“Suddenly I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in fact in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky.”
With these words, Jonathan Harker, one of the main characters of Bram Stoker’s horror novel Dracula, described his first impression of the castle of Count Dracula. Even in Stoker’s world, the ancestral home of the historically inspired vampire evoked a feeling of dread and despair.
In reality, the ruins of the actual castle of Vlad Dracula, the Transylvanian prince who was instrumental in staving off the Muslim Turks in central Europe in the mid-15th century, are located on a plateau of Mount Cetatea in south central Romania.
Many travelers to Transylvania, especially aficionados of Stoker’s novel, have come to know another locale as the “real” Dracula castle: Castle Bran in Romania, about 50 miles from the actual ruins.
This Halloween, Bran Castle and Airbnb will host guests in the castle for the first time since 1948. Stoker’s grandson, Dacre, will even join the group as guest lecturer. For diehard vampire fans, the chance to overnight in a Dracula’s castle is hard to resist. However, for the uninitiated, a few survival rules might not go amiss.
For starters, watch your drink. From Browning’s Hollywood vampire Dracula (1931) to Coppola’s reimagined Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1993), the creature of the night is notorious for placing sleep-inducing drugs in their guests’ drinks. So, once in Dracula’s castle, be wary of offers of drink from your host. Remember the fate of Renfield and Harker, who succumbed to the effects of Dracula’s wine, only to awaken having been fed upon. To avoid joining the ranks of the undead, it might behoove visitors to keep close tabs on their potables while in the castle.
Rule two: bring your own mirrors. Vampires don’t avoid mirrors because they don’t care about their appearance; from Bela Lugosi’s Dracula to Robert Pattinson’s Edward in the Twilight series, the modern Hollywood vampire has often been depicted as attractive, if not seductive. The vampire’s inability to cast a reflection in a mirror has been one of its defining characteristics since medieval times, when committing acts of heresy all but guaranteed one becoming a soulless vampire after death. As a result, you’re not going to find too many mirrors in Dracula’s castle, so if you rely on one for personal grooming, you might want to bring your own.
And finally, rule three: buy local. If you’re considering protecting yourself with tools of the vampire hunter, such as a wooden stake to dispatch the fanged revenant, remember to acquire your equipment locally. Vampire lore of the region indicates that to be effective, all precautions against the vampire need to be locally sourced. Wooden stakes should be made of ash or hawthorn, both local woods that have the natural power to counteract anything impure or unholy.
Introducing students to historical figures such as Vlad Dracula is exactly what I do in my class on vampires at The University of Texas at Austin. But few things live up to a night in Dracula’s castle. By following these simple rules, you are much more likely to enjoy, or at least survive, a visit to Dracula’s castle. And remember, it is you who are the guest. Unlike the creature, who must be invited into a dwelling be able to feed upon unsuspecting victims, in Castle Bran you have chosen to enter the vampire’s lair. The vampires are already right at home.
Thomas J. Garza is a University Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor of Slavic and Eurasian studies at The University of Texas at Austin.
Bran Castle photo by Alexandru Savu