A horse and carriage slowly clip-clops across the medieval town square in the centre of Sighisoara, in the Transylvania region of Romania, and on through narrow cobblestone streets. As the sun sets over this enchanting 12th Century fortified citadel, the fairytale-like scene is enhanced by a cold half-litre jug of white wine, mine for just £3.
That Sighisoara is known predominately as the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, the real-life inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, serves only as a useful but kitsch marketing tool that has paved the way for a multitude of Dracula-themed tourist tat but Sighisoara has a lot more than that going for it, and you can do it all in a couple of days.
The Sighisoara citadel is dominated by a 200ft tall 14th Century clock tower and you can clamber to the top of it for panoramic views of the surrounding green hills. At the bottom of the tower under a row of stone archways is an old torture chamber museum, which ironically offers some welcome respite from the sun.
Sighisoara is a treasure trove of history and there’s no shortage of places to eat and drink. A great place for a mid-morning tea and cake is Casa Cositorarului, tucked down a narrow street with vine-covered terraces. What is great about Sighisoara, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is that everything worth doing is a short stroll from the town square (where the beer, like the wine, is very cheap).
If your knees and lungs are in good shape then a walk up the 175 steps of the ‘Scholars’ Stairs’ to the evangelical Church on the Hill is a must. The church was dedicated to St Nicolas and was constructed over several centuries starting in 1345; it is a great example of the religious architecture of the early Saxon settlers — ethnic Germans brought to Transylvania from the 12th-14th centuries by the Hungarian Kingdom to protect the region and develop it economically. On Sundays, you can often catch live choir performances at the church.
The church’s adjoining Saxon cemetery is, however morbid, perhaps the best part of the arduous ascent. Ivy-covered tombstones inscribed with German names remind you of Transylvania’s history, and like all cities of the dead tells a story of its own.
You may want to recharge after the descent. A good place to stop off for coffee or a stiff drink is medieval-themed Hotel Sighisoara, just off the main square. Its terrace is spacious and the drinks and food are fairly good. A double room here will cost you around £50 per night. Inside is a charming independent gift shop selling everything from handmade toys to Țuică, a traditional Romanian plum brandy.
For the best evening meal go to Casa Georgius Krauss, positioned opposite Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church and one of Sighisoara’s iconic colourful streets. A three-course meal here will cost you around £15. Sighisoara is one of few inhabited fortified cities in Europe, and it truly feels that you are walking around in a different, gentler-paced era in a part of Europe that is relatively unknown. It is also a great example of how historical monuments can be used for modern purpose: some of the citadel’s nine defence towers are now modern art galleries. Sighisoara is the perfect place for a relaxing, budget-friendly getaway. And there are no vampires in sight.