King Charles is enjoying the pomp and splendor of his stunning but tiring coronation two weeks ago and needs a vacation.
And with his immense wealth and royal status, he could relax anywhere in the world.
But next month, Charles will, as he has done every spring since 1998, head to the only place where he can truly be himself – a dusty village in the wilderness of Romania’s dirt-poor “Dracula Country”.
The king – a distant descendant of Romania’s Vlad the Impaler who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula – has called the beautiful Viscri countryside his ‘second home’.
He loves it so much he’s bought at least ten properties in the area – and jokes he has “a stake” in Transylvania.
Traveling to the King’s quiet retreat yesterday and speaking to ordinary folk who simply know him as their neighbor spoke volumes about the real Charles.
Stepping into Viscri’s main street feels like stepping back into the 18th century. Gypsy horses and carts clatter along the gravel path, screeching geese argue, roosters crow and grannies in headscarves knit and gossip, while farm smells hang in the air.
Virtually everyone here has met or seen their royal visitor at some point enjoying the sights of the seedy hamlet which houses the newest 19th-century building.
“Done in one fell swoop”
Portrait painter Katharine Alecsi, 39, understands the king’s passion for Transylvania, as she also fell in love with Viscri at first sight.
She ended her marriage to an Englishman and left her £400,000 one-bedroom flat in London and moved into a ramshackle farmhouse, where she now has four-year-old son Emi with villager Adrian.
She has since had tea with Charles and given him a print of one of her paintings.
Katharine told The Sun: “I was working as a painter in London when I was invited to work with other artists on a charity project for Charles in Viscri – and my life changed overnight.”
“As soon as I arrived I fell in love with the place and decided to make it my permanent home.
“Now we live in the cool part of the village where all the gypsies live.”
Katharine, who sells her sometimes surreal works online, joined Charles for tea with a group of artists at another of his Transylvanian retreats – an old hillside house in the stunning Zalan Valley.
She said: “When I spoke to Charles I realized that like me he was really enchanted by Transylvania and fascinated by its traditions and history.
“He is clearly a very kind and sensitive man with a very deep love of nature, someone who is much more comfortable here than in the modern world.
“I gave him a print of one of my works and he seemed really excited about it and wanted to know everything about it.
“That’s why the coronation seemed so strange, seeing him with all the regalia of royalty because that’s not the Charles we’re seeing here.
“I watched the coronation on TV at Charles’ home in Viscri and thought he looked a little stressed and unemotional, not the warm and relaxed man I’ve come to know. It made me realize why he came here.”
“We’re just seeing a very humble man who obviously wants to get away from it all and run away.” Viscri factory worker Nicu Gherghiceanu, 73, recounted how on another of his visits with Charles he drank homemade “Palinca” brandy and sour cherry liqueur.
His wife Gerda, 69, also invited Charles to try their selection of homemade jams – and he presented them with the royal seal of approval.
The couple, who often see the nature-loving king strolling through his village, recalled being surprised by his warmth when they first met eight years ago.
Nicu told The Sun: “I double-distill my schnapps for eight hours and it’s very strong at around 60 per cent alcohol. Charles seemed to love it.
“I offered him a shot glass when he was visiting a village market and he drank it down in one go and then grimaced as the alcohol took over. It made us laugh.” Retired electrician Gerda said: “I watched the coronation on TV and I was afraid Charles would not have time to visit us now that he is king.
“It was strange to see him in all his robes and crown because whenever we see him he’s dressed very casually.
“I don’t know what he’s like when he’s out and about in the UK but when he’s here he’s always very friendly and happy to drop by and talk to local people.”
Charles has also met shopkeeper Florin Balica, 62, from Viscri, who runs the Liberoti shop and bar on Main Street, where the most expensive wine is a £5.20 bottle of Reisling white.
He said: “I first met him about five years ago and saw him on his walks. He covers about 6 km on the mountain trails outside the village. You wouldn’t think he’s someone important, he’s always very friendly and often stops and talks to people.
“He’s very popular because his love for our way of life has made us known and now we see tourists coming.
“He also supports us in other ways and even paid for a new sewage system. Thanks to the King of England we have Romania’s largest septic tank in the village!”
When Charles learned that Viscri’s sewage system was on the verge of collapse, he tacitly paid £2million for a new ecological sewage treatment plant, built with reed beds and a new water drainage system.
At Bran Castle in Transylvania – the mythical home of Vlad the Impaler – Marin Bianca, 33, and her friends Simona Mouileanu, 34, and 29-year-old Georgeta Voinescue celebrated Charles’ upcoming arrival.
Waving a Union Jack, software developer Marin said, “It’s wonderful to have Charles back – he’s the King of Transylvania!”
Charles is reported to have first visited the region in 1998 when he was Prince of Wales. However, he actually started traveling there in 1993, during one of the most difficult periods of his life.
His marriage to Princess Diana had just broken up – and he found solace in his rural hideaway.
Brief annual visits followed as his interest in wildlife, botany, traditions and local folklore grew until he decided in 2006 to purchase a Viscri property called The Blue House. The estate of powder blue buildings is the largest in the village and dates back to 1771. It’s the polar opposite of the royal palaces back home.
Stripped of all grandeur and opulence, the rooms are plain and carpet-free, and have few comforts.
The Blue House was turned into a museum in 2015 and Charles no longer resides there, opting instead for a similarly traditional retreat in Transylvania 90 miles east in the Zalan Valley.
The rooms are called the HRH Prince Charles Guest House and are rented out to tourists when Charles is not staying there. The property’s website offers bear-watching tours and botany tours.
The Prince’s Room – where the king will stay next month – was on sale yesterday on several dates at the bargain price of £112 a night. During our visit, we were allowed a peek inside, which showed that it suited the simple tastes of the new king.
An ornate antique oak double bed, matching bedside tables, and a writing desk were among the few ornaments beneath a crucifix over the bed—presumably to ward off vampires.
The king is expected to stay at the property on June 7th.
And he will surely continue his love affair with Transylvania for many years to come.
On his last trip he said, “It’s the timelessness that’s so remarkable, almost like some of those stories you read as a kid.” It’s quite remarkable.
“I’ve gotten to know and love Romania so much – but there’s so much more I’m dying to explore.”