This Halloween, an Ottawa couple are the first people to stay overnight at Dracula’s castle in more than 70 years. More than 80,000 subscribers to the home-sharing service Airbnb took part in a global contest for the unique chance to stay at the brooding fortress, perched on a rock above the misty Carpathian valley in central Romania. Tami and Robin Varma won the contest and will now get the experience of a lifetime.
Officially called Bran Castle, the 11th-century mansion is a landmark tourist attraction made famous by Irish author Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic novel “Dracula”. In the book’s opening pages, unsuspecting London lawyer Jonathan Harker travels to the remote Transylvanian woods for business dealings with the mysterious Count Dracula.
Several blood-drenched chapters later, the reclusive aristocrat reveals himself to be an ancient vampire with an insatiable appetite for young women’s arteries. Although Stoker never visited Romania, his description of the count’s eerie home matches that of the Bran fortress, thus giving rise to the myth.
Like young Harker in the novel, a horse carriage will take the Varma siblings up a winding road to Bran Castle tonight, October 31. Here, they will be greeted by none other than Stoker’s great-grandnephew who will play host for the evening. After a candlelit dinner, the visitors will then be shown to their night’s resting place – two large velvet-lined coffins. Well, apparently the coffins are optional…
“We want to instill a sense of fear in an authentic way, not like some fairground attraction,” Dacre Stoker, a self-proclaimed “vampire expert” and author, told AFP. “During his first few hours at the castle, Harker had no idea about the horror that was about to befall him,” he added with a conspiratorial grin. But while the Airbnb pair may be the sole overnight guests, they certainly won’t be the only living souls to haunt around the premises during Halloween.
Of the 500,000 annual tourists, many choose this time of year to cram inside the castle and explore its many spooky nooks and crannies. “The castle has 57 rooms across four floors. But I can’t tell you how many vampires there are,” guide Anemona Todor told a group during a recent tour. The fortress’s fear factor left some visitors unfazed, however. “We know that Dracula is just a legend so the situation is under control,” said an Israeli woman Dorit who was visiting the place with her husband and five-year-old son.
For those more interested in real ghosts of the past, Bran also offers a rich treasure trove in history. Built in 1212 by the Teutonic Knights, the property housed numerous aristocrats over the centuries before eventually becoming the summer residence of Queen Mary of Romania. The Romanian communist regime seized the residence at the end of World War II. It was only returned to the queen’s grandson in 2006, who has since turned it into a profitable private museum.
Folklore has it that the castle’s prison cells also once held the cruel 15th-century prince Vlad Tepes, who notoriously impaled his victims and inspired Dracula’s character. Managing the blurred lines between fiction and facts requires “surgical precision”, confirmed the castle’s marketing director Alexandru Priscu. But, he added, the fortress “offers exactly what we expect from it: it’s romantic and mysterious in equal measures.”