By Bob Schulman

Bran Castle was the model for Dracula’s lair. Photo: MIR Corp.


Movie-goers in 1931 gasped as “Renfield” – a young English lawyer sent to Transylvania to do business with a scary count in a scary castle – faints after spotting a bat. Baring fangs, the count’s three scary wives slowly move in on the luckless lawyer, but the count waves them off. He wants Renfield for himself.


One of the iconic monasteries of Bucovina. Photo: MIR Corp.So began one of the early scenes in the cult movie Dracula, which starred Bela Lugosi as the vampire Count Dracula (based on a bloodthirsty 15th century Romanian nobleman known as Vlad Dracul – best known for his habit of impaling his enemies on stakes).

The castle used in the movie was modeled after Romania’s Bran Castle, earlier the model for an 1897 Gothic horror novel by Bram Stoker named – you guessed it – Dracula.

So it’s no wonder the eerie castle, poking up out of the forest near Bran, Romania, is among highlights of a new, 16-day tour, Bulgaria & Romania: Frescoes & Fortresses ( offered by the MIR Corporation.

Set for Sept. 1-16, the tour will start in the 7,000-year-old city of Sofia, Bulgaria, followed by visits to the Rila Monastery (founded in 927 as a retreat for hermits) and the Thracian settlement of Plovdiv. From there, the tour meanders through the countryside of the Valley of Roses toward Veliko Tarnovo, capital of the 12th century Second Bulgarian Empire.

Next, after crossing the Danube River into Romania, you’ll spend a few days sightseeing Bucharest (and trying not to get lost in the 3,100-room Palace of the Parliament, said to be the second largest building in the world after the U.S. Pentagon).

From there it’s on to vampire country – Transylvania (yes, there really is such a place) -- including stops at the birthplace of Vlad Dracul in the citadel of Sighisoara, and, of course, Dracula’s eerie castle. After moseying around its Gothic towers, stone walls and secret passageways (and loading up on vampire-ish souvenirs), you’ll move on to four of the UNESCO-listed painted monasteries of Bucovina, then enjoy lunch and a demonstration of traditional egg painting in a private home.

The tour ends up back in Bucharest.

Price of the trip: The tab starts at $5,995 per person, not including flights from home to Europe and back.

More info: Based in Seattle, Wash., the MIR Corporation has specialized in tours across Europe and Asia since 1986. You'll find info on all of MIR's tours on the company's website,

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