“Can you take me to Dracula’s castle?” This is one of the most common questions I’ve got from foreigner friends and business partners visiting Romania. This is how I managed to visit the Bran castle multiple times. Last weekend, though, I went there just to get some fresh air and to enjoy a cool evening away from dust. Bucharest during summertime is like many other cities: hot, dusty, overwhelming.

Bran Castle

Bran Castle – home of Dracula, as many of you probably know it

If, for some reason, you are visiting Europe and you’re stuck in Bucharest for more than a couple of days, you can make the best of your time by going to the mountains. This can be a one-day trip, but staying over night is even better. Here’s an idea of itinerary and what you can visit on the way to Bran:

Exit Bucharest on A1 to Pitesti. From Pitesti, follow the way to Curtea de Arges. There’s an old monastery there, dating from the 16th century. It is one of the most representative buildings of its time. It served as inspiration for many other churches, but none of those managed to live up to the original. There’s also a legend about its builders, which I’m going to tell you soon. Make sure you subscribe to my feed to read it.

Curtea de Arges monastery

Curtea de Arges monastery – photo credit: cod_gabriel on flickr

After Curtea de Arges, follow the road to Câmpulung, then to Brasov. Bran is located on this road, at about 60 km from Câmpulung. It’s hard to miss it, because the castle is quite visible from the road.

What to see around Bran

Ostriches at Valea cu Struti

Ostriches at Valea cu Struti – this fellow looks like he needed a serious bath

Apart from Dracula’s castle, which would probably take you one hour to visit, there are more things to see around Bran. You can go to Sirnea, to see Valea cu Struti, an ostrich farm. Ostriches are kinda cute, but I would not recommend sleeping at the attached hotel, because the food is average quality and everything is overpriced. So take photos, take a nice walk on the hills and then go.

Only a few kilometers from Bran, there is Cheile Gradistei, a touristic complex featuring a hotel, several villas, a restaurant and a swimming pool. The pool is indoors and it is not too big, so don’t expect you’ll have a lot of room for swimming. Anyway, the rooms are nice and the restaurant has lots of tables outside, so it’s quite enjoyable. Besides, the surroundings are good for walking, there’s a small river and a tiny waterfall just nearby the hotel. A downside to Cheile Gradistei is that many companies organize conferences, trainings and other events there, so it might get too busy to enjoy. For instance, when we stopped there on Saturday, the parking was full of cars branded with Herbalife. It was fun to see a Porsche Cayenne Hybrid branded with Herbalife on all sides, but that was pretty much all the entertainment we had there. We only used their parking, then went for a nice, long walk along the stream… well, I couldn’t resist the water, so here I am, refreshing myself a little:

Cheile Gradistei

The water was cold, the stones were slippery, so I didn’t go too far.

Waterfall nearby Cheile Gradistei

Small waterfall nearby Cheile Gradistei

Cheile Gradistei waterfall

We almost dropped the camera into the water, because the wooden bridge started to bounce as I rushed to be in this photo with Iulia (the selftimer was set on 10 seconds).

Yellow flowers

There was a big bee I wanted to shoot, but it was faster than me

Flowers on the deck at Popasul Cavalerului

Flowers on the deck at Popasul Cavalerului, where we spent the night.

We slept at Popasul Cavalerului, a pension just 500m down the road from Bran castle. It’s good, I recommend it. A double room with a view to Dracula’s Castle costs 140 RON, which is about $40. It would be expensive if you wanted to spend three months there, but for one single night it’s not too bad. Anyway, Bran and the surrounding villages are full of pensions, so you might find something cheaper if you are in the mood of stopping from gate to gate. They don’t offer any kind of food at Popasul Cavalerului, but this is not an issue. There’s an excellent restaurant at Casa din Bran, nearby, where everything tastes delicious and prices are unbelievably low. Casa din Bran offers accommodation as well, you can find it on booking.com.

Bran Castle

Bran Castle as seen from the deck at Popasul Cavalerului

Same view, but in HDR photography

Same view, but in HDR photography. Do you like it? It looks like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

Like everywhere, in Bran there are good restaurants and bad restaurants. When we arrived, we were very hungry, so we stopped in the center of the village and had lunch at an expensive and crappy restaurant. The tables are set in a passage that links the castle to the main road (remember not to eat there, if you go). Later on, we saw other places which looked far more interesting, but we weren’t hungry anymore.

Whole lamb grilling

Whole lamb grilling – this reminded me of Crete, where grilled lamb was quite a popular dish

Raspberries and blueberries

Dozens of local people were selling these baskets full of berries. Yummy!

Don’t take the same way back to Bucharest. Go towards Brasov and stop at Râsnov to visit the Fortress. One hour is enough. The Râsnov Fortress was one of the most important Dacian settlements during the 1st century B.C. – 1st century A.C. After the Roman conquest, the fortress had been abandoned.
From the main road, the fortress seems very hard to reach. Don’t be fooled, there’s a road which goes up the hill until you only have 1 km left to walk. If you can’t walk, there’s a special ride you can take from the point where you have to leave your car, straight to the fortress.

Old guard in Rasnov fortress

Old guard in Rasnov fortress – he was funny: when I asked for permission to take a picture, he grabbed the spear to make things more dramatic.

Rasnov fortress

Rasnov fortress – ruins

Rasnov fortress - more ruins

Rasnov fortress – more ruins

Rasnov fortress - street

Rasnov fortress – street with red roses, blue sky and souvenir shops

Rasnov town - view from the fortress

Rasnov town – view from the fortress

Rubbish bins have funny shapes of towers and cannons. I don’t know if this has an effect on the tourists. It might, because it was pretty clean.

Tower rubbish bin

Tower rubbish bin – the fortress is also on Facebook, didn’t you know it?

Canon rubbish bin

Rasnov fortress gate

Rasnov fortress gate

From Râsnov, go towards Predeal, then follow the road to Bucharest on the Prahova Valley. You’ll get there in about two hours. Make sure you don’t exceed the speed limits, as this road is well-known to have lots of speed cameras on it.

As I’m writing this, there’s a motorway in construction. When it will be ready, you might want to use that instead of the national road I told you about. You still won’t be able to find Dracula anywhere, but at least you’ll get there faster.

Have you ever visited Bucharest? Do you have any other ideas of two-day getaways?

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