The latest one-off accommodation to appear in Airbnb’s ever-expanding roster of matchless and frequently terrifying “A Night At ...” properties boasts a total of 57 rooms, sweeping views and a strong association with a predatory Eastern European nobleman who enjoys nothing more than good blackout curtains and plump, exposed veins.
The distinctive and historic property in question, built in the late 14th century, is located in rural Romania and includes, just like any run-of-the-mill Airbnb rental would, a staunch set of house rules: no cross formations, no silver jewelry, no mirror selfies and absolutely no garlic — or “garlic-scented items” — allowed. Also: guests must love — or at the very least tolerate — bats.
For the first time since 1948, the brooding Transylvanian fortress known as Bran Castle — or as the swarms of visiting tourists call it, Dracula’s Castle — is accepting overnight guests. Naturally, this rare sleepover is a one-night-only affair open to a contest-winning Airbnb user (more on that in a bit) who must be available to drop everything and travel to Romania on Halloween. Yes, Halloween. Airfare to Bucharest and horse-drawn carriage ride through the Carpathian Mountains is included.
Sorry Airbnb'ers, no comfy queen-size beds here. The portrait is of none other than Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century Wallachian prince who partly inspired Bram Stoker's classic 'Dracula.' (Photo: Airbnb)
But first things first. Bran Castle, a former summer residence of the Romanian royal family, isn’t really Dracula’s castle.
In reality, it's one of several castles, both standing and in ruins, spread throughout the historic region of Transylvania with links to the bloodthirsty (not literally) medieval prince, Vlad III or Vlad Dracula — "Son of the Dragon." Notorious for the sadistic manner in which he offed his Ottoman enemies, the impalement-happy prince never owned or resided at Bran Castle, although he is rumored to have passed through the region and perhaps even stayed for a spell, confined within the castle's dungeon as a prisoner.
Rather than serving as the actual Chez Vlad the Impaler, Bran Castle is best known for its tenuous connection with Irish author Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel “Dracula,” which was loosely inspired by the real-life exploits of Vlad III heavily infused with Transylvanian folklore involving evil — and sunlight-adverse — wraiths that delight in tormenting villagers during the middle of the night.
Popular legend — and modern-day marketing — claim the residence of the titular character in Stoker’s epistolary Victorian novel is Bran Castle, although those assertions have been largely debunked. Many historians argue that Stoker never set foot in Romania before or while writing “Dracula," nor was he even aware of the landmark castle's very existence — let alone inspired by it. It would seem that any semblance Bran Castle has to Stoker's "vast ruined castle" that stands on the "very edge of a terrific precipice" is purely coincidental.
Whatever the case, Bran Castle's shaky link to "Dracula" stuck. Today, the imposing castle and the surrounding region serve as the epicenter of Southeastern Europe's bustling vampire-themed tourism trade. Slap the name “Dracula” on it and a queue of tour buses will magically appear. That said, Romanians have somewhat of a tortured relationship with Dracula particularly given that, aside from a shared name, the fictional count has little to do with Vlad III, who is often considered a national hero despite his rather grisly reputation. A tourism industry so dependent on myth and misinformation obviously feels disingenuous to many native Transylvanians. But at the end of the day, Dracula is the economic lifeblood of a scenic region that relies so heavily on tourist dollars.
Perched 200 feet above a river valley atop a craggy rock, the castle itself has functioned as a highly trafficked private museum since 2009 under the ownership of Dominic von Habsburg, a retired 79-year-old New York City architect and engineer who also, when he’s feeling fancy, responds to the title Archduke Dominic of Austria-Tuscany. (He’s the grandson of King Ferdinand I and Queen Marie of Romania and son of Princess Ileana, who was ousted from the castle and forced to live in exile with her children following the rise of Romania’s Communist regime in 1948.) Before possession of the castle was returned to its rightful and legal heirs in 2009, it functioned as a state-run museum and had fallen into a state of serious disrepair.
Today, the castle attracts an estimated 630,000 annual visitors from across the globe and is a popular spot for weddings, galas and concerts.
Despite its status as a family-owned national monument, not a single soul has spent the night within the walls of Bran Castle since Princess Ileana and her family were forcefully evicted in 1948.
This, of course, will all change on October 31 as one Airbnb user and the brave travel partner of their choosing will get to hunker down for the evening in a pair of swank, velvet-lined coffins. To enter the contest, Airbnb is simply asking for users to creatively respond, in 500 characters or less, to the question: What would you say to Count Dracula if you were to meet?
Heavily renovated during the 1920s and again after the descendants of the Romanian royal family reentered the picture, Bran Castle isn’t quite the creaky, cobweb-festooned creep-fest that popular culture would have us believe. It’s even decidedly less unsettling than last Halloween’s Airbnb "A Night At ..." property, the Paris Catacombs, which at least had claustrophobia and skeletal remains going for it.
Still, Bran Castle is incredibly atmospheric. And judging by the candelabra-heavy promotional photos released by Airbnb, it's the kind of place where one's imagination could really run wild.
As for the sleepover’s host, the contest winner shouldn't expect Renfield or an older gentleman wearing a Kabuki-style fright wig to bid them welcome when they arrive at the castle gates. Dacre Stoker, a Montreal-born conservationist, athlete and self-described vampire expert who just happens to be Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew, will serve as personal tour guide and “resident expert on Transylvanian lore" during the winner's stay.
Dinner — “a hearty, blood-enriching” meal served just as it was described in Stoker’s novel to hapless houseguest Jonathan Harker — and breakfast are also included with this once-in-a-lifetime stay. No word if Airbnb has the dry cleaning bills covered in the event that the provided meals don’t sit well.