Tramping Through Transylvania

It is a place where dark legends lurk in a landscape that is associated with horror, but Transylvania is anything but horrible, and the legends are just that. The truth is that Transylvania is a nice enough place to visit, despite its reputation.

Transylvania is renowned as the home of Dracula, and a place that is reputed to be almost perpetually dark. The Dracula story is precisely that, a figment of author Bram Stoker’s imagination. There are some interesting castles there, and the landscape can be daunting, but only because Transylvania is situated within the Carpathian Mountains, where the sight of rugged peaks is softened by the beauty of the forests which dot their slopes.

Oddly enough, there is an association with death in Transylvania, but it is far removed from the dark and ghastly stories with which many are familiar. In the village of Sapanta is an unusual burial ground called the Merry Cemetery. It is a place where death is celebrated rather than feared or mourned, where attitudes are shaped by the local belief that death is joyous because it leads to a happy immortality. In Sapanta the graves are colourful, and the headstones contain whimsical poems about the deceased rather than the dour, solemn epitaphs that are more common elsewhere.

In the Apuseni Mountains are scattered many traditional folkloric villages, and within the karst rock can be found over 800 caves, including a couple of ice caves within which glaciers have formed, and Bear Cave where the remains of bears have been found.

Another unusual feature in Transylvania is the Saxon Fortified Churches, which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are about 150 of these unusual churches scattered about the various regions in Transylvania. Most were built between the 13th and 16th centuries when the Kings of Hungary settled German colonists in the area, who needed to protect themselves from invading Ottoman and Tartar invaders.

Outdoor activities are popular in Transylvania all year round, particular in the Rodna Mountains region, which is part of the East Carpathians. Here there is a long continuous ridge that is about 50 kilometres in length that is popular with hikers during the warmer months and is popular with skiers when the snows begin to fall. It is particularly popular with skiers because the local climate stays cold enough for snow to remain on the slopes right up until July.

Transylvania produces great wines and is home to some traditional dishes including a tripe soup what is popular with locals. Despite its unfortunate reputation, a visit to Transylvania is a great and interesting experience where you get to enjoy some surprisingly beautiful scenery.

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