His Royal Highness Prince Charles.
The beauty to be found in Transylvania was there a long time before Prince Charles arrived in Romania, or even his Transylvanian colleague, Count Tibor Kalnoky.
Descendant of a family persecuted by the Communist authorities, Count Kalnoky was born in Germany and was educated in France. He graduated from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, in 1990, but after the fall of the Nicolae Ceaușescu regime, he returned to his family home in Romania.
Passionate about both his natural and cultural heritage, Count Kalnoky has supported the efforts of HRH Prince of Wales, to preserve the natural, and cultural treasures of Romania, together with a programme for the sustainable development of rural communities.
Count Tibor Kalnoky.
There seems to be a kind of synergy between the these two men. Or is it more an expression of timelessness; the futile social engineering of communism having ended up in the rubbish dump of history, simply means that they have resumed their natural place in the world. But, why is Transylvania such a beautiful part of Romania?
Many years ago, the Saxons were able – during a few hundred years – to civilize a large part of medieval Transylvania. They were skilled craftsmen and merchants, who represented a real economic and cultural boom for the regions where they became established.
During the XIIth Century, many of the Germanic nations began to emigrate to Transylvania. Some of them lived on the Carpathian Arc in the south east, while others preferred the north east of Transylvania, where they started to colonize and civilize the rural areas; which were then mainly inhabited by the Vlachs or Slavs. The new settlers were called Saxons, which is how they were described by numerous historical sources throughout the Middle Ages, and those who knew them well, were impressed by their diligence and skills.
In Medieval Hungary the Saxons were holders of privileges – as owners of the original mines in Saxony – which they also obtained in Transylvania, Slovakia, Bosnia, and also Serbia. This colonization began during the reign of King Geza II, during which time waves of Germanic immigrants continued to appear.
The Saxons improved many major cities, such as Sibiu, Brasov, Alba Iulia, Bistrita, Seica, Medias, and many villages as well. Building beautiful fortified churches, and beautiful houses, they left a very recognizable mark on the area, and even during the communist period, Transylvania was different in culture, economy, and in people’s behaviour, from the rest of Romania.
The past and the present.
The story of Count Dracula, has always dominated peoples thoughts, when Transylvania has been mentioned, which ‘in publicity speak,’ gives the whole area a somewhat bizarre aura. But we must always remember that the Hollywood story of Dracula, is historically inaccurate and simply the imaginings of Bram Stoker.
The mantra of the Prince Charles Foundation in Romania is ‘Nature, Tradition and Privacy.’ In the website of the Prince’s private retreat, it refers to a fundamental belief in the practical world. It offers the visitors much more than a pampered few days away from their reality, and introduces them to a calmer and simpler world.
The website says – ‘Our philosophy of restoring heritage architecture, is characterised by utmost respect for the textures and atmospheres of ancient buildings. All the rooms have been lovingly restored and furnished with authentic antiques and textiles from Transylvania. The way we restore derelict houses is barely noticeable, rather it would seem that the buildings have aged gently and gradually without recent intervention. The property is not to be seen as a ‘shabby chic’ styled holiday resort – it is genuine in its harmony – and guests feel like staying in a centuries-old private home.’
The heritage centre includes the ‘Prince of Wales Guest House,’ a fully appointed hotel, which offers a full service to guests, and a unique restaurant menu, with many local dishes. Guests are looked after by discreet local staff, who cater to all their needs – also transfers – and guided activities and meals are all available. Guests are welcomed on arrival with local Transylvanian brandy and pastries, before being shown to their rooms. There is neither TV nor radio, but the drawing room has a small HiFi player with cds. There are plenty of books, including nature guides, and you can also borrow binoculars and a scope to watch wildlife from around the house. Laundering is also available at a small charge.
Meeting like-minded travellers from all around the world, is one of the special features of this place. Meals are mostly taken along with other guests, unless otherwise required, and the rooms are equipped with kettles for making your own tea and coffee, and bottled mineral water is also provided. Local produce and crafts are on offer, to buy at the little shop in the guesthouse office. There are only two small shops in the village, and no restaurant. The nearest town is 20km away called Barót Baraolt.
On each day of the week, they offer one activity for their ‘All Inclusive’ guests. These are mostly in the form of nature walks, horse & cart rides, and visits to local craftsmen guided by knowledgeable staff and dependent upon the season. In addition, horse riding is available at nearby stables; transfer by car, and bicycles are available for hire. In the warm season -May to September – ‘al fresco’ dinners in the surrounding hills are offered, as well as visits to the nearby wildlife hide, with mostly bears and deer. Guests can simply relax in deck-chairs and hammocks, in one of the most harmonious surroundings in the hills of Transylvania. Guests can also enjoy a refreshing dip in the mineral water pool during the summer heat. In winter, they also offer horse-drawn sleigh rides with bells, blankets and mulled wine, but no trips by motorised vehicle are possible except for transfers to and from the estate.
The Zalán Valley nestles among the rolling foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, Romania. Its cultural landscape can be said to be unique in Europe, still reflecting the harmonious interaction between man and nature. Small brooks trickle through the valley and cross the property. Some of the most beautiful and biodiversically rich wild flower meadows are located in the direct vicinity of the guesthouses. The landscape is ideal for painting and for photography.
The tiny hamlet of Zalán Valley -Zalánpatak in Hungarian, Valea Zălanului in Romanian – was first documented in the 16th century as belonging to Bálint Valentin Kálnoky of Kőröspatak, one of the Transylvanian ancestors of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales. The family had originally founded a glass factory in this part of the hills, which has since ceased to exist. Today, around 120 inhabitants live in the village.
Prince Charles owns the property that had been built for the former ‘judge’ who was overseeing the glassworks and the village. It is composed of several buildings, and has a patch of forest and extensive flower meadows, with mineral springs and small brooks belonging to it. The property is characterised by its rich biodiversity of plants, insects, birds, mushrooms and large mammals including bears, who sometimes crossing the back yard. One of Europe’s rarest and most spectacular orchids, the Lady Slipper – Cypripedium calceolus – of which only one single wild specimen has survived in Britain up to date, is blossoming in the valley’s forests in May and June.
Charles Helping out with a fleece.
The Prince of Wales hopes that his guesthouse will encourage more people to visit Transylvania and in this way promote sustainable development. Proceeds from the guesthouse go to The Prince of Wales Foundation in Romania, member of The Prince’s Charities.
By Madi Preda & The Editor