There is only one count in this remote Transylvanian village of 512 souls nestling in the wilds of the Carpathian Mountains — and it isn’t Count Dracula.
Meet Count Tibor Kalnoky, a dashing 40-year-old entrepreneur and son of Transylvania descended from a noble family which settled in these misty lands in the 13th century and lived there until communism forced the family to flee.
Kalnoky, a former veterinarian who grew up in France and Germany, moved back to the ancestral home after communism ended in 1989. In the last few years he has created one of Romania’s most successful tourist ventures out of his ancestral hunting manor — and has counted Britain’s Prince Charles among his guests.
Kalnoky’s manor, which opened in 2001, lies deep in southern Transylvania, an area where myth and reality are loosely entwined. But you’ll hardly hear a word here about Dracula, the Romanian warlord Vlad the Impaler or Bram Stoker’s novels.
Instead Kalnoky lures guests with the old world of Transylvanian customs.
Many visitors come from Britain and the United States to feast on tasty fare of pork or chicken stew, mashed potato tinged pink by paprika pepper, home-baked cakes served by women dressed in traditional old Hungarian costume.
Dinner is washed down with red Romanian wine and guests are warmed by a roaring log fire in the wine cellar before snuggling into decades-old goose eiderdowns in rooms decorated faithfully in the style of the Szeklers — the ethnic Hungarian minority to which Kalnoky belongs.
Take a hike in the hills and you may come across bears and wolves. Bird lovers can look out for eagles, black storks and woodpeckers. You can also travel in a horse and cart for a mountain picnic, cycle to nearby Transylvanian towns or and visit the Kalnoky family hunting lodge. Just north of Miclosoara, there is the cave where the legendary Pied Piper lured the children of Hamelin.
When visitors return to the manor at sundown for dinner they are serenaded by Szekler music in the soft green drawing room, with antique furniture and dark wooden floors. It’s low-key and relaxing.
Kalnoky’s property was seized when the communists came to power, and it took him eight years to get the lands restituted after the Soviet collapse.
Szekler peasants plow the fields with sturdy horses. Cows and horses amble down the streets. Peasants draw water from wells and store corn in their barns.
Kalnoky is modest about his success and the rave reviews he’s received over the past few years for his manor and smaller guest houses, which can host a maximum of 20 people.
“It’s all very unpretentious,” says Kalnoky, sipping caraway brandy that is on tap at every moment for the guests.
“My view of Romania was skewed until got here,” said Alison Sarson, a British police officer from Britain. “More people should come and see how pleasant it is. The horses and carts are lovely,” she said at the end of a three-day visit.
Prince Charles was the most famous guest among the thousands of diplomats, business people and regular tourists who visit the count’s estate.
On the bookshelf in the rooms where the prince spent a night earlier this year are tomes on Transylvanian mushrooms, bird-watching and lighter reads by Catherine Cookson. A painted cupboard in the wall in every room, called a teka, keeps mineral water and beer cool for guests.
Charles himself is restoring houses in the Saxon part of Transylvania just down the road in the Saxon town of Viscri, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The famous no-show at the manor is Omar Hayssam, a Syrian businessman who was charged with setting up the kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Iraq in 2005 and was recently accused of plotting to kidnap the youngest daughter of President Traian Basescu.
He is believed to have fled Romania this year from a Black Sea port on a ship full of sheep.
Romanian Intelligence Service came looking for the vanished businessmen and questioned the startled staff. Kalnoky said workers had to sign an affidavit saying they had not seen the Syrian on the lam.