Name-checked in literature since Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897, the word Transylvania conjures up images of moonlit Gothic castles and lost-in-time villages. Unexplained puncture wounds to the neck notwithstanding, Transylvania is all that and more.
Backed by the Bucegi Mountains, Sinaia is the star of the Prahova Valley. The town combines centuries-old castles with some of Romania's best hiking and biking in the mountains above. King Carol I's Peles Castle, a 19th-century fairy-tale summer residence, is a highlight (+40 244 310 205; Str Pelesului, 2; 11am-5pm Tues, 9am-4.15pm Wed-Sun; £4).
With its fortified churches, Saxon Land offers a glimpse of the Romanian countryside and an ancient way of life. The best of the churches is Biertan, the region's grandest double-walled church. Second is the Unesco listed fortified church at Viscri.
Designated European Capital of Culture in 2007, the medieval city of Sibiu with its unique "eyelid" rooftop windows winking from pastel-coloured facades is a wonderfully serene place to spend a day or two.
The Transfăgărăşan Road (the 7C) is Romania's highest road and is open between July and October. Driving its length past sheer rock faces and cinematic Lake Balea is an unforgettable experience. At the road's end is Poienari Citadel, known as the "real" Dracula's castle (Poienari, Wallachia; 50p).
The flamboyant Culture Palace in Targu Mureş is unlike anything in Translyvania. A Secessionist-style building, inside its glittering, tiled roofs are ornate hallways, rooms and museums (+40 265 267 629; cnr Piaţa Trandafirilor & Str Enescu; 9am-6pm Tue-Sun; £2).
Eat and drink
A popular spot with the Targu Mures locals, Emma Vendéglõ offers decent borschts and four-course dinners. Best of all is the chicken with cucumber sauce and polenta (+40 265 263 021; Str Horea 6, Targu Mureş; lunch and dinner; mains £2-£5).
Crama Sibiul Vechi is in an evocative brick cellar off the main drag in Sibiu. It is popular for its Transylvanian armoury of delicious soups and mutton, and has live music most nights (+40 269 210 461; Str Ilarian, Sibiu; lunch and dinner; mains £3-£6).
Occupying a bright, maze-like basement in Brasov, Sergiana serves a varied Transylvanian and international menu. Meat features heavily, including deer, turkey and pork stuffed with goat's cheese, spinach and blackcurrants (+40 268 419 775; Str Mureşenilor 28, Braşov; lunch and dinner; mains £3-£6).
An atmospheric, barrel-vaulted restaurant, Bella Muzica keeps the focus on Romanian fare, with a few Mexican dishes. A shot of ţuică (a plum alcohol) and chips with salsa will open the palate for the bean soup served in a bowl of bread (+40 268 477 956; Str George Bariţu 2, Braşov; lunch and dinner; £3-£11).
Bad Euro-dance music and so-so food distract from the main reason for visiting Casa Dracula-the atmosphere. This candlelit restaurant in Sighişoara is impossible to bypass. Breaded brains in Dracula's first home anyone? (+40 265 771 596; Str Cositorarilor 5, Sighişoara; lunch and dinner; mains £3.50-£12).
Located in a 400-year-old house in Sighişoara, Bed & Breakfast Kula is a cosy budget option. It is run by an English-speaking family who can help you arrange bike rental and dine with you at the family table in the big kitchen. There are four comfortable rooms, plus a great apartment in a nearby 500-year-old house (+40 265 777 907; Str Tamplarilor 40, Sighişoara; from £13).
Casa Wagner is a 32-room beauty right in the centre of Sighişoara's citadel. Rooms are furnished with traditional Saxon beds, armoires and chests. Room 11 has a balcony with good views. There is a terrace and a wine cellar that opens at around 7pm (+40 265 506 014; Piaţa Cetauţii 7, Sighişoara; from £33).
There is a bit of The Shining in Sinaia's 1911 Hotel Palace, with halls that stretch endlessly. Three-star rooms have good beds and nice views, while four-star rooms give you more space and newer furnishings (+40 244 312 051; Str Octavian Goga 4, Sinaia; from £55).
The terrific Bella Muzica has rooms in a neoclassical townhouse overlooking the main square. Textured orange walls, soft lighting and desks to write poems on lend the stylish rooms a romantic feel (+40 268 477 956; Piaţa Sfatului 19, Braşov; from £55).
The Mihai Eminescu Trust has painstakingly restored the glorious Apafi Manor House in Beirtan, which now offers accommodation in five rooms. The rooms are utterly authentic, from the baked brick floors to the elegant gilt-edged 18th-century furnishings (+40 754 212 372; Malancrav, Biertan; from £90).
How to go
Wizz Air flies direct from Luton airport to Cluj-Napoca (£168). Otherwise British Airways flies to Bucharest's Otopeni airport from London (£108) or Manchester (£146). From there, international trains (£7) and maxi-taxis (£4) run direct to Transylvania.
Find your way
Trains are the best way to travel between major cities. Car hire is best for visiting rural areas. In Brasov, Autonom has the best price (from £24 per day; autonom.com) or Cars4Rent delivers to the airports and all over the region.
The article 'Mini guide to Transylvania' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.