the most upmarket part of town. After freshening up in the rainforest shower and lounging in my comfy suite, I took a walk around the Old Town and historical centre with my knowledgeable guide Val. Pausing outside Vlad s principal palace, which dates from 1459, Val explained the impressive building was designed as a fortress to stop the invading Turks. Dinner was at Hanu Berarilor restaurant, situated in an ornate building high on a hill, where the traditional menu is accompanied by live classical music.

Lively I dived straight into a platter of pastrami, Romanian sausages, cheese and cooked pickles, followed by a papanasi dessert, a pudding made from cream cheese and stuffed with blueberries and cream.

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EXPLORE: A native brown bear in Libearty Bear Sanctuary

I used my trip to Transylvania to get to know its famous fanged resident, while discovering what this enigmatic part of eastern Europe has to offer

Food in Romania is mostly cheap, with the exchange rate at about six leu to the pound. A main course in a nice restaurant costs around 30 leu. At weekends the Old Town comes alive with lots of lively bars and loud nightclubs. It s become a favourite for stag and hen parties. My next stop was Transylvania, and on the three-hour drive from Bucharest, Val regaled me with tales of Vlad and his blood-sucking alter-ego. But he was also keen to stress there is more to the region, with the magnificent Carpathian Mountains a perfect example.

Skiing is another obvious attraction, with the cloud-kissing peaks reaching 1,133m high. But I was sticking with the Dracula theme with a visit to Bran Castle. It s unknown whether Vlad himself lived at the castle, but he did hide his family there when the Turks arrived. And Stoker made it Dracula s home in his famous tome. The fascinating tour around the medieval castle includes a stop in the torture room, which houses replicas of unimaginably cruel contraptions used to punish unfortunates in the 14th Century.

A meal at the Garden Resort, a restaurant in Drumul Carului, with breath-taking views of the mountains, was the perfect antidote. Then it was on to Brasov, my base for the last part of my trip. A walking tour of the quaint village took in its cobbled streets and medieval buildings, which have a strong Hungarian influence in the architecture. Romanians have a chequered history when it comes to animal cruelty but high in the Carpathian Mountains, near Zarnesti, the Libearty Bear Sanctuary is making great progress in changing that.

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SPOOKY: Dracula s reputed hideout at Bran castle

The brown bears of Romania have traditionally been used in circus acts. A dedicated team now has government backing to rescue these majestic creatures and nurse them back to health so they can roam freely around the sanctuary. It s a fantastic day out. Celebrity supporters of the sanctuary include Alesha Dixon and Brigitte Bardot, and kids will love the teddy bear museum which includes two enormous teddies donated by Prince William and Princess Kate. My final evening was spent at Festival 39, a beautiful restaurant with gorgeous 1920s decor in Brasov s Old Town. On the way back to my hotel I chanced upon Cafe 13 a bar and nightclub on the main strip of Brasov. With locals and the super-friendly staff dancing along to pop and often taking to the mic themselves to belt out some Romanian rap, it was the perfect way to end my trip.

Hotel Transylvania 2 is out on Bluray and DVD on February 15.

Fact File

GETTING THERE: TAROM airline flies from Luton and Heathrow to Bucharest from 60 return. Book via tarom.ro/en. WHERE TO STAY: Rooms at the Grand Hotel Continental, Bucharest, cost from 92 per night. Book via continentalhotels. ro/Grand-Hotel-Continental-Bucuresti/en. Rooms at the Aro Palace in Brasnov cost from 57 per double, per night. Book via aro-palace.ro/hotels-brasnovaro-palace.

TOURS AND GUIDES: Book through rolandia.eu. Libearty Bears Sanctuary: Adults 6.90, kids 1.80. See ampbears.ro. RESTAURANTS AND BARS: For Hanu Berarilor see hanuberarilor.ro.en. For Garden Resort see gardenresort.ro.

For Caf 13 see cafe13.ro. Further information on visiting Romania can be found at romaniatourism.com

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IMPOSING: The Palace of Parliament in Bucharest

Late & breaks

ALGARVE: Seven nights B&B at threestar Vilanova resort in Albufeira for 238. Fly from Manchester on Thursday. cooptravelco.uk

SCOTLAND: Hire Shepherd s Cottage, a single-storey cottage in Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway for a week for 202. It sleeps two in one bedroom with two pets welcome. Arrive on Friday. See cottages.com property ref.

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FLORIDA: Fourteen nights self-catering at three-star Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club is 645 pp including car hire. Based on two adults and two children sharing. Depart Manchester on Friday. Seetravelcitydirect. com or call 0344 557 6965. COSTA BLANCA: Pay 169 for three nights room-only at the three-star Best Western Hotel Albahia in Alicante, fl ying from East Midlands on February 22. Visit jet2holidays.com or call 0800 408 5594.

BENIDORM: A week all-inclusive at fourstar Hotel Flamingo Oasis for 319. Fly from Gatwick on March 1. See thomson. co.uk or call 0871 230 2555. VENICE: Depart Birmingham on March 4 for two nights B&B at the three-star Basilea Hotel for 219.

Click on monarch.co.uk.

unusual hotels beautiful amazing unique travel in pictures1

NEW YORK: Depart Heathrow on March 4 for three nights room-only at Westin New York Hotel on Times Square for 730. Book at cooptravel.co.uk or phone 01922 234415. CARIBBEAN CRUISE: Jet off from Manchester or London to Barbados on March 12 and board P&O Britannia for a 12-night cruise on a full-board basis for 813. Go to planetcruise.co.uk

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Stay all-inclusive for a week at the three-star VistaSol Punta Cana Hotel in Bavaro for 735. Depart Manchester on March 14. Book at thomascook.com or dial 0844 412 5970.

SUSSEX: Three-night self-catering Easter Break at Combe Haven Discount Holidays © Holiday Park in Hastings for 314 per family. Price based on a family of six sharing Deluxe accommodation. Arrive on March 25. Book at haven. com or call 0333 202 5305. MALLORCA: 209 for seven nights all-inclusive at threestar Aparthotel Alcudia Garden in Alcudia.

Fly from Gatwick on March 29. More at teletextholidays. co.uk.

Call 0203 001 0628 to book.

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References

  1. ^ unusual hotels beautiful amazing unique travel in pictures (www.dailystar.co.uk)

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