These two great medieval sights are about 16 km southwest of Braşov, and only 10 km apart, so they make a good day trip from Braşov. Raşnov gets its name from the Saxon word Rosenau, which means the Valley of the Roses. For a map of these locations, click here.
Since we were traveling by car, our Pension recommended a great scenic drive to Raşnov, going by the ski resort area of Poiana Brasov. Driving through the Transylvanian mountains felt a bit like our home state of Colorado. This is a very pretty area of Romania.
Raşnov Fortress sits at the top of a hill, overlooking the small town of Raşnov, and like Braşov, has a “Hollywood” sign in front of it on the hill. Why the Romanians like to put these signs up is beyond me, but luckily Braşov and Raşnov are the only places that have these signs, to my knowledge.
Coming from the north, the fortress can be seen for miles. Since we were arriving through the heavily forested mountain passes from the south, we saw the parking lot before the fortress. We were the first visitors to arrive at the car park on a clear, sunny day in May. From the car park you can either walk up or take a little tractor-train up to the fortress for 3 lei per person (about 3.3 lei to the USD at the time of writing this post). We took the train up and walked down.
We arrived pretty early (around 9:30 am); the exhibits and shops weren’t open yet in the fortress—which gave the place a very peaceful feel. We enjoyed the views and wandering around the tiny village.
We had the site to ourselves. As we were leaving, a few other people were making their way up the hill. The fortress is believed to have been built in the 1200’s and functioned in a military capacity until the 1700’s. It withstood a Turkish invasion in 1335. Today it preserves the folk art of Romania through exhibits and shops; in medieval times the village within the fortress was known for glass making and weaving.There is an entry fee of 10 lei per person.
In the town of Raşnov we wanted to visit the old St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (just to the west of the town center). It’s the oldest Romanian Orthodox Church in southeastern Transylvania, dating to the 1200’s. It contains paintings from the 16th century. Unfortunately, it was closed on Monday, the day of our visit.
Just 10 km west of Raşnov is the famous Bran Castle, long associated with “Dracula” or Vlad Ţepeş. The castle has very little historical connection with Vlad Ţepeş. That said, there is an extensive exhibit on Vlad Ţepeş and the Dracula legend in two of the castle’s rooms.
The castle may have been inspiration for the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Bran castle dates from the late 1300’s, and was built to help fortify Braşov from the Ottoman raids. In 1459 Vlad Ţepeş passed through the area and attacked Braşov, which is the only connection Bran Castle has to him. In 1920 the people of Brasov donated the castle to the royal family (Queen Mary and King Ferdinand) of Romania. This act saved the castle from falling into disrepair, and today the castle is in very good condition. The castle is still owned by the royal family’s descendants.
Bran is a very cool castle, and one of the finest in Europe. From the pictures we had seen, we thought the castle would be isolated in a mountain valley. We were a bit surprised to find that it is right at the edge of the small town of Bran, on a small hill. Bran Castle was the most touristy of the sites we visited in Romania—with lots of little shops at the entrance—and you can get your Dracula T-Shirt here! Even so, there were only a couple of small tour groups here in early May. We parked just outside the castle grounds for 10 lei for 4 hours, and the castle entrance fee was 25 lei per person.
We also ate an early dinner in Bran, right across from the entrance to the castle, and had a very good, large meal for 3 people for $27! I would have thought prices would have been higher in this tourist spot. We found the restaurant prices throughout Romania to be quite cheap compared to Western Europe.
On our way back to Braşov, we stopped briefly at the town of Cristian, which is home to one of the many fortified churches in Transylvania. It wasn’t open, but it was fun to see our first of several fortified churches in this non-touristy town.
Reference: Tourist Guide-Bran Castle by Compania de Administrare a Domeniului Bran, Nicoleta Petcu, 2010.