The Bran area of Romania enjoys stunning landscapes, a rich history and is visited by thousands of tourists every year. Through the heart of the region, a spectacular mountain pass links the old Saxon town of Brasov (Kronstadt) in Transylvania to the province of Wallachia.
Furthermore, the famous Bran Castle can be found here. In legend home to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this impressive medieval fortress is a former residence of Romania’s ‘English’ queen, Queen Marie (granddaughter of Queen Victoria), and centuries ago visited by the medieval prince, Vlad the Impaler (on whom it is thought Dracula was based). Historically, the building was a customs point controlling the major trade route between northern and southeastern Europe, the scenic ‘Bran Pass’.
The Bran Pass is flanked on the west by the rugged crest of Piatra Craiului and on the east by the great peaks of Bucegi, both more than 2000 m (6000 ft) in height. These form part of the Transylvanian Alps, one of the imposing alpine mountain ranges in Europe, which in addition to magnificent peaks, features a great network of streams, rivers and deep gorges. The local climate is continental-temperate; similar to the mountain passes of the Pyrenees or Italian Alps and the natural shelter of the pass favors accumulation of the area’s substantial winter snowfall, perfect for winter sports.
The arterial road ‘E574’ goes through the pass and leads to Brasov (35km, 350,000 inhabitants) in the north and in a southerly direction passes through the Carpathian highlands to Campulung (a small, picturesque town), Pitesti (200,000 inhabitants) and finally reaching Bucharest after 200 km. The Bran area is further served by a regional road (the future motorway sector) to the Prahova Valley 25 km away, also a major Romanian centre for mountain tourism.
The traffic still follows the old medieval trade route through the pass, on a single lane road that is close to its maximum capacity, being designed in late 1960s for a much lighter traffic load. The successive Romanian governments since 1990 have not paid the necessary attention to the development of the road infrastructure, with inevitable consequences for today traffic levels. The planned Brasov-Bucharest motorway that will be a reality in a decade from now is designed to bypass the area’s northern fringes, following the Rasnov – Predeal road and is envisaged to substantially improve the situation and halve the travel time to Bucharest from the current 3.5 hours. Also an airport that will receive flights from western national and ‘no frills’ airlines is planned for Brasov, the county capital, the second largest industrial centre of Romania, a fact that would appeal for those planning to buy a property in the area.
Picturesque, ancestral peasant villages punctuate the outlying areas and locals maintain a traditional, highland way of life characterised by wooden houses, meadow haystacks and large sheepfolds. The villages bear a striking resemblance to the mountain communities in the Alps or the Pyrenees, in many, peasants still wear traditional dress.
Against this backdrop, the road that traverses the pass is bordered by a motley multitude, in terms of architectural design and service quality, of hotels, B&Bs and holiday homes managed by a thriving local business community (including expatriates) and catering for the increasing influx of tourists.
The 2007 EU accession for Romania has acted as a catalyst for massive growth in Bran’s tourist sector. The region is now one of the most popular domestic and international destinations in all Romania. Skiing is a key emerging industry with local landscape and winter conditions supporting the ongoing development of new, international grade slopes. However, the recent onset of the world financial crisis is set to have a dramatic adverse impact over the Bran tourist industry and construction sector, slowing down its apparent overheated rate of growth.
The Bran area caters for a multitude of tourist categories. The massive developments in the Cheile Graidstei resort in Moieciul de Jos attract mass tourism, the package holiday type, while Pestera village has attracted a more refined tourist type, mainly people having the necessary means to build a well-designed holiday house or restore a local peasant dwelling.
The mountains, valleys and gorges of the pass suit outdoor pursuits such as hiking on marked paths and rock climbing. Wildlife is also an important aspect of the region and includes brown bears, deer, red squirrels and lynx together with many species of bird.
Traditional and period properties
The crests of nearby mountains dominate the surrounding landscape, skirted by densely forested hills. The area is dotted with traditional villages that have a peculiar traditional wood architecture and ethnographic ornaments typical for the villages of southern Transylvania. The period properties were erected by the local wealthy traders and well off intellectuals are located mainly in the Bran village that sits next to the eponymous castle. Their architecture is the Transylvanian variety of the end of 19th century Central European style with some example of neo-Romanian style houses built in the interwar period. Moieciu is another village, next to Bran, with some interesting period property examples.
Sheep rearing used to be the main occupation until very recently among the locals. Even today, Bran area is renowned for its cheeses and sheep products from meat to wool and sheepskins. All of these are completely natural products, obtained with traditional methods that have not changed for millennia.
Evolution of land and property prices
Romania’s land and property prices have gone through a considerable bubble that only recently has stated to unravel. In general, the prices for period properties, even those in an advanced state of disrepair, were at levels above those seen in the developed markets of western Europe such as France’s. Traditional peasant farmhouses as is the case with the largest segment of property stock in the Bran area were more realistically priced, although even in this case the prices more than tripled between 2006 – third trimester of 2008. Driving this growth was, apart from sellers’ unrealistic expectations, the burgeoning Romanian tourism, EU accession and an increasingly affluent base of domestic buyers with access to better financial products. Additionally, promised infrastructural improvements such as the new airport and the planned motorway linking Brasov, to Hungary, Western Europe and Bucharest, were also judged that would add value. The financial crisis has boulversed those arguments and the economic fundamentals in Romania are set to change, with consequences also for the Bran area. I recommend, as a price yardstick, to compare the Romanian prices with those of similar properties and land from Hungary (an internet investigation would give you a good grasp). The Romanian prices should stand at about 60-80% from the Hungarian ones. At the moment (January 2009) they stand at 150-200% higher than in the neighbouring country, a fact which is obviously not vindicated by Romania’s economic and financial fundamentals and lack of proper infrastructure.
© Valentin Mandache
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