Daily Mail: The princely charms of Romania – Why one of Europe’s less-known countries is fit for royalty (and beautiful for everyone else too)
“Four hours north-west of Bucharest, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, there is a converted stables with the Prince of Wales feathers painted on its chimney.
It’s in the tiny hamlet of Zalanpatak, known locally as Valea Zalanului, at the end of a long, muddy street, where traditional traffic calming — huge potholes — protect football-playing children from horse-drawn carts and trolleys laden with milk churns, pushed by farmers in astrakhan hats.
Charles has been there this week, using the occasion to launch the Prince of Wales Romania Foundation,” a Daily Mail feature reads.
‘I love Romania,’ he said. ‘But don’t forget I have a great-grandmother from Transylvania.’
You could see why he is so taken with it, especially at this time of year with the abundant wildflowers, violets, hellebores and cowslips all bursting into bloom, untroubled by modern herbicides and fertilisers.
“In Zalanpatak, the Prince has seven double bedrooms in separate cottages available for rent, with en suite shower rooms provided with bottles of Highgrove body lotion.
The ‘Prince’s room’ has red leather-covered padding on the low oak beam above his bathroom door to save the royal head from an early crowning. The roof in the dining room has been raised by about 6 ft, allowing for a quiet reading area and lovely views of the valley below.
In the week we were there, we were without television, radio, emails, newspapers and mobile telephone signals. But I was pleased to note the Prince’s room was equipped with a sturdy desk by the window, where he can indulge his spidery letter-writing skills.
The Zalanpatak retreat, discreetly positioned behind a stone wall built by local craftsmen, was acquired by the Prince 15 years ago.
It’s run in conjunction with Count Tibor Kalnoky, a Transylvanian aristocrat whose family was forced into exile by Nazi and Communist dictatorships, but who has returned to restore their former property.
Married to Anna, a local girl with whom he has three sons, Tibor is busy renovating his family farm over the hill at Crisuliu, with facilities for arts and crafts and riding lessons for gypsy children and tourists.
He also has a former hunting lodge at Miclosoara, where Charles stays on his visits to the area, where art historians and ecologist guides are available for visitors. Horse riding is available in Korospatak, the main residence of the Kalnoky family, with steeds of all sizes including Shetland ponies for children.
We took a horse and cart from Zalanpatak with Marton Csaba, a mountain guide with formidable knowledge of Romanian ecological issues, but also of the Alps, the Rockies and the Himalayas.
A barbecue of home-grown pork, cheese, apples, salami, bread and brandy was provided in a rustic corrugated iron shelter situated next to a spring of clear fizzy water. Sizzling pork fat, ideal for giving energy to mountain-hopping shepherds and their dogs, proved surprisingly tasty.
The great feature of the Carpathian landscape is that there are no fences and very few roads. For equestrians or for horses and carts, there are no restrictions on where you can go. Campers pitch tents or light fires wherever they like, as long as they are not scared of wolves, foxes, brown bears or lynxes.
Younger members of our party spotted bear prints bigger than a human foot and enthusiastically recorded them on their digital cameras for discussion over dinner.
We saw nothing more ferocious than a fox watching us from a safe distance.
‘We aim to recreate and preserve the simplicity of the traditional way of life which is threatened by modern incursions,’ says Count Kalnoky, whose name is carved in the oak beams of the dining room. ‘We try to keep a completely private atmosphere, not like a hotel.’
There are breakfasts of eggs, fruit, cheese, cereals, all locally grown and prepared by the catering team, as well as dinners of soups, chicken and lamb.
Prize-winning writer William Blacker, author of Along The Enchanted Way, and a friend of Prince Charles and Count Kalnoky, has written movingly about the delicate balance of life between the Romanians, Hungarians, Saxons and gypsies in Transylvania.
He believes too much contact with Western Europe with its speeding traffic and modern fashions could threaten the traditional rural skills.
So if you go there to enjoy the unspoilt medieval way of life, don’t take too much 21st-century baggage with you.”