‘Transylvania – A Fashion for Vampires’, Christine Dier.
There had been a light shower of rain as we travelled through the mountainous region of Transylvania and just as the evening started to settle, the clouds started to emerge from the silent forest, drifting slowly towards the sky, and even if you don’t believe in vampires the atmospheric conditions would challenge even the most sceptical. Every one of our exploration group joked how you could see how the legends occurred and Bram Stoker stories have filtered across the globe. Our tents were pitched close to the top of the mountains just above the tree line, in a little huddle for the comfort of knowing others were close by.
Our dinner cooked over an open fire in a cauldron, suspended on three legged stand with a hook and chain. We laughed and chatted as the dinner cooked and woodsmoke filled the air. The horses grazed on the mountain pasture in happy contentment. We were miles from anywhere in these remote but beautiful mountains. We built up the fire to keep the bears and wolves away from the horses. Finally it was time to go to bed and as I turned away from the fire I noticed a fast rising mist from the damp grass, which was creepily eerie in the early moonlight. The surrounding forest was black now and silent as the mist was starting to reach the lower branches. I flicked on my torch and scrabbled into my tent, zipping it up tightly to keep the cold and damp from coming in. I got into my sleeping bag which was comforting and warm. As I lay quietly the sound of distant howling wolves started to fill the night. My ears went on to high alert, as I listened for any movement around the tents. Are vampires and werewolves silent? I don’t know. My mind started re-running spooky movies. What should I do? The howling wolves finally stopped but did that mean they had moved closer or further away? Finally I slept.
The next morning dawned brightly and the mist burned off very quickly leaving in its wake some very dewy grass. I made up the fire, got the coffee on and waited for everyone else to get up and meet the new day. Soon enough everyone was getting around as some children from a local community came up over the hill top in search of mushrooms. Then we were joined by a shepherd and a herd of mountain sheep with their interesting protector dogs. The Carpathian Mountain sheep dog is not known for its friendliness but its ferocity against bears and wolves.
Our Romanian hosts had slept well and had not noticed the eeriness of the surroundings the night before, so I guess this was an entirely English problem. The riding holiday had got off to an excellent start, with superb accommodation on the first night in the lodge next to the stables which was unexpected in this remote region. The camping trail had started on the second night of this expedition into the Calimani mountains, which is part of Transylvania.
The horses we had been given were superbly well looked after and the guides explained that the horses were their friends and they had a mutually respective relationship with them. On a day to day basis the horses lived in a herd, grazing in the forest clearings close to the lodge and returning each evening of their own accord for dinner. The horses were good to ride but riding experience is essential as some of the terrain is difficult with steep assents and descents, where you need to be supremely balanced with your horse to make it easier for them to carry you. The horses all had great characters and seemed to run by The Horse Union rules. If the horses wanted to stop at a mountain spring for a drink, they did. They also had a pecking order which was easier to work with than against, so instead of being demanding on the horses you work together as a team. Understanding horse behaviour is an important factor here.
The riding guests are as well looked after as the horses. The guides see to this as well. Whilst you have to contribute by putting up your tents and unsaddling to make your horse comfortable they didn’t expect the guests to do anything else. The food is excellent and wholesome and Relu, Marius and Shauney all contribute. They are also superbly hygienic with hand washing and washing up etc. Nothing here is second rate and all the teas, coffees, cups, cooking implements are all stored in a Delsey suitcase!
This journey through the mountains is wonderful taking in high mountain pastures, lakes, rivers, forests, mountains and volcanoes. This history within this region is phenomenal and you will get to visit some very interesting sites, particularly along the original borders. There are some long stretches of riding through the pine forests but some good trots and canters are possible.
The high mountain pastures in June were a fantastic experience, as they are filled with wild mountain thyme and beautiful alpine flowers. This is a fragile but exceptional environment and I feel privileged to have been here. As we were returning to the lodge on the last day we passed the families taking their sheep and cattle up to the high mountain pastures for the summer months. These gorgeous cream and white cows make superb cottage cheese which goes to market once a week with the family.
Romania has moved on from those awful images of children’s homes and it has started to heal itself. It is full of good people, with sophisticated towns but very traditional countryside where life goes on in a similar way to past centuries. This trip finishes with two days exploring some wonderful historical towns in the region and a trip to see the Lipizzaner horses. The only sad part is that I had to come home to early and I now want to explore more of this wonderful country.
I only found one vampire on my journey at Vlad Dracula’s house in Sighisoara. Visitors can expect good food, exceptional hosts, kind people, an interesting experience and some wonderful memories to bring home with you.
Read more about the ride here: Calimani Mountain Trails, Transylvania, Romania.