Travel 2021: Transylvania’s Bethlen Estates Let’s You Rent a Designer Village…Sort Of

The waiting on news of the European/American travel bans being lifted is depressing at best, though “exceedingly worrying” might more accurately describe the feeling—especially should you earnestly fall into the category of Europhile (we do). We have found, however, that dreaming of/planning early 2021 trips to Europa at least has a reasonably calming effect on our troubled psyche.

On the positive side of things, there has been news of new hotel openings in London, Madrid, Lucerne…which certainly lends a bit of hope for the coming year. But a particular destination we’ve long held a curiosity about is one that has mostly been considered within the context of its rather notorious history. And it’s true that from a cultural point of view, Transylvania really cannot be separated from the 15th Century Voivode of Wallachia known more legendarily as Vlad the Impaler—and also as, of course, the inspiration for Dracula. Naturally, vampire tourism remains a big thing.

But a striking new property in the Romanian countryside decisively banishes all the bloodstained nightmares, and rightly beckons us to the Easternmost reaches of Europa.

Bethlen Estates Transylvania actually has some serious history itself. Count Miklós Bethlen was forced to flee Romania—specifically his charming village of Criș—in 1948 during the rise of Communism, ultimately settling in nearby Austria. But a noble gentlemen in the greatest sense, he continued to fundraise in support of the communities of his ancestral home for years. When he passed away in 2007 his wife and son, Gladys and Nikolaus, began to acquire properties in Criș, which included Saxon style cottages, an abandoned schoolhouse, and a majestic manor house—and thus this fascinatingly unique property was born.

The Caretaker’s House was completed first in 2019; and now springtime 2021 promises the completion of the expansion, adding the two-bedroom Depner House (an exclusive rental), a four-bedroom Corner Barn (where rooms can be booked individually), and at the center of it all the Kitchen Barn, which will act as something of a social center for the up to 20 guests that may be staying throughout the properties at any given time. Most buildings date to the 17th and 18th centuries.

But don’t expect fusty old furnishings. Rather, interior designers Stefanie de Castelbajac and Melanie Etten-Rüppell were called in for the job, and collaborated with local artisans to create what are Architectural Digest worthy interiors, in a stunningly modern sort of rustic chic. Think: warming tiled stoves and original wooden beams, as well as antique kilim rugs, Tom Dixon lighting, and custom-crafted sculptural staircases.

Naturally, there’s a chef named Tatiana on site in the Kitchen Barn, and she makes magic of the well-documented epicurean bounties of Romania. So breakfasts, picnics and dinners are directly sourced from the family’s orchards, farmlands and forests (we admit to a weakness for traditional goulash), all paired with enigmatic Transylvania wines. In fact, they promise “atmospheric, torch-lit wine tasting sessions in the depths of the historic cellars of the Count János Bethlen’s Manor House”—which is honestly one of the best pitches we’ve ever heard.

And for those indeed not of the vampire-hunting disposition, the surrounding area offers horseback riding, vineyard visits, bird watching, and historical tours of such UNESCO Heritage sites as the Medieval citadel of Sighisoara and the fortified Lutheran church at Biertan.

Best of all, for the conscious traveler, part of your room rate goes towards local preservation, and community (read: jobs) investment. Oh, and as it will likely still be necessary by then, you can surely practice all the social distancing you’d like during a stay at Bethlen.

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