If you associate the word Dracula with a fang toothed monster of a man who bites people’s necks and transforms into a bat, think again. The real Dracula was Romanian war hero and Prince, Vlad Tepes, of the House of Drăculești. Although he was a cruel man and widely known as Vlad the Impaler for the way in which he killed those who wronged his country, he was fighting for the protection of his people and was much loved by his countrymen and feared by his enemies.
Legend did grow that he was a vampire, largely due to his notoriety as a vicious killer. But then Romania and the surrounding countries were full of tales of vampires and other savage beasts at the time, so until Vlad became immortalised by the book Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it was never anything more than a rumour whispered among those who feared him.
Universal Pictures have recently released a new Dracula film – Dracula Untold, which combines the two Draculas, the reality and the fiction, to create a story about Vlad Tepes becoming a vampire. With big names being cast in the lead roles, stunning special effects and of course a great storyline, it could well be a fantastic watch this Halloween. Take a look at the trailer below to get a little taste of Vlad in both his real and fictional personas.
To go in search of the real and even the fictional Dracula, you must first start in Romania. Vlad was born in the beautiful medieval citadel of Sighisoara, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and lived here until he was four years old. You can still see the house in which he was born, now a bar and restaurant, which is marked by a dragon above the door (Dracul means dragon in Romanian) and there is a statue of the man himself nearby. One of the most beautiful walled cities in Europe, it is full of colourful medieval houses, stunning architecture and alleyways that transport you back in time to the 1400s when Vlad himself lived there.
Stoker’s story sees Dracula’s castle set near the Borgo Pass, which links Bistriţa and Vatra Dornei (actually called the Tihuţa Pass) and is the gateway to the realm of Count Dracula. In the book the pass is reached through beautiful countryside, thick forests and magnificent mountains. Home to baying wolves, wind that moans and howls through the trees and a mysterious blue light, Stoker chose this beautiful yet eerie place, said to have witnessed great fires and killings over the centuries, as the perfect setting for Dracula’s castle.
The area is not home to the castle we are so used to associating with Dracula. Instead we must look to Bran Castle near Braşov as it is the only castle in Romania to fit Stoker’s description of the Count’s home. Vlad does have a connection to Bran Castle however. He was captured by the army of the Hungarian king, Matei Corvin, in 1462 and was held captive here.
Other sites which are well worth a visit are Snagov Monastery, a stunning building situated in the middle of a lake, where the remains of Vlad the Impaler lie and Castle Poenari, Vlad’s stronghold. Reached by over 1400 steps and with breathtaking views, this now ruined castle is the one to visit if you want to see the ‘real’ Dracula’s castle.
Back on the fictional Dracula’s trail, we must cross from Romania to England, and the North Yorkshire town of Whitby. This is where Dracula is said to have arrived in England.
According to Stoker’s tale the Russian Schooner, The Demeter, ran aground in Whitby harbour in 1885. Mysteriously all the crew were dead including the captain who was found tied to the helm. As the ship ran aground a huge black dog was seen to leap ashore and run up the now famous 199 steps towards Whitby Abbey, which overlooks the town. Legend has it that vampires can take many forms, a dog being one of them. Dracula had arrived.
Once he regained his strength Dracula left for London, where the story continues until his discovery and subsequent escape back to Romania, where he is tracked and eventually killed by Harker and his friends, led by the infamous Dr Abraham Van Helsing. And so the story ends.
Whether you are on the trail of the fictional character or the Romanian Prince Vlad Dracul, you simply cannot miss visiting the sites linked to them in Romania and the UK. You’ll find excellent tours in Romania, starting from Budapest in neighbouring Hungary, where we have some great properties in which to base yourself before you leave on your tour, following the exact route Jonathan Harker took to Dracula’s castle. Equally Whitby is home to the Dracula Experience, along with some fantastic Halloween events at the Abbey, including readings and performances of the novel within the atmospheric ruins.
So what are you waiting for? Why not go in search of Dracula yourself this Halloween?