Category Archives: Romania

From Ballroom to Basement

Transylvanian aristocrats at a wedding in 1928

Transylvanian aristocrats at a wedding in 1928

Exactly 70 years ago, on the night of March 2 to 3, 1949 all Transylvanian aristocrats – the majority of them Hungarian – had been deported by the Romanian regular and secret police – the Securitate, established by the Communist regime just a few weeks earlier. Between the hours of two and three in the morning all the aristocrats in the country were roused from their beds by armed men and loaded onto trucks. 7,804 people were deported from their homes that night while all their properties were nationalized. Jaap Scholten, – a Dutch writer with a Hungarian wife, living in Budapest – collected the untold stories of these people by interviewing the last living survivors and their descendants and published them in his book titled Comrade Baron.

Jaap has given an interview to Transylvania Now in two parts, shown here. Read the originals: Part 1 and Part 2.

How did you first hear about the nocturnal mass deportations of the Transylvanian nobles?

In 2006 I was writing an article about illegal logging in Transylvania for a Dutch newspaper and I was talking with a 63-year-old man on this subject in a shabby restaurant in Sepsiszentgyörgy/Sfântu Gheorghe. The man then told me he was an aristocrat and shared his story with me. He was only six years old when during the night of March 3, 1949 he and his entire family had been taken away in the middle of the night from their house. Police roused him from his bed and when he had to go to the loo one of them went with him with a gun at his back. The whole family was deported that night and took refuge in basements afterwards.

What made you decide to write a whole book about the topic?

As a Dutch I had a general interest in what happened to the nobility after the WWII in Hungary and in Transylvania, and I always thought somebody should write about it, but nobody did. So when I heard about the 1949 nighttime deportations, I just knew that I have to do it. Another reason was that my wife’s grandmother – who was a baroness and had her own stories – died around that time. Even though she was an aristocrat in Hungary and not in Transylvania, she had a very similar fate and – after the Hungarian Communist regime nationalized all of her family’s properties – she had to work for the rest of her life as a cleaning lady in hospitals. But she still remained full of energy with a good sense of humor for which I admired her very much. When she died, I realized that with all these people dying a whole archive of stories was about to disappear. This was the point when I decided to start interviewing people.

How did you start the work?

First I enrolled at the Central European University’s Department of Social Anthropology to learn how to research the topic in a more professional way. I thought an institute could help me show how properly conduct interviews and how to give the book a better structure. And I was right about it, I had very good professors. One of them, for example, a Turkish professor had studied the secret life of the Armenians who lived in Istanbul. And the situation of the Hungarian aristocrats in Transylvania during Communism was very similar. These people had essentially been erased from society, and they had to live underground. They were literally living in basements, and had to abandon their peerages, but secretly they still stuck to their traditions, even during the hardest of times. These people were doubly persecuted: first for being aristocrats and second for being Hungarians.

How many interviews did you conduct?

I interviewed about fifty people. Besides the members of three generations of the noble families, I also talked with researchers, professors and experts trying to get as comprehensive a view on the topic as possible. I found many of young people who – after the Romanian state returned their properties nationalized between 1945 and 1989 – went back to Transylvania, and had the energy and courage to rebuild at least some of their heritage. Then there was the second generation that grew up during Communism, whom I named “the lost generation” because they were already too old and exhausted to rebuild anything. And there was the third – and oldest – generation, which lived through all these things and which still remembered the time before Communism. These people were the hardest to find and I had to hurry because they were passing away even as I did my research.

Why did you choose Erzsébet, a 92 year old countess to be the main character of the book?

I once got in contact with three ladies. Two of them were already over 100 years old at the time, and Erzsébet was the „young” one. She was “only” 92 when we first met in her panel building apartment in Hungary. She was quite reluctant at first, but by the end of our first meeting we found out that my wife’s family is related to her family, and from that point on I was her cousin, her “Lieber Neffer” and she opened up eventually. I visited her 20 or 25 times to interview her and we always spoke German, but I also gave her my previous books in Dutch. And despite being 92 years old, she learned Dutch so she could read them… Her favorite was my first novel, Tachtig (Eighty). She especially liked my love for a bird which I found wounded in the forest, something that probably reminded her of her father (who loved animals) and of her happy days. She was full of amazing stories – like the one about the pet bear, Nicolai – and she also had a fascinating way of recounting them. This is the reason why I chose her to be the main character and I consider myself lucky that she was so generous as to share her life story with me.

Was Erzsébet her real name?

No. The oldest generation was the most afraid to speak with me, because they were still afraid of the secret service, afraid that the properties they got back under the restitution process could be expropriated again, should they talk to me about the past. That’s why some of them – including Erzsébet – have pseudonyms. But Erzsébet went even further: she also insisted that the book cannot be published in Hungarian as long as she is alive, so the Hungarian translation only came out after she died in 2013. Following her death I met her son, who told me that his mother normally didn’t trust anybody. There were only two or three people in her entire life she really trusted, and I was one of them.

Hungarian nobles being deported March 1949

She even asked you to help her in the restoration of their centuries-old castle, recently returned by the Romanian state. Has it happened yet?

Unfortunately not, and it is a really sad story. Every time I go back there, it is deteriorating further and I just don’t understand why the Romanian government cannot cooperate with Hungary to restore these mansions and castles. The Transylvanian cultural heritage is so vast and it deserves to be restored – I think abandoning it is a crime. A good number of Romanian architects and art historians who would like take part in this and it would also benefit tourism in the region. This would be good for both Hungarians and Romanians.

How was the book received?

I chose a subject which really captured my imagination but I was sure that I would be the only one. I thought nobody would be interested in such a book, but I was wrong. After it was published in 2010 it became a bestseller in the Netherlands and has since been translated into English, French, Hungarian and Romanian.

If readers like Comrade Baron so much, can we perhaps expect a sequel?

I’m thinking about it, yes. I have many more stories from Erzsébet than the ones included in the book The reason is that at a certain point I had to publish it, but I still kept visiting her even afterwards and she kept telling her stories. So one day I would like to publish these as well. In this future book I also would like to trace the life of the youngest generation. I would like to show their struggle to restore and maintain ruins of castles and manor houses out of loyalty to their ancestors: to repair a broken chain.

For more information about the book  and Jaap’s suggested Transylvanian tour go to: www.comradebaron.com

Buy Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy

The forgotten war which made Transylvania Romanian

An interesting travel piece about Romania, which is actually more about history than travel. Worth a read if you want a quick overview of the formation of modern Romania. Perhaps 2019 will be the year you make your first visit. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions and I’ll do my best.

First published in The Telegraph

By Chris Leadbeater

Sometimes, the world can seem set in stone. You can gaze at the map and believe that it has always been that way – that the border which divides one country from another has always followed this mountain ridge or that river; that one celebrated place has always been aligned with the state of which it is declared a part; that a certain region, heavily associated with one nation, has always been a stitch in that particular tapestry.

You might certainly think this of Transylvania. There can be few segments of the European landmass which seem more closely linked to their domestic mothership. You might even argue that Transylvania is Romania, that Romania is Transylvania – a totemic emblem which defines the country in international eyes. True, the area’s image – all cape-swishing Draculas and sharp-turretted castles on lonely crags – may be a little on the Halloween side of things, but it is inseparable from the general perception of Romania; a tattoo on Bucharest’s arm which cannot be erased.

And yet, leaving aside questions of population and ethnicity, Transylvania has only been officially tied to Romania for a century. Indeed, an exact 100 years ago, in the mists of January 1919, it was, effectively, still in the process of becoming Romanian – soldiers inching west across its forested, furrowed contours, eating into terrain that was nominally Hungarian. The era of outsiders considering this enclave of vampiric legend and Gothic reputation to be a symbol of all things Romanian was still decades into the future (although Bram Stoker’s famous novel had been in print for 22 years, the broader silver-screen treatment that would turn Dracula into the stuff of global nightmares was not yet even a spark in the Hollywood directorial consciousness). Instead, the wider world did not look to Transylvania with much fascination at all. It was, rather, a region with no proper national identity; a bone for which several dogs had been prepared to fight – only without the strength to claim their prize conclusively.

Of course, it was not alone in this. The European pages of the atlas changed hugely in the second decade of the 20th century, as the firestorm of the First World War burned away a sizeable swathe of the old world and replaced it with something freshly etched. New and reconfigured states – Poland and Czechoslovakia among them – would emerge as the bullets and brutality of 1914-1918 killed off the two empires which had held much of the continent in their grip. The Austro-Hungarian realm which had extended its reach far beyond Vienna and Budapest was consigned to the past; so was the Ottoman sphere of influence, which had stretched its hands up from Constantinople (Istanbul), into the Balkans and beyond, for almost six centuries. Transylvania, which had long been caught between the two, found itself on the verge of a different dawn.

Romania itself was hardly a concrete piece of the European jigsaw as 1919 appeared. Although various parts of what now constitutes the modern country – Wallachia and Moldavia, as well as Transylvania – had existed as principalities since medieval times, a Romanian state (of sorts) had only really solidified in the late 19th century. Moldavia and Wallachia had both been under the Ottoman boot, but as the Turkish super-state entered its twilight years, so the pair had torn themselves free – initially, in 1859, as the United Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, a halfway house still under Ottoman suzerainty; later, in 1881, as the independent Kingdom of Romania. It was still holding this precarious position when 1914 arrived, and the globe was spilled into the inferno.

Brasov spreads out around Piata Sfatului CREDIT: HOLGER METTE/HOLGS

Brasov spreads out around Piata Sfatului CREDIT: HOLGER METTE/HOLGS

Romania survived the First World War through a mixture of denial and deception – staying neutral for the first two years, then clandestinely allying itself with the Entente Powers (Britain, France, Russia et al) in the summer of 1916 via a secret treaty. This promised to give to Romania various slices of Hungarian territory with majority Romanian populations – in exchange for a successful assault on the latter’s less guarded east flank. It was a courageous move. And also, it seemed at first, a foolish one. Romania attacked to the north-west after declaring war on August 27 1916, but this brought a swift and vicious response from the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire et al) – to the extent that, by December of 1916, Bucharest was in enemy hands. Left marooned amongst its foes by Russia’s withdrawal from the conflict in 1917, Romania sat on its haunches to lick its wounds – and effectively conceded its independence, as well as parts of its domain to both Bulgaria and Austria, via the harsh terms of the Treaty of Bucharest, on May 7 1918.

And yet, there was still fight left in the dog. As the First World War turned finally and decisively in favour of the Entente Powers in the summer of 1918, Romania glimpsed its opportunity. And just as the rest of Europe was looking to stamp down the flames in the autumnal hours of 1918, a country which had appeared to be cowed in 1916 threw its last stockpile of fuel onto the bonfire. On November 10, one day before the Armistice on the Western Front, Romania re-declared war on the Central Powers – and, two days later, began a reinvigorated north-westerly military push into Hungarian land.

Its target was a Transylvania that, ethnically, it regarded as its own – but which had been long been a possession of either Hungary or the Ottoman Empire. It had been a formal element of the Austro-Hungarian empire since 1867 – but as the autumn of 1918 turned into another grim winter, much of it tumbled into Romania’s grasp. On December 1, the newly convened National Assembly of Romanians of Transylvania and Hungary loudly declared “the unification of those Romanians and of all the territories inhabited by them with Romania”. On December 7, Brasov (now the second biggest city in Transylvania) fell. On Christmas Eve, Cluj, the regional capital, went the same way. And as 1919 tripped over the horizon, and a distracted, weary continent felt its way towards the First World War’s flawed conclusion, the Treaty of Versailles (June 28 1919), Romania drove home its advantage. Satu Mare, pretty much on the modern-day border with Hungary, was captured on April 19. By August 4, when the gun-fire ceased, Romanian troops were patrolling the streets of the Hungarian capital.

Budapest would, inevitably, be returned to Hungary, but much of what was taken in this seismic nine-month postscript to the First World War – Transylvania included – was formally ceded to Romania in the Treaty of Trianon on June 4 1920. It is an agreement which still outlines much of the border between the two countries 99 years on.

Can you see the scars of this conflagration if you travel in the region? Not really. Romania has been through much worse in the intervening century, from a fascist government as evil as that which arose in Germany during the Second World War, to a Communist regime which was arguably the most oppressive of any behind the Iron Curtain. It is the breezeblock buildings of the latter epoch which give the Bucharest skyline its brute force (not least the gargantuan Palace of the Parliament, built by the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, which ranks as the heaviest building on earth) – but a tour of Transylvania will take you to places where you can see little evidence of trauma. It is rustic and agricultural, fields fanning out at the side of its highways – and even its cities have a certain quiet charm. Brasov is engagingly pretty, caught in the direct shadow of the Carpathian Mountains, spreading out around the flagstones of Piata Sfatului, cafes and restaurants fringing the edges of the square. Sibiu is, perhaps, even more attractive – a regional outpost which took its time in the spotlight as European Capital of Culture in 2007 and restored its medieval centre to something which looks more akin to Italy than the Communist East, gelaterias pinned to the perimeter of Piata Mare. Timisoara – in westerly Banat rather than Transylvania, but taken in the Romanian advance of 1918-19 – will surely benefit from taking on the same artistic role in 2021.

Sibiu was European Capital of Culture in 2007 CREDIT: JEAN-FRANCOIS

Sibiu was European Capital of Culture in 2007 CREDIT: JEAN-FRANCOIS

Yet hints that Transylvania has always been a European crossroads, home to people of different languages and creeds, are there if you search for them. The colossal Black Church, a Gothic bastion in Brasov, bears the names “Schwarze Kirche” (German) and “Fekete Templom” (Hungarian) as well as the more lyrical Romanian of “Biserica Neagră” – a gentle reminder that it was constructed in the 14th century by the city’s German speakers. The Lutheran Cathedral in Sibiu tells a near-identical back-story. Brasov’s onetime German name, Kronstadt (Crown City), is visible in its coat of arms.

You even find this connection to yesteryear in Bran, on the border of Transylvania and Wallachia, where the castle loosely connected to the Dracula yarn (and the most popular tourist attraction in Romania as a consequence) was also contructed in the 14th century, by Transylvanian Saxons (the region’s medieval inhabitants of German ethnicity). You cannot quite avoid the uber-vampire here – he haunts the tomato-puree-infused menus of eateries in the town, and the souvenir stalls below the fortress. But you can, if you pay attention to its history and culture, avoid the idea of Transylvania as a bloody Romanian cliche. It is far more fascinating and varied of heritage than that.

Flavours of Romania

It’s Christmastime, and yesterday evening I was out at the lovely Tichborne Arms in the (in)famous village of Tichborne in Hampshire for a drink by the fire, when I bumped into old friend Charlie Ottley. Some of you may remember that Charlie is a filmmaker, and is the leading light behind the wonderful series of films supported by The European Nature Trust, called Wild Carpathia. Charlie is planning a further film about Romania called White Carpathia. He is trying to raise funds for the movie, and has produced a film called Flavours of Romania, to help raise funds, which is a travelogue across nine great regions of this wonderful country that Paddy loved so much.

It must have been the beer, but I was persuaded to buy a copy, and have spent some of this dreadfully wet and cold English day watching the film. It is a joy, full of beautiful images of a land that I adore. It features the wild Carpathian forests, the idyllic Danube Delta, bears and wolves, traditional dance and music, and some great food.

If you would like a stocking filler for Christmas, and wish to support Charlie in his fundraising for the final “Carpathia” film, you might like to purchase a copy.

You can watch the trailer here.

If you would like to make a purchase please send Charlie a message and he will make all arrangements – message on the Facebook page here.

There are more videos from the making of the film here.

To get a further insight into Charlie’s films, and watch the very first Wild Carpathia, click below!

Floral tourism: on the trail of Transylvania’s elusive crocus

Robin Lane Fox on Nemesis on an evening ride in the Carpathians, Romania © Harriet Rix

Robin Lane Fox on Nemesis on an evening ride in the Carpathians, Romania © Harriet Rix

In idyllic east European sunshine, I have been focusing on a crocus. It is not a purple or yellow-flowered hybrid, one of those Dutch fatties that city dwellers admire in spring. It is a lilac-flowered wild beauty, at home in Transylvania. Even in Romania, few realise the rare charm of its autumn flowers. It avoids main roads and towns, so I have had to ride to find it.

By Robin Lane Fox
First published in The Financial Times 17 October 2017

I recommend this sort of floral tourism. Mine was aimed at crocus banaticus, the iris-flowered crocus which has three big outer petals. I first discovered its distinctive beauty in the Bulletin of the Alpine Garden Society, that seminal influence on the prose-style of the great travel writer Norman Lewis, as he once told me in his sitting room in Essex. About 40 years later, the same crocus was discovered in the same bulletin by Harriet Rix in Devon, my indomitable companion on our ride last year into the high floral meadows of Kyrgyzstan. While we put brave faces on the mountain storms, we discovered a shared love of this crocus and pledged in mares’ milk to find it in its Romanian home. She, not I, realised that it overlaps there with Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Between The Woods and The Water, the immortal tale of his walk from London to Istanbul. In summer 1934, the 19-year-old Leigh Fermor trod above our crocus, dormant in the Transylvanian grass, while he eloped with high-spirited Angéla, one of those “times when hours are more precious than diamonds”. Between the woods and the meadows we might find gems which flowered in their wake.

The crocus is named “banaticus” from early finds in the Banat, territory that became a bitter triangular contest between Hungary, Yugoslavia and Romania, until the Treaty of Versailles divided it between the latter two in 1919. The most recent reports of the flower are further east, so we began our hunt in the Transylvanian villages founded by German-speaking Saxons. In the 12th century, the offer of land and a tax-free life lured thousands of Saxons to migrate from the area of modern Luxembourg and settle in Transylvania. They strengthened the land’s defences and vitalised its crafts and crops, terracing the hillsides and growing apples and productive vines. Between 1980 and 1990, many migrated in reverse. They were sold by Ceausescu, no friend of village life, to the Kohl government in Germany who saw them as loyal voters. Before Ceausescu’s fall, up to 250,000 Saxons returned to take up German citizenship, leaving only a rump to maintain churches, crafts and houses.

The base-camps for our adventures were Saxon houses restored since 1995 by the celebrated Mihai Eminescu trust. Its rentable properties range from double-fronted village houses to two fine manors at Richis and Malancrav with tempting libraries and rooms for up to nine guests.

We began in the Saxon heartland of Viscri whose fortified church gives a special sense of orderly Saxon life. Social ranks and the sexes were segregated in the congregation. Unmarried young men were sent up to the gallery from where they could look down on the plaited hair and hollow black headdresses of the unmarried Saxon girls. Only outside the church was contact possible, on a grassy circle that served as a dance floor. Inside, painted panels show sunflowers and lilies of the valley, “ladders to heaven” in German tradition, among roses and reflexed lilies. I thought of the red roses and “tiger lilies” that Leigh Fermor’s beloved Angéla pushed into his buttonhole at the train station as they took their sad farewell. Of crocus banaticus, there was no sign.

Crocus banaticus growing wild in the fields above Zalanpatak © Harriet Rix

Crocus banaticus growing wild in the fields above Zalanpatak © Harriet Rix

Evidence soon emerged. The main churches of the Saxon villages are Lutheran and in Brasov’s Black Cathedral, their choirs were to assemble and mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. As a noted soprano, Harriet was invited to join them and help with the higher notes. As a spectator with no religion, I was tagged with a wristband and allowed to watch from a front seat. While the choirs rehearsed, I researched the flower stalls of Brasov market and found two bunches of crocus banaticus on a flower-lady’s stall. She had no idea where they had been growing.

After Luther’s setting of Psalm 118, it was time to find out. Tagged by evangelicals, I set off for Copsa Mare where I met my Nemesis and fell in love. Nemesis is a 10-year-old Dutch warmblood mare, 17 hands 3, with a Czech passport. She is stabled nightly beside the tall dark Romulus who was once a gallop-on star in the film Prince Caspian. James and Rachel de Candole offer trips for up to four riders on their beautifully schooled horses, with picnics and overnight stays. Nemesis carried me smoothly past gardens of zinnias, cosmos and calendulas, flowers that I often recommend to readers here. White-flowered wild asters, another favourite, marked our ascent into beechwoods of exceptional beauty but as they also contain wild bears, we had to travel noisily. In Britain it is 12 years since I last halloaed legally for fox hounds. In Transylvania I have been halloaing to keep bears away.

In the crocus’s absence, nearby back gardens offered a big surprise instead — crops of exotic tuberose. An expert grower, Elisabeth, showed us the last tall stems of her crop before she sheltered their roots under winter covers. Tuberose is native to Mexico but it won favour with Maria Theresa, the Habsburg sovereign, and travelled east to the scent-loving Romanians. In rich acid soil, village growers water the plants that departing Saxons left in their care. They will either be gold or earth, they told Elisabeth, but she learnt the golden touch. Of the Banat crocus, however, she knew nothing.

In eastern Transylvania sightings of it are reported near villages of Hungarians, so we headed for a final hunt in Korospatak. There, horses are offered by Count Kalnoky, descendant of a great medieval line, but a sign saying “Shagya Club” marks his driveway, and at first we took it in an English sense. We reversed in haste, not realising it refers to crosses between Arab and thoroughbred horses. After an hour’s climb on brisk brown Rudi, I finally sighted our prey, lilac-blue crocus banaticus flowering leaflessly beneath beech trees.

The further we rode, the more it multiplied, always in damp semi-shade, never in open meadows. In the valley of Zalanpatak we found even thicker masses, including a rare white form, seldom in stock in any bulb-grower’s list. Spreading on the hillsides, were these crocuses natural escapees from gardens? Surely not: they have lived here for millennia, untroubled by Romans, Tatars and Turks who sacked the villages beyond.

In her superb book Peacemakers, Margaret Macmillan describes how the Banat, a “bucolic backwater”, was split between Romania and Yugoslavia in 1919. She warns that it may yet prove contentious territory. In antiquity, Philip, father of Alexander, won a great victory on what was called the Crocus Field in northern Greece. If fighting breaks out in the Banat, I now know my role. Mounted on Nemesis, I will guard the priceless crocuses in its hills.

The gravitational pull of a unique personality

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

We all discovered Paddy by different routes, but if one follows the thread of certain ideas, one can often find it leads to Patrick Leigh Fermor. My own journey started with my interest in Byzantine history; the link with Constantinople and Steven Runciman being my link. It was therefore a great joy to hear from a former colleague with whom I had lost touch some years ago. Chris Wares has discovered Paddy through his interest in the work of Antony Beevor, and after finding this blog he wrote to me explaining his own Paddy journey. He has agreed to me publishing it here. How did you first encounter Paddy? Maybe you can tell us in the comments section.

by Chris Wares

Unlike probably everyone reading this I have yet to actually read any of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books. In fact I’m ashamed to say that a year ago I hadn’t even heard of the man. But over the past twelve months I have found myself being inexorably drawn towards the man and his books. Unknowingly at first and then, after what I can only describe as a sort of literary epiphany, I realised that I was in the gravitational pull of a unique personality, a name that kept turning everywhere I looked. Gradually I came to terms with the realisation that I would be compelled to read his books.

I am sure everyone has their own story on how they became acquainted with PLF but, as I stand on the precipice of opening one of his books for the first time, I thought I would describe how I arrived at this point.

It all began about a year ago when I read Crete: The Battle and the Resistance by Antony Beevor. Beevor is one of my favourite authors and so, while not being especially interested in the war in Crete, I was confident that my investment would be rewarded. Amongst the broad sweep of battle Beevor describes the tale of a British SOE soldier who possessed a larger than life character. A man who captures a German general from under their noses and then marches him across the mountains with half the German army on his tail. It was a scintillating story but the name of the hero didn’t particularly register in my mind.

A few weeks later I read Natural Born Heroes: The Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance by another of my favourite authors, Christopher McDougall. McDougall’s stories of long distance runners provide great inspiration for those that are needing motivation to get down to the business of training for a marathon. In the book McDougall writes of ancient Greek demigods who had discovered the secrets of endurance running. Switching to the twentieth century, he describes in reverential tones the superhuman endurance of a British soldier called Paddy who possessed the same qualities. It’s the same guy.

OK. So it’s a good tale and worth retelling but surely this was just coincidence. Sure, it’s a great yarn about the Battle of Crete and it also works as a modern day fable about god-like feats of endurance. But this was just one of those things right? The sort of tale anyone writing about Crete includes.

Then several months later I booked a romantic weekend in Brasov, Transylvania, for my wife’s birthday. A rare opportunity for us to get away without the kids and visit somewhere slightly off the beaten track. To get to know the place better I decided to do my homework and read up on Romania. These days, tied down by kids and mortgages, my wanderlust is largely restricted to armchair adventures. Travel books and histories providing an enjoyable way of vicariously travel the world.

I picked up Anthony Eales Blue River, Black Sea, a light and enjoyable read recounting his journey by bicycle and boat from the source of the Danube down to the Black Sea. Eales opens by describing how he decided to emulate the journey some guy called Patrick Leigh Fermor made in the 1930s down the Danube who also happened to kidnap a German general in Crete…. Hang on a minute? Kidnapped a German general in Crete? This can’t be the same bloke can it?

It’s at that point I turn to Google. Who was this guy? A good story can be a matter of circumstance; a combination of events that a person can just be caught up in. But appearing heroic in two separate dramas suggests a character that possesses something special. A man who “drank from a different fountain” as some might say.

I quickly found myself getting up to speed on the basics – SOE, renowned travel writer, author of three books about walking across Europe in the 1930s, the last of which was edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper. This was sounding good. I like Colin Thubron. And Artemis Cooper? That’s a name that rings a bell? Of course! – she co-wrote Paris After the Liberation: 1944 – 1949 with Beevor (which I also just read).

Another Google search and I realise that Beevor and Cooper are married and obviously share an admiration for PLF. And – just to reinforce the impression that everything was in some way joined up and connected to the man – it turns out that Cooper is the daughter of John Julius Norwich whose A History of Venice I read in August. I was beginning to get the feeling that Patrick Leigh Fermor was something special. I was in the orbit of something that deserved further investigation.

My armchair exploration of Romania continued through the Autumn and it soon felt as if all roads led to Patrick Leigh Fermor. The author Nick Thorpe talks about him in The Danube: A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest while travelling along the Danube in the opposite direction to Eales. Nick Hunt follows in his footsteps in Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. William Blacker quotes him extensively in Along the Enchanted Way: A Story of Love and Life in Romania (which incidentally is one of the loveliest books I have read in a long time) and Dervla Murphy contrasts 1990s Romania with his descriptions of the 1930s in Transylvania and Beyond. Georgina Harding quotes him in In Another Europe: A Journey to Romania. At times it felt as if everyone who had ever visited Romania in the past 40 years had read his books.

With his writing venerated by so many, the signs were clear that I needed to read him for myself. Here was someone who is not only considered one of the best travel writers ever but someone whose books inspired so much else that I read and enjoyed. My curiosity piqued I enthusiastically went on a bookstore spending spree and purchased all three books of the trilogy as well as his biography.

The books have sat patiently on my bedside table for some time now, but the moment of turning that first page is fast approaching. Logically the trilogy should form part of my Romanian literary journey but I have purposely set them aside and held back until the moment is right. The books may be the finalé to my Romanian odyssey but I feel as if they may also be first steps of an entirely new journey.

It’s rare to have such a sense of anticipation ahead of reading a new book. Such a build up runs the risk of the reality failing to live up to the expectation and I am nervous that perhaps I may not find his books as exquisite as I have come to imagine them to be. But on the other hand I am reassured with the knowledge that I am following in the footsteps of many others.

And now to turn that first page and follow path that is well trodden; one which all of those who are reading this will have already travelled….

Travels in Transylvania: The Greater Tarnova Valley

The UNESCO World Heritage fortified church in Viscri

The UNESCO World Heritage fortified church in Viscri

Whenever I mention Transylvania to friends and acquaintances most express a strong desire to visit this land of mystery. Few however, can place Transylvania on a map and even less ever actually travel there. Readers of the Paddy blog will know that PLF passed through in 1934 and returned during communist times. I have had the privilege of working and travelling there, and it is through this association that I met Lucy Abel Smith who is the organiser of the Transylvanian Book Festival 2016 and author of this new Blue Guide.

If you are thinking of visiting Romania with all its cultural, historical, and natural riches, it may be difficult to decide where to start for it is a large country with a relatively small population. Transylvania itself is an area three times the size of Wales with diversity in all corners. The recently published Blue Guide Travels in Transylvania: The Greater Tarnova Valley helps by picking one area and offers a detailed insight from someone who has been living and travelling since the time of Ceausescu, describing a journey through this one part of Transylvania, the fabled “Saxon Lands” of the south-east that Lucy knows so well. It essentially takes as its theme a 120km long journey along the course of the Tarnova river from Odurheiu Secuiesc in the Gurhui mountains, westwards along the Tarnova valley via Ruritanian cities like the beautiful Sighisoara and ends in Blaj.

Lucy herself describes the area thus:

“… there is still to be seen the stunning landscape, ancient farming methods and extraordinary botanical variety. But there is so much more. We travel through a fraction of ancient Hungary to encounter a vast array of the peoples of Central Europe, all up until recently living together, yet in distinct communities with different customs, architecture, costumes and languages. We find the Vlachs and the Szeklers, the Hungarians, the Saxons, and the the Jews, the Gypsies and others, such as the Armenians, who settled here to take advantage of this tolerant and diverse land in the very heart of Europe.”

The landscape that these peoples crafted and the architecture that they developed is both beautiful and unique. Accommodation is plentiful and will suit all budgets, with food on the whole being local and organic in many cases. It is easily accessible with flights from Vienna, London, and Munich amongst others, direct to Cluj, Turgu Mures, Bucharest, and soon Brasov. Above all the people are welcoming and it is safe. If you take Lucy’s excellent guide you won’t go far wrong. Your journey can be extended north to the baroque city of Cluj, west to Sibiu (a Saxon city and European City of Culture), or south to the large Saxon city of Brasov which is not far from the so-called Dracula’s castle (the violent warlord Vlad Dracul did live there) in Bran.

Lucy Abel Smith

Lucy Abel Smith

Lucy writes from a very personal perspective and is an engaging writer with an informative but never patronising style. She is an art historian and her explanations of church art – frescoes, altar-pieces and statues – are thorough but never boring. The guide is packed full of useful information, including accommodation details, and background history. There are some useful maps and illustrations. It could do with some colour photographs but other than this, the Blue Guide Travels in Transylvania: The Greater Tarnova Valley would be an invaluable aid for the independent traveller.

Malancrav, near Sighisoara, Romania

Malancrav, near Sighisoara, Romania

If you are thinking of an alternative holiday in Romania you could do worse than combine a tour of the Tarnova valley with a few days at the second Transylvanian Book Festival which runs from 8th to 11th September. Full details can be found on the Festival website.

For those who have any questions about travel in Transylvania I would be more than happy to attempt to answer them. See the About and Contact page for details of how to get in touch.

Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy by Jaap Scholten

baronI am very excited about this and I know that some you will be too as you have asked about it on many occasions.

Comrade Baron A journey through the vanishing world of the Transylvanian aristocracy, is written by Jaap Scholten and will be published for the first time in English on 5 May 2016. The book was winner of the Libris History Prize 2011 and shortlisted for the Bob den Uyl Prize for best travel book 2011.

Comrade Baron will be launched at an event, hosted by BBC presenter, Petroc Trelawny, at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, London, on 4 th May. A best-seller in The Netherlands with more than 30,000 copies sold, Comrade Baron has been translated into French, Hungarian and Romanian. An extraordinary, passionate and important work, Comrade Baron is “in part, an oral history of a group we know little about, in part the account of a journey through one of the most beautiful and mysterious regions of Europe and in part a record of a Dutchman’s impressions on finding himself in an extraordinary milieu in the company of some exceptional families.”

In the darkness of the early morning of 3 March 1949, practically all of the Transylvanian aristocracy were arrested in their beds and loaded onto trucks. That same day the Romanian Workers’ Party was pleased to announce the successful deportation and dispossession of all large landowners. Communism demanded the destruction of these ultimate class enemies. Taken away with just the clothes they stood up in, what happened to these once mighty families? Their stories, as told first-hand in this fascinating and enlightening book, are ones of hardship and fear but also of determination, solidarity, family tradition, resilience and indomitable spirit…

Jaap Scholten lives in Budapest, which is where, in 2006, he first heard about the nocturnal mass deportation of the Transylvanian nobility. Fascinated by their plight, he determined to track down as many of the older members of the former aristocracy as he could, recording their stories before they were lost forever. His journey took him the length and breadth of Transylvania (a magical land that comes to vivid life through descriptions in the book), to apartment blocks, slums and ruined castles, and brought him face-to-face with a group of rare and fascinating families with an extraordinary tale to tell.

Supported by a selection of black and white photographs and told through poignant and illuminating first-hand conversations, Comrade Baron is their story – from the days that preceded communism to after the communists came to power and through to the modern day.

Grand houses were exchanged for homes in cellars, attics, laundry rooms and sculleries and pleasure-seeking lifestyles for work in quarries, steelworks or domestic service. Interrogation was a daily occurrence and many were sent to hard labour in the Romanian gulags. Yet despite living under terrifying conditions, inflicted upon them firstly by Gheorghiu-Dej and later Ceauşescu, the aristocrats were leading a double life. Secretly gathering at night, they maintained the rituals of an older world – “they carried on kissing hands and using other formal gestures, their conversations were governed by long established rules… They met in cellars to play bridge, rummy and canasta. They read poetry aloud and made music. The older aristocrats taught the children foreign languages and gave them music lessons.” In contrast, as Jaap travels through Romania and observes the behaviour of the new Romanian elite –extravagant behaviour at parties and restaurants, driving their Mercedes and SUV’s – he recognizes what has been lost and consider how best to rebuild a country in a moral vacuum.

Jaap Scholten studied Industrial Design at the Technical University in Delft, Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy of Arts in Rotterdam (BA), and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest (MA). He is the award winning author of seven books, novels and short story collections. Comrade Baron is his first non-fiction book. Jaap has lived in Budapest since 2003. His Hungarian wife is of noble descent and distantly related to some of the families in the book.

“I have enjoyed this book so much – such a great tale, with brilliant original research and source material, and so many stories, tragic, humiliating, painful, yet all engrossing and highly readable” Petroc Trelawny, BBC presenter and journalist.

“This is a classic in the lines of Patrick Leigh-Fermor and it should be on the shelves of anyone interested in Mitteleuropa.” Norman Stone, Professor of Modern History, Oxford.

You can buy Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy here.

The launch event for the book, hosted by Petroc Trelawney will take place on Wednesday 4 May 2016 at 7pm at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, 10 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NA. Attendance at the event is free but booking is required on bookings@hungary.org.uk.

Wild Carpathia 4 fundraising a success!

CaptureFilming is to start immediately on Wild Carpathia 4. The target of £50,000 has been reached. A big donation of over Euro 20,000 was made by a Romanian country club and its members over the weekend which accelerated the funds towards the goal.

Thank you to all of you who follow the blog for your contributions. I am sure Paddy would have been pleased.

Audible

Please consider supporting Wild Carpathia 4

Over seventy people have now backed the funding of the next Wild Carpathia film, White Carpathia, and many came from this site. They have pledged over £9,000, but much more is needed to meet the target of £50,000 over the 25 days left for fundraising.

As we saw with the shooting of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe in July, wildlife and habitats all over the world are in danger from thieves, poachers, corrupt officials, and frankly the rich trying to enrich themselves even further or taking what they think they can buy. This is our collective heritage and no-one has the right to take it away from us. The countryside of Romania, and the Carpathians in particular which are rich in native trees and wildlife including wolves, European bear, lynx and deer, are true gems with a complex eco-system which need to be preserved and managed to provide income for local people. What is happening there now with the illegal destruction of the pristine forest is not management but rape.  It is theft, aided and abetted by corrupt officials and locals who just need a job.

Please consider giving something to this cause to ensure that the film is made, which can only add to the common understanding of the the beauty and value of this land that Paddy loved possibly even more than Greece. Raising awareness leads to raised pressure on politicians and authorities to do more. A small donation now may make a big difference.

You can pledge anything from a few pounds to as much as you like at the Kickstarter site here. Thank you.

Read more here.

Help to fund Wild Carpathia 4

After a glorious few weeks enjoying Italy, its food, landscape and sites, I am returned and will get some interesting posts up on the blog. First up is an appeal to help fund the fourth in the wonderful series Wild Carpathia which will be set in winter and called White Carpathia. Charlie Ottley and the crew are looking for £50,000 to produce the film expected to be released in summer 2016. If you love Romania as much as Paddy did (and I do) then please consider helping via the Kickstarter page where Charlie makes a very impassioned plea for your support surrounded by beautiful images of Romania. Together, let’s make this happen!

Here’s what Charlie says on Facebook:

Hello everyone and……help!. We need to make another Wild Carpathia urgently – to promote the beauty of Romania through the winter, and show the world what an amazing country this is, any time of the year, especially given recent bad press like The Romanians Are Coming on UK’s Channel Four. In light of further illegal logging and the recent scandal involving Schweighofer we must again highlight the plight of Europe’s last great forest.

We also need to protect the cultural heritage of Romania’s rural areas, by encouraging, Eco-tourism, sensitive development and modernisation. The film we must make to help do this, will be seen by millions of people across the world (the previous episodes had over 3 million hits online) and screened first on Romanian national television. We have half the money from foreign donors. Help us raise the other half so this can be a film for Romania by Romania, something we can all be proud of. Even a few euros each will make a big difference. And please forward this post. if you and your friends all contribute, we can make this happen – together. Click on the following link and go to our Kickstarter Campaign.

Enjoy the previous films here on You Tube.

Episode One: Wild Carpathia

Episode Two: From the Mountains to the Sea

Episode Three: Wild Forever

Preserving the best of Romania: Charlie Ottley and Jessica Douglas-Home on Pro TV

Capture

Watch this inspiring interview with Charlie Ottley, presenter of the Wild Carpathia series, and Jessica Douglas-Home, President of The Mihai Eminescu Trust, to find out why Romania’s heritage, natural landscape and areas of wilderness are so special and need protecting.

An interview on Romanian TV in English where Charlie and Jessica discuss the importance of preserving Romania’s wilderness and cultural heritage.

In one generation all the forests of Romania may be gone.

Watch the interview here

Jessica Douglas-Home la ProTV from Mihai Eminescu Trust on Vimeo.

Salmagundi Magazine special feature on Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy at BaleniI am grateful to Marc Woodworth for sending me this feature about Paddy posted in Salmagundi Magazine.

It includes excerpts from three essays:

  • Joanna Kavenna on memory and the past in A Time of Gifts
  • George Prochnik on Byzantium and style in Mani
  • Bina Gogineni on exoticism in The Traveller’s Tree

Plus exclusive online contributions from Nick Delbanco, Nick Delbanco, our very own Nick Hunt (Following Fermor in Romania)
and a Micro-Anthology selected by Michael Ondaatje, Thomas de Waal, Michael Gorra, Andrew Eames and photographs of Kövecses by Andrew Hillard.

Download the pdf here … salmagundi magazine

Go east – the people get nicer, even if their dogs get nastier

Artemis Cooper’s review of Nick Hunt’s ‘Walking the Woods and the Water’. Hunt retraces the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor across the suburban wastelands of Holland to the woods of Transylvania.

by Artemis Cooper

First published in The Spectator 10 April 2014.

When Nick Hunt first read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s account of his youthful trudge across Europe in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, he knew ‘with absolute certainty’ that one day he would make that journey himself. When I embarked on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s biography, I made an equally firm resolve that I wouldn’t walk a step of it. Paddy’s books had left me with a vision of a timeless Europe suspended somewhere between memory and imagination, and I didn’t want that vision distorted by layers of personal impressions.

But to Hunt the books posed a question. Eighty years on, was there anything left of the ‘gifts’ Paddy had enjoyed in prewar Europe? Was there still room enough for wildness, freedom and spontaneous hospitality? In this moving and profoundly honest book, the answer is ‘yes’.

Hunt was in his late twenties when he set out from London, and he got off to a bad start. In Holland and Germany he was obliged to walk for miles on tarmac, under motorways and across industrial and suburban wastelands. He had done no prior training — after all Paddy hadn’t, and what was more natural than walking? The result was tendonitis so severe that he was laid up for a week in Ulm, cursing his stupidity and looked after by a couple called Dierk and Dora.

He found that the kindness of strangers — who included musicians, caretakers, house-painters and Buddhist soap-makers —  was an ever recurring miracle. And like the grandees Paddy met, Hunt’s benefactors contacted their friends and relatives, urging them to help the traveller too. He found these guardian angels online, through the Couch Surfing network. Their website is designed to weed out loonies, but it still requires a high level of trust — a trust that was never misplaced. His hosts gave him food and drink, took him to the pub, lent him their laptops — and not once did he feel uncomfortable or threatened by them. At the same time, Hunt was more willing than Paddy to brave the elements. He often slept in the open, twice in sub-zero temperatures; and he became expert at ‘castle-squatting’ — finding snug holes in ancient walls.

As he walked on, the industrial sprawl gave way to landscapes that Paddy would have recognised. Hunt is often haunted by the ‘unimaginable inhumanity that lay between his walk and mine’, but at the same time many things remained startlingly similar. Swapping cigarettes is still a great ice-breaker; the sheepskin coats and cross-gartered moccasins were gone, but in a bar one morning Hunt could see that all the men there had known each other since childhood, and worked in adjoining
fields. Hungary still mourned the loss of Transylvania like an amputation, and still hated the Romanians. Just like Paddy, Hunt was told that the moment he entered Romania he would be attacked by bears, gypsies, wolves and thieves. But as the author observes, people became nicer as he travelled eastwards, although their dogs got nastier.

Hunt is not Paddy, and never pretends to be. Baroque architecture and princely lineage leave him cold, and he never plunges into historical speculation or conjures fantasies out of thin air. But one of the most moving passages in the book tells of his meeting with Ileana Teleki, the great-granddaughter of Count Jeno Teleki, one of Paddy’s hosts in Transylvania. With her, he visits a number of the country houses described in Between the Woods; but now they are gutted, abandoned or used to shelter those who would never recover from the experience of being a Romanian orphan: ‘Traumatised children,’ writes Hunt, ‘housed in the ruins of a traumatised culture.’

The reader familiar with Paddy’s oeuvre will find that something of him has rubbed off on Hunt, which is hardly surprising: he took no other books on the journey, and he feels intimately connected to his predecessor. So in walking through the wooded Pilis Hills, or in watching for changes in physiognomy as he crosses from one territory to another, he is — consciously or unsconsciously — paying homage to Paddy by absorbing his way of looking at things.

At the same time, I’ve learnt so much from the vivid way Hunt describes the physiological effects of trudging on for month after month. Sometimes it brings a sense of unlimited freedom, sometimes joy, sometimes an extraordinary, dreamlike dislocation, always accompanied by a dazzling sharpness of hearing and vision. I see now how that youthful walk informed so much of Paddy’s style. Before embarking on his journey, Hunt was going to write to Paddy. The letter was never written, and by the time he set off, Paddy was dead. How touched and fascinated he would have been to read this book.

Walking the Woods and the Water by Nick Hunt

Nicholas Brearley, pp.336, £10.99, ISBN: 9781857886177

Walking the Woods and the Water – Nick’s book cover revealed

Walking the Woods and the Water

Walking the Woods and the Water

After a lot of labour, a change of publisher and book title, Nick’s book is finally to be published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing in March. Many of you will remember that two years ago Nick walked Paddy’s great trans-European walk, taking about the same time, using only Paddy’s books as a guide, and visiting many of the houses he stayed in en route.

Nick wrote to me saying “The cover has been designed and I’m very pleased to tell you it’s by Ed Kluz, the same artist who did The Broken Road. Looks very different of course, and not (as I was worried it might) overly derivative of the style of Paddy’s books. But a nice continuity.”

It will be interesting to see what you all think about that. As soon as I have further news I will update you. I do know that Nick will be giving some talks to support the publication and I will pass on these details as soon as I have them.

Travel along the enchanted way with William Blacker

GHF TourJoin William Blacker, author of Along the Enchanted Way, and Global Heritage Fund (GHF) for a visit to the villages of Saxon Transylvania. Scattered along the valleys and hills of the southern range of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania,the villages represent a unique and diverse landscape of Romanian, Saxon, and Gypsy cultural heritage.

The nearly 100 villages and their patterns of settlement, which date from the 12th century, are among the last vestiges of European mediaeval planning and culture. This vast cultural landscape exhibits an uncommon equilibrium between villages, fields, meadows, forests, and mountains. Now under threat, GHF, William Blacker and the Romanian heritage organization Monumentum, are working to save this vanishing landscape.

This tour running from 9th-12th September follows on from the Transylvanian Book Festival, 5th – 9th of September. See the Festival website for further details.

The GHF flyer here has some more information about this and 2013 tours to Turkey and Cambodia as well.

For further information please contact:

Brian Curran

Global Heritage Fund

9th Floor 1 Knightsbridge Green

London SW1X 7QA

bcurran[at]globalheritagefund.org

t +44 (0) 787-648-1847

http://www.globalheritagefund.org

The work of Max Milligan – Hello Romania

Last week I attended the premiere of Wild Carpathia 2 at BAFTA in Piccadilly in aid of the European Nature Trust. There was a good crowd and we rubbed shoulders with Crown Princess Margarita of Romania, Mrs Maria Grapini, Romanian Minister for Tourism, four times Olympic Gold medal-winning canoeist, Ivan Patzaichin, and Romanian folksinger, Grigore Lese. The drinks sponsors appeared to be the Corcova winery from the south-west corner of Romania, and I am delighted to say that they took their duties very seriously, for the enjoyment of all!

But the highlight for me was Grigore Lese playing and singing, very emotionally and powerfully, to a backdrop of some great images of Romania by the Scottish photographer Max Milligan who is working on his next book about Romania in 2014. See Romania a Portrait on Facebook.

There are some really wonderful videos on Milligan’s website showing him at work in Romania, probably one of the last places on earth where you can experience such unique landscape and wildlife, plus see amazing architecture and meet remarkably friendly people, and do this more or less on your own without crowds of tourists. The Romanian tourist ministry has a lot of work to do, but of course at the moment it is good for those of us who want a quieter and more authentic experience .

You can enjoy more of Milligans’s videos  here.

The first Wild Carpathia movie is found here.

Please visit the European Nature Trust website to find out more about their work preserving the wild spaces of Scotland and Romania and maybe get involved.

Transylvanian Book Festival – so much better than Hay; are you joining us?

Lit fest authors

Arrangements for the Transylvanian Book Festival are proceeding apace. This will be a truly wonderful event and I want to encourage as many of you as possible to come along during 5-9 September. Look at it as a holiday in itself, spending five days in the most beautiful setting, a region lost to time, that reflects the history, culture, and architecture of one of the last untouched Medieval landscapes in Europe. A chance to talk to the authors and like-minded folk in a calm and relaxed atmosphere.

The line-up of authors is growing all the time. More details can be found on the website here.

The following have confirmed:

  • Artemis Cooper: An Adventure, the biography of Paddy Leigh Fermor
  • Professor Roy Foster: Bram Stoker, Ireland and Dracula
  • Jessica Douglas Home: Once Upon Another Time
  • William Blacker: Along the Enchanted Way
  • Michael Jacobs: Robber of Memories but will talk on Starkie or von Rezzori
  • Caroline Juler: Author of the Blue Guide to Romania
  • Jaap Scholten: Comrade Baron
  • Nick Hunt: After the Woods and the Water
  • Andrea Rost: on the biography of Hans Schaas
  • Sarah Dootz: Her autobiography
  • Countess Elizabeth Jelen Salnikoff: talking about her grandfather Miklos Banffy
  • Others to follow

You can make a reservation and book online here.

Unlike other book festivals this will be a relatively small and intimate affair. The authors will be living in the same villages and mixing with all those attending in a relaxed atmosphere. All food is included and we can expect some magnificent meals and picnics under the warm Transylvanian sun, with just the sounds of horse drawn carts, cows going to and from the fields, geese and ducks filing along the dusty roads, and our own animated conversation in English, Romanian, German and Hungarian as we reflect on the day’s events.

In addition there will be excursions included into the woods and countryside surrounding Richis so we can all get close to the land which is one of Prince Charles’ favourite spots. There is a lot included for the money which does not happen at other similar festivals.

If you want to know more please get in touch with me. I am happy to advise on travel options, flights into the country, car hire, and possible extensions to your visit so that you can visit some of Romania’s other wonders, many of which are just 1-2 hours away from Richis. There are already plans for extensions to turn your visit into a longer stay if you wish.

Romania is a very safe country for travellers with a good infrastructure. If you hear things from others that put you off, like the state of the roads, or are deterred by its very mysteriousness, please be assured that none of this is remotely true, nor should it be a barrier to you having a great time.

Don’t forget to visit our Facebook page. I am looking forward to seeing as many of you there as possible. Perhaps this medley of images may tempt you to come along by making your booking here 🙂 Some of these you may have seen before; many others are new. I promise!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Preserving Transylvania’s Heritage

You will recall that I recently brought to your notice the efforts of the Global Heritage Fund as it seeks to raise money for the building of a new brick kiln in the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania. This is a totally wonderful area. The landscape is beautiful; the fauna, including wolves, lynx, and brown bear, whilst still numerous is in danger; the cultural heritage is unique – German Saxons, Sekler Hungarians, Romanians and Roma living side by side; but there is little money to ensure that this region, that marked the border between medieval Christendom and the empire of the Ottomans is preserved, as corruption and neglect permits its steady decline.

There are now less than two weeks left for the Global Heritage Fund, in conjunction with the author of Along the Enchanted Way,  William Blacker, to raise the $20,000 that they need to build a new brick kiln in the traditional style, so they they can continue to restore the decaying houses and preserve this environment.

As a lover of Transylvania, I ask you to consider giving a few dollars towards this worthy campaign which will not only preserve the buildings in the traditional way, but also provide employment for local people so that they can continue to live in the area, and ensure a future for them all. To those who siad before that they would rather give towards Paddy’s house, I think I should say that whilst that is a worthy position, it is perhaps best to deal with what we have today, and there is talk of a solution for the house which may not require any further giving.

All funds will go to the project on the ground in Romania and I ask you to consider giving generously to the project by visiting the crowdfunding site here.

Some of my own personal images of the villages may inspire you further …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wild Carpathia 2 Exclusive Screening at BAFTA

Those of you who enjoyed the movie Wild Carpathia, may like to know that the European Nature Trust is hosting an exclusive screening of the sequel, Wild Carpathia 2, at BAFTA in London’s Piccadilly on 5 June 2013.

The evening will include a drinks and canape reception before the screening, and further drinks afterwards.

You can order tickets here. I shall see you on the night!

Enjoy this taster.

You can watch the whole of the first film by clicking here.

Help Build a Kiln in Transylvania

Malancrav, near Sighisoara, Romania

Malancrav, near Sighisoara, Romania

Global Heritage Fund UK and the Anglo-Romanian Trust for Traditional Architecture (chaired by William Blacker) have begun a project to protect and restore the cultural landscape of the Saxon villages of Transylvania.  The beautiful buildings are in desperate need of repair using only the traditional materials from the new kiln, and local people are in need of jobs. To address this, Global Heritage Fund is raising money to build a traditional brick and tile making kiln. Run by a Romanian expert, this kiln will directly employ locals and provide much-needed materials for the on-going work of restoration and conservation of the early vernacular buildings.

A crowd-funding site has been established to raise $20,000, of which they have raised almost $5,000,  and I support the attempt. If you would like to know more, and to donate, please visit the crowdfunding page here.

The European Nature Trust is currently seeking a Chief Executive/fundraiser

TENT logoThe European Nature Trust (TENT) is currently seeking a Chief Executive/fundraiser with a focus on fundraising to take the foundation forward with exciting projects based in Romania and Scotland.

We have mentioned TENT a few times on the blog for the work it does in trying to preserve the unique forests and wildlife of the Carpathians and Scotland. Most notably they produced the highly successful film Wild Carpathia. The current Chief Executive has announced his intention to depart and they are seeking someone new for what would be a very rewarding role.

If you are interested in pursuing the role please contact Juliet on by email: juliet[at]theeuropeannaturetrust.com with a covering letter and a copy of your curriculum vitae.

Click here for job specification.

They wish to receive all replies by Friday 1st March 2013. Visit the TENT website here.

Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian trilogy to be published in new edition by Everyman’s Library

Count Miklós Bánffy

Count Miklós Bánffy

Many of the longer term readers will know that I am a true fan of the work of the great Hungarian-Transylvanian writer and statesman Miklós Bánffy. His Transylvanian trilogy is a masterpiece, and the autobiography, The Phoenix Land, re-published last year offers an insight to the character and soul of this intelligent, hardworking, and resourceful man.

Read more about Miklós Bánffy in the articles on the blog which you can find at this link.

I was recently contacted by blog reader Scott Walters from San Francisco who informed me about a new version coming out in 2013.

As you seem to be the go-to resource for all things Patrick Leigh Fermor, I thought you might be interested to know – assuming you haven’t heard already – that the English translation of Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvania trilogy (They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided), for which Paddy wrote an introduction and which you’ve blogged about on occasion – is going to be reissued this summer in hardcover by Everyman’s Library. Publication date is in July.

I’m thrilled about this – I’m a great fan of the trilogy and have long bemoaned the price of the existing paperback editions, which despite being reissued in 2010 still seem difficult to obtain at a reasonable price (though a Kindle edition is now available). That Everyman’s Library has opted for the work suggests that it’s finally attained the recognition it deserves. I posted an announcement on my blog, but should you put one on your Fermor blog I expect word will get out to more people who may be interested. All best, and a very happy new year.

I am grateful to Scott for getting in touch. Not so sure about the price issue as it affects UK readers. You can buy good copies of his work on eBay for around £8-£10. The Everyman versions appear to be coming out in July 2013 with a website price tag of $26 for a hardback edition.

All I can say is it is great that more people will read Bánffy, and that prices of books vary enormously depending upon where you are. Moral of the story is look around for bargains and read some Bánffy now!

A new picture of Balasha Cantacuzene

Obviously not new in the recent sense of the word, but one I had not seen before.

Unfortunately it has the Getty Images watermark, but one is able to see clearly how beautiful she was. It was taken in the 1920’s.

Thank you to Chris Lawson for directing me to this.

Balasha Cantacuzene

Balasha Cantacuzene

Flying to the moon

Inside the Hotel New York (Continental), Cluj

As many of you will know by now, I travel to Romania pretty frequently and I am fortunate enough to stay and work in the beautiful city of Cluj which Paddy says he visited during his road trip tryst with Angéla in the summer of 1934.

Paddy’s descriptions in Between the Woods and the Water are very accurate and detailed, and the one of the Hotel New York was the most impressive which I highlighted in this article last year with accompanying photographs.

Nick and Tom outside the Hotel New York (Continental), Cluj

During Nick Hunt’s recent walk across Europe we were able to meet up outside of the hotel and I was desperate for us to drink a cocktail there just like Paddy, Istvan and Angéla. The fact that the hotel is closed should not have been a barrier to this; all I had to do was find the recipe and a willing local barman and all would be OK. Unfortunately following an ‘occupy’ protest security at the hotel was heavy and we were firmly told we could not enter. It must have been Nick’s road weary look and dusty attire which was the blocker!

I had done some research, and whilst I could not find the recipe of the Cluj cocktail which was described by Paddy thus in Between the Woods and the Water …

An hotel at the end of the main square, called the New York – a great meeting place in the winter season – drew my companions like a magnet. István said the barman had invented an amazing cocktail – only surpassed by the one called ‘Flying’ in the Vier Jahreszeiten bar in Munich – which would be criminal to miss

… I contacted the Bar Manager of the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski in München to find out the recipe for Flying. Florian Fischer kindly replied as follows, so maybe this autumn, to celebrate the publication of the biography, you may order one or even make it at home.

Dear Mr. Sawford,

thank you very much for your request. These are the things which are creating culture!

I am really interested in cocktails of this period. I was thinking about the recipe and I am quite sure, that it must be the following :

Flying Cocktail

2 parts of Gin
1 part of curacao Triple sec ( Cointreau preferred )
1 part of freshly squezzed lemon juice

fill up with champagne
served in a champagne flute

Actually it is the famous “White Lady” with champagne and this drink was really popular in these times.

Greetings from Munich and enjoy your “Flying Cocktail”

Cheers

Florian Fischer

Barmanager

Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski München

Maximilianstr. 17 · 80539 München · Germany Tel +49 89 2125 2217· Fax +49 89 2125 2222 florian.fischer@kempinski.com

Related article:

An eye for detail and the memory of the Hotel New York in Cluj

Ada Kaleh: the lost island of the Danube

Ada Kaleh island postcard

Towards the end of Between the Woods and the Water, Paddy is exploring the Danube which he described as wild, with ‘many scourges to contend with’ including the Kossovar winds which in the spring could ‘reach a speed of fifty or sixty miles an hour and turn the river into a convulsed inferno.’ A long, long, way from the tamed beast that the once great river is now.

In the midst of this occasional inferno lay an island with a Turkish name, Ada Kaleh, which means ‘island fortress’. Paddy tell us that he had read all that he could find about the island, and was very keen to explore this lagoon of Turkish descendants which was quite probably abandoned by the retreating Ottomans as their empire shrank. Although placed under control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following the Berlin Conference in 1878, very little changed and it was ceded to Romania at Versailles. The Romanians too had better things to do with their time and left the inhabitants undisturbed.

It was into this cultural, religious, and demographic time capsule that Paddy stepped in August 1934 and immediately joined a group of men at a rustic coffee-shop, who were armed with ‘sickles and adzes and pruning knives’. Paddy describes the moment as if he had suddenly been ‘seated on a magic carpet.’

Ada Kaleh – “as if seated on a magic carpet”

Paddy spent a night on the island, and slept out by the Danube, under the stars, watching meteors, and listening to the sounds of owls and barking dogs, interrupted by the occasional sound of a cart wheel or the splash of a fish in the now calm and lazy river. He dreamt of crusaders under King Sigismund of Hungary attempting to turn back the Turkish tide in 1396. They crossed the river almost at this point, and what excited Paddy most was the thought that ‘the last pikeman or sutler had probably reached the southern bank this very evening, five hundred and thirty-eight years ago.’ Sigismund’s allied army of Hungarians, Wallachians, French, Germans and Burgundians, with a few Englishman, was shattered by Sultan Bayazid at the battle of Nicopolis further down the Danube, with the captured dying in ‘a shambles of beheading lasting from dawn to Vespers’.

Like the storks he saw the next day, who were preparing to fly off to “Afrik! Afrik!”, as an old Turkish man gestured, Paddy departed after breakfast to Orsova. Ever one for losing things he discovered that he had left behind an antler which he had been carrying as a trophy. Paddy writes that ‘perhaps some future palaeontologist might think that the island had once teemed with deer’.  This cannot be as the river was dammed and Ada Kaleh submerged by the rising Danube. Its population was evacuated and its mosque removed to a new, safe location. Such mitigation measures did not satisfy Paddy as he states in the Appendix to BTWW. The second of the two attached presentations is also a heartfelt, but belated cry of protest in Romanian.

Please take a look at these presentations. If you have PowerPoint you will find there is appropriate musical accompaniment (slide show one has a song called Ada Kaleh). The images show the place and its people almost exactly as Paddy would have seen it, something that we can truly say will be seen no more. The pdf copy is for those who do not have access to PowerPoint. I do hope that you enjoy them.

Tom

PowerPoint 1

PDF of PowerPoint 1

PowerPoint 2

PDF of PowerPoint 2

There are lots more great pictures to be found on Google images.

Re-opening of Bánffy exhibition at Budapest Opera House

Zsuzsanna Szebeni, who is the curator of the Count Bánffy exhibition at the Budapest Opera House, contacted me to say that the exhibition has re-opened at the opera house from 3 April 2012. If my Magyar is up to scratch it appears to run until 24 June, but I could be wrong about that! From the 16th of July the exhibition will move to a larger location in the city of Sepsizsentgyörgy or Sfântu Gheorghe (in Romanian), a city which is predominantly Székely Hungarian, and lies to the north-east of Brasov in Transylvania.

Miklos Bánffy was a Transylvanian Count and director of the Budapest Opera House at the end of the Great War. At the same time he planned the very last coronation of a King of Hungary, the last Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Charles I. This is all wonderfully described in the English Translation of Bánffy’s memoirs, The Phoenix Land, published by Arcadia Books.

As you will know by now, Paddy wrote the introduction to the English translation of Bánffy’s fictional Transylvanian Trilogy which is wonderful and an absolute must read. Cluj gets many a mention. You can read more about Count Bánffy here on the blog.

You can contact Zsuzsanna as follows: Mobil: +36 20 3304070 and Office: +36 1 3751184/128.

For those of you who speak Magyar you will find this video of interest. For those who don’t I hope that you will enjoy the colourful images!

A Year of Memory: the top ten posts on the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog

As the year comes to a close it is time to reflect upon what has passed and to look forward to 2012. I make no predictions for the coming year. There are some things which are almost certain such as the continuing Euro crisis and the much anticipated publication of Artemis Cooper’s authorised biography about Paddy, but forecasts tend to be overtaken by events and are quickly forgotten.

What we can do is to look back on this year in the life and times of Patrick Leigh Fermor. The major event of course was Paddy’s death on 10 June at the age of ninety-six. A sad event for his family and close friends, but also for those of us who admired him for his writing and the life he lived. As the year closed it was time to celebrate his life at his Memorial Service held on 15 December in London.

As I hoped the blog has become a significant source of material about his life including rarely seen video. There have been over 228,000 visits over the last year and you have made it a much more interactive experience by using the comment facility to exchange information, provide your own memories of Paddy, and to express your admiration for him. At the time of his death I opened a page where you could express your thoughts about Paddy which has run to over 120 comments.

Paddy would probably have been somewhat bemused by the whole idea of the blog, but perhaps even more so by the interaction we now have with social networking sites with nearly 4,500 visitors finding the site from Facebook, and 850 via Twitter.

To conclude the year, and as the 365th post on the blog, let us take a look at some of the most popular articles over the last twelve months. Perhaps I can make one promise to you all which is that there is much more to come on the blog in 2012 which includes a lot of material submitted by you the readers of the blog.

The Funeral Service of Patrick Leigh Fermor, 16 June 2011 

Paddy’s funeral service was held on a typical English summer’s day at his home in Dumbleton. He returned to England just one day before his death and is buried beside his beloved Joan.

Obituary from The Independent by Paddy Leigh Fermor’s biographer Artemis Cooper 

Perhaps the definitive obituary.

Patrick Leigh Fermor … This is Your (Ill Met by Moonlight) Greek Life 

The amazing video from the Greek TV programme which reunited the participants of the Ill Met by Moonlight kidnap including Paddy, many of the Andartes, and General Kreipe and his wife.

Anthony Lane’s New Yorker article on Fermor is now free to view 

One of the most comprehensive profiles of Paddy which is now freely available to all. (the pdf download appears to be no longer available – click on the article to magnify to read and then drag your cursor to move around the page)

Intimate portraits from Kardamyli by Miles Fenton 

A series of personal photographs sent to me by Miles Fenton who is Paddy’s nephew and who now lives in Canada where he works as an artist.

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video 

The ever popular video where Paddy talks in some detail about the Kreipe kidnap. (press play on Battle of Crete 7).

Colonel David Smiley 

David Smiley was a fellow occupant of Tara in Cairo with Paddy and Billy Moss et al who continued his military career with some distinction after the war and even led Japanese soldiers in a charge against VietMinh rebels!

Paddy’s eye for detail: Ian Fleming, Bondage, James Bond and Pol Roger 

It is probably the James Bond/Ian Fleming association which maintains the popularity of this article.

If food be the music of love … Bánffy’s lover in Cluj (Kolozsvár) 

No list of popular posts can be complete without the compelling combination of my passions for Paddy, Romania, Miklós Bánffy, and Cluj.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Memorial Order of Service 

The order of service from the joyful occasion that was Paddy’s Memorial Service.

Finally I would like to thank so many of you for your encouragement and support during 2011, and wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Tom Sawford

Wild Carpathia

Sorry I just can’t help myself. Romania is so magical and beautiful; Paddy is reported to have said that after Greece he loved Romania the most. I have to share this video with you. It was funded by The European Nature Trust (TENT) which is based in Marlow, Berkshire. It’s mission is ” the protection and restoration of threatened wilderness, wild habitats and the wildlife living within them.” and it is focused upon Romania and Scotland.

This is a high quality version in English. Watch it and maybe support the work of TENT.

The all star cast includes lots of bears, even more mountains, and huge (but endangered) forests. Presented by Charlie Ottley, with Count Kálnoky, and HRH Prince Charles who thinks because he has some ancestral links to Vlad Dracul he has a ‘stake’ in the country.

Related article:

Lost in Transylvania

Cantacuzino Family Tomb in Baleni, Romania

Of the old estate of the Cantacuzino’s, all that remains is a tomb—and even that has been left to the elements—“The memorial has value, but the monument isn’t part of our database,” maintains the Director of Culture.

Chris Bartholomew got in touch with me, all the way from Salt Lake City, to pass on his translation of an article he found in a Romanian newspaper about the family tomb of Balasha Cantacuzene, who was Paddy’s lover before the war.

Thank you so much for your Patrick Leigh Fermor Blog. I have been a daily reader for about a year now, and have a difficult time thinking of life without my connection to this community you have brought together.

Last night I came across three newspaper articles about Baleni, Romania where Paddy spent time with Balasa Cantacuzino (the romanian spelling of Cantacuzene). The newspaper is Viata Libera, I believe from the city of Galati.

I’ve translated one article about the family tomb in Baleni, and thought it might be of interest to you and your readers as it provides excellent details about this mostly unpublished chapter of Paddy’s life.

Regards,

Chris

Salt Lake City, Utah

by Cristna S. Carp

First published in Viata Libera 17 March 2009

Generations of Cantacuzinos, the famous Byzantine noble family who contributed crowned heads to Romanian principalities, sleep forever in the locality of Baleni, almost forgotten.

Of the manor house and their vast estate in the former Covurlui County, all that remains is a tomb, left crumbling and surrounded by decrepitude.

The Last Male Descendant

Stories of princes and princesses always have happy endings. This only happens in fairy tales.

In reality, the princesses buried at Baleni are crying and sobbing, and Leon [Balasa & Elena’s father], the final Cantacuzino male descendant from the south of Moldova, is turning in his grave. Artifact hunters have even broken into the tomb through the roof.

But not even recent historical times have been among the most favorable. The last inhabitants of the manor, the daughters of Leon, Balasa and Elena, as well as Constantin Donici, the husband of the latter, were deported by the Communists to Pucioasa. Of the descendants of the Cantacuzinos of Baleni, it seems that no one is left alive.

The Transformation of a Library

One night in March of 1949, the fate of the owners and of the estate was sealed. The solid and imposing manor was doomed to dust.

An existing remnant of a reddish wall vaguely reminds us of the one time benefactors of the local communities, of country celebrations filled with good friends, and the many hunting expeditions. This is where in 1927 Nicolae Iorga, after a conference in Galati, came to admire the “splendid library, with artistic and rare editions.” This is also where Prince Sutu once dropped in, in his personal airplane.

The precious library from Baleni, consisting of books in English, French, Russian, Greek, German and Romanian, was scattered in all directions, beginning on the night of its masters’ eviction. Some volumes came to an end burning in the bottom of a decommissioned root cellar, others were thrown into a nearby river.

As not to muddy themselves during the early months of spring, activists used the books, gathered by the Cantacuzinos from the ends of the earth, to pave their walkways. Peasants fashioned shoes out of the luxurious covers of the books. Only a few hundred have found their way to the ‘V.A. Urechia” library, deposited by the Party or from other donations.

Ten Souls

Constructed, most likely, at the beginning of the 20th Century, the tomb situated in the old village cemetery, is “crammed” between graves whose ordinary souls also ask for the right to rest in peace. The funerary monument includes a chapel, constructed above the tomb. The crypt is open to anyone who would like to light a candle above the heads of these ten souls.

The first of the resting places belongs to the brother of Leon. Next are buried the paternal grandmother and the parents of Leon. His father, Prince George Matei, died in Egypt, but was brought to Baleni, where he was given a very ceremonious funeral.

Ana Vacarescu [Balasa’s mother] faded from life in 1923, followed that same year by her husband, Leon Cantacuzino. Balasa died in 1976, in Pucioasa. Elena brought her to Baleni and a few years later, also had the privilege of placing the incinerated remains of her dead husband in the crypt.

In her turn, Elena was placed, in 1983, in her final resting place, by her former students. The final person buried in the Cantacuzino tomb is Georghe Farcas, a descendant of the noble estate. As the founders of the new village church, the Cantacuzino descendants are often mentioned, but only during religious services.

“The Memorial is Proposed for Designation”

The county cultural representative, councilman Marius Mitrof, told us that, concerning the value of the funeral monument, all circumstances point to the memorial receiving historical designation. A precedent exists, in the tomb of the Serfioti Family, from Filesti, and of the Crissovelon family, from Ghidigeni, found on the list of historical monuments. However, specialists still must take into account other parameters, such as its architectural value and the conditions of the construction.

The former mayor, professor Nicolae Nita, admits, not without regret, that the princes, who might bring recognition to the village, are unjustly forgotten. Not even the current mayor, Lica Oprea, knows how this civic treasure might be given recognition without financial help from the county counsel.

A first step would be, as Marius told us, to solicit historical designation for the tomb, from the Directorate of Culture. “We do not have this funeral monument in our database, but it follows for us to visit the site to collect information and to hold public discussion with the local administration,” he also said.

On the other hand, even with an official place in the register of historical monuments, the tomb in Baleni has no guarantee that it will remain intact. Neither is it assured that, if the manor, once visited by Nicolae Iorga, had survived the Communists, it would have been maintained and promoted any better by our contemporaries. Here as well, sadly, we have precedents. Proof that our mentality must also be changed.

Related article:

The troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear by Colin Thubron 

Lost in Transylvania

Campaigners are hoping tourism will play a role in protecting the vast Carpathian forest

by Clive Aslet

First published in the Financial Times, 5 November 2011

I am sitting in a wooden hut in a forest clearing near Tusnad, aware of a distinct tingling in a delicate area – the part of my body that touches the plank forming a seat. It’s the effect of the sulphur. Outside there are hot springs and mud baths that gently bubble but the purpose of the hut is to take the gas neat. Lean down and, sulphur being heavier than air, it feels as if too much wasabi has gone up your nose. Stay down and you might not get up again. Don’t the EU health and safety regulators have something to say about this? Heavens, no. This is Transylvania, a world that seems to share more with the lyrical novels of Thomas Hardy than modern Europe.

And it is beautiful. Raise your eyes to the hills and you’ll see an openness that is barely credible to someone from a crowded, industrialised country. Look down and you’ll find a deliciously scented pasture that is a tangle of wildflowers and herbs. No habitation is visible beyond the huts where the gypsy shepherds live and milk their goats. A man forks hay on to a ­rum baba-shaped stack. Otherwise there’s nobody to be seen – hardly surprising when you discover the road in this valley is so bad that it’s touch and go whether you’ll get over the bridge.

In this arcadia you wake to the sound of cowbells. The breakfast honey comes from bees that know nothing about the varroa mite that afflicts their cousins in more intensively farmed landscapes. The grapes clustering by the wall of the wooden church are warm from the sun. Geese cackle among the vegetables growing in the yards of the village houses. You might have one of them for dinner. Food is local here. It has to be – the nearest supermarket is hours away.

Most wonderful of all are the forests. Generally, visitors get only a distant glimpse of them but I’m lucky: I am here with Paul Lister, who founded the European Nature Trust to preserve wild spaces such as the Carpathian Mountains, which are covered in forest. The Carpathians form an arc through many central European countries but the Romanian part is the most biodiverse. There are, for example, more brown bears here than anywhere else in Europe. Lister believes this area should be regarded as Europe’s equivalent of Yellowstone National Park.

The son of one of the co-founders of MFI, the once-ubiquitous British furniture retailer that ceased trading in 2008, Lister first came to Romania in the 1980s, buying product for the stores. That was during the Communist era, when the forests were managed to textbook standards, not least because the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu loved to hunt in them.

Since his fall, in 1989, the state forestry service has been in decline. Large areas of woodland have been returned to the families who originally owned them but now might live far away. As the price of timber rises, so does the temptation to clear-fell the trees and take the cash. While light regulation might be charming in a sulphur hut, it also allows illegal logging. Corruption is rife. There’s no middle class to get hot under the collar about nefarious activities. Little by little, the forest is being nibbled away. Lister is devoting his considerable energy to saving it.

Lister had already turned 40 before he discovered his purpose in life. The turning point came when his father, Noel, suffered a serious illness 10 years ago. “I realised that it was pointless trying to compete with him any more. I could never be a better businessman than him, so I decided to devote my life to something that I’m passionate about: conservation.”

Initially, he bought the 23,000 acre estate – now called “reserve” – of Alladale in the Scotland Highlands, with the intention of “rewilding” it by flooding peatbogs that had been drained and reintroducing the wildlife that would have been there in the heyday of the Caledonian Forest. The great Carpathian Forest, half of which lies in Romania, is the other side of the coin. The Highlands might have lost its biodiversity but Transylvania is teeming with it.

Last month, the documentary Wild Carpathia had its world premiere in Bucharest. Lister financed the project in order to show urban Romania the wonder that lies on its doorstep. “Which other western country has such a charming rural life?” he says. “If only Romania would follow the example of Costa Rica, where a third of the forests are now protected. The future lies in eco-tourism.”

That industry is just beginning to appear in a number of lodges and guest houses, not generally de luxe but comfortable enough and set in heavenly surroundings. Having arrived at Targu Mures airport (Wizz Air flies direct from several European cities), located in the middle of an empty savannah, I set out with Lister to sample a few of them.

From the airport we drive to the Valea Verde Retreat at Cund: a journey of 40 minutes if, in this land of few signposts, you don’t get lost. It is owned by Jonas Schäfer, a German whose idealistic parents sold their house in Hamburg to come and help after the fall of Ceausescu in 1989. He is typical of the outsiders who forsee what Romania will lose if it goes down the wrong path. Accommodation is in a variety of rustic apartments formed from converted farmhouses. Before breakfast we hear the gypsy shepherd wheeling the milk churn up to the goats that are kept on the hillside; when we walk that way later, ­taking care to avoid some ferocious sheepdogs, the air is soft with the scent of the herbs that grow in the pasture. In the barn, which has been converted into a restaurant, we eat eggs from the hens roaming outside with shavings of truffle from the surrounding woods.

Next is Zabola, a yellow-walled chateau in Zabala, owned by the Chowdhury family, who returned to reclaim their estate, which had been expropriated by the Ceausescu regime. The 16th-century chateau sits in 34 hectares of parkland at the foot of the Carpathians. Guests stay in a recently renovated 18th-century outbuilding; a hunting lodge in the forest can also be rented for self-catering. Much of the food is from the two-acre kitchen garden. At dinner the dumb waiter rises, with theatrical effect, through the floor of the dining room, from the kitchen below.

Crocuses bloom in the fields along the bumpy road that leads to the tiny village of Zalanpatak. The charming guesthouse here is owned by Prince Charles, who through several charities works to conserve traditional buildings in the area. It has five bedrooms and a large wooden verandah overlooking the surrounding meadows.

I am tempted to say you might want to come and see this world before it disappears, but Lister believes that is defeatist. Visitors, he believes, will create a market for the felt slippers, home-made preserves and slipware pottery, perhaps helping the area to survive – along with the wolves and bears that live in the Carpathian forest.

Trophy hunters still go after the bears but other attitudes are beginning to prevail. Near Equus Silvania, a centre for riding in the wild Carpathian foothills west of Brasov, I spend an evening in a shaky wooden hide watching some of these fascinating animals. The shooting licence for this area has been bought by a local businessman who prefers to study bears, rather than kill them.

As dusk falls the bears sinuously slope up to food that has been left for them – the cubs gambolling, the mothers on the qui vive. You would not want to get between a mother and her cubs; the power of these animals is illustrated by the hide’s floor, part of which has been ripped away by a bear looking for food.

Equus Silvania is run by Christoph Promberger, a wolf biologist, and his wife, Barbara, a specialist in lynx. Both are campaigners for the forest and they arrange a helicopter to show me the extent of it. It is a warm day but rain is soon flecking the bubble of the machine as we swing towards the Piatra Craiului ridge. Roastingly hot in the summer but also damp, the conditions are ideal for trees. Below us, the hillsides are covered in a seemingly endless bristling mat of green pines, interspersed with the softer beech. There are few roads here and no sign of a dwelling, except for the occasional shepherd’s hut. Then into the headphones comes Barbara’s voice, pointing out an area – as bare as a badly shaved chin – where the trees have been felled.

Part of the problem is that forestry has little perceived value; according to Erika Stanciu, head of forestry for the Danube Carpathian programme at the World Wildlife Fund, it isn’t worth enough in exports for the government to make it a priority.

Over a plate of goulash on a terrace beside the charming Piata Sfatului square in Brasov, Lister unfolds two strategies for saving the forests. One solution is to unlock the carbon credits granted to countries such as Romania under the Kyoto Protocol, intended as a financial reward for not creating emissions that would otherwise have occurred. The other is rural development, a major plank of which must be tourism.

Little tourist infrastructure exists in rural Transylvania but that is part of its essence. You might not quite be in the position of Adam and Eve seeing a newly created world but you will certainly find it easy to be alone. At Equus Silvania I have breakfast with a woman from Switzerland, a country with grand mountains of its own, but who comes here to ride for a week or two at a time. She tells me, “Switzerland is like a garden compared to this.”

Clive Aslet is editor-at-large of Country Life