Friday, October 06, 2006

I. H. Tribune: In Transylvania, a count's hideaway beckons travelers

International Herald Tribune: In Transylvania, a count's hideaway beckons travelers
By Nicholas Wood The New York Times
Published: August 29, 2006


The road to Miklosvar seems almost designed to keep visitors away. People hoping to make their way to this village deep in the center of Romania must brave potholes and gravel that pummel the bones of passengers in even the most luxurious of vehicles.
The reward for enduring the three- to four-hour trip from Bucharest is a part of Transylvania that appears to have changed little over the past century. Farmhouses, adorned with outsize, ornate wooden gateways, hug cobblestone and dirt roads. In nearby fields, men and women cut hay with scythes. Traffic, for the want of a better word, consists of horses and carts passing by once in a while.
For most people though, the idea of Transylvania conjures images of Bram Stoker's "Dracula," and by all appearances, Miklosvar seems well qualified as an appropriate backdrop. While Bran Castle, the towering fortress most closely associated with Vlad the Impaler, is about 65 kilometers, or 40 miles, away, Miklosvar offers a deserted manor cum castle, bats that fly through the unlit streets at night and even a charming count who speaks in faintly accented English.
But these are not the reasons that the count, the man responsible for bringing most outsiders there, would have you visit. For the past decade, Count Tibor Kalnoky, a former veterinarian and ornithologist, has been working to turn this village on the eastern edge of Transylvania - the Hungarian-speaking region in central Romania - as well as the surrounding woodland into an environmental retreat and a preserve of the region's architectural heritage.
Descendants of the feudal overlords of the area, whose roots there date as far back as 1252, Kalnoky and his family run a company that provides tours and accommodations for up to 20 guests in four farmhouses in Miklosvar. The money raised from Count Kalnoky's Estate, as his company is known, goes toward restoring the humble steep-roofed buildings in the village as well as two of the family's ancestral homes (one in Miklosvar and another nearby).
The company is also committed to promoting and protecting the local wildlife. It is lobbying for the woodland behind the village, home to such rare birds as the lesser spotted eagle, black storks and white-backed woodpeckers, to be protected under Romanian and European law.
Guests stay in one of four farmhouses, all of which have been restored over the past decade. The 19th-century main guesthouse, or Upper House, has two stories and a cellar. Drinks are served in a drawing room with high- backed armchairs and a table covered in embroidered white cloth.
Another guesthouse, formerly a serf's dwelling, is up a path. It is a much simpler affair, painted in light blue (the color of houses belonging to serfs or bonded workers). The two other guesthouses are a five-minute walk away and face each other across an enclosed yard.
The family's former hunting manor, which combines Renaissance, Baroque and neo-Classical architecture, is the most ambitious restoration project, and lies empty at the northern end of the village in its own park. During Communist times, it was used as the village's main meeting hall and fell into neglect. Now it is open to visitors as the Kalnokys restore the stonework and frescoes on the outside walls.
While many villages in this region share this heritage, what makes Miklosvar different is that it has retained much of its original population. The villagers still make their livings almost exclusively from the land.
Visitors can set out to track bears or wolves, visit bat-filled caves, walk through primeval forests and return each evening to the comfort of farmhouses with open fires and antique furniture, and eat rich local dishes like goulash with caraway seeds and sour cream.
Nearby there are numerous castles, former manors and fortified medieval churches to visit as well as crumbling Saxon villages, home to members of Romania's ethnic German minority for 800 years until nearly all emigrated to Germany after the collapse of Communism. The beauty of this area and the Kalnokys' restoration work have attracted interest from both architecture and wildlife enthusiasts.
The creation of Miklosvar as a rural retreat began about 19 years ago, when Kalnoky, the second son of a Hungarian aristocrat exiled to France, was 21 and Romania was still under the grip of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
The count's family fled Romania on the eve of World War II; the family's property was seized by the Communists when they came to power at the war's end. In 1987, about two years before the collapse of Communism, Kalnoky and his father made an illicit visit to their family's former home, a U-shaped
19th- century manor house built around a courtyard, in Korospatak, a village close to Miklosvar. When they came out of the house, a huge crowd had gathered to greet them in the courtyard.
"People were crying and embracing my father," Kalnoky said.
The crowd disappeared as quickly as it gathered though, as word came that members of Ceausescu's dreaded Securitate, the secret police, were making their way to the village. As aristocrats and foreigners traveling in a country where foreign tourism was virtually forbidden, there was a risk that they could be accused of spying or trying to foment unrest. They made a hasty departure down a back road.
That, said the count, was "the trigger moment," when he decided to dedicate himself to taking back his ancestral home.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall a year later and a revolution in Romania paved the way for people to reclaim property seized by the state.
Just as Miklosvar has remained largely unscathed by modern progress, it has also remained poor. Even while urban areas in Romania experience sharp growth as it prepares to join the European Union in January, the accompanying wealth eludes many rural areas. And so Kalnoky appears to have given at least some in the village a renewed sense of pride and purpose as foreigners flock there.
But there is an odd feeling, too, of a hint of a return to a feudal order.
Villagers refer to the Western-educated veterinarian as "the count" (guests usually call him Tibor). The kitchen staff and housemaids wear traditional dress, and linguistic barriers mean there is little communication between the visitors and the employees or villagers.
Miklos Cserei, who runs a small bar just near the Kalnokys' main farmhouse, remembers the apprehension of many villagers when the count won his property back. "I think the older people were afraid," Cserei said. "They could still remember stories when people here were peasants who worked for the count."
He said that some of those fears subsided when the count gave gift packages to the elderly at Christmas, a tradition he has kept up ever since.
Yet, in some ways, even Kalnoky himself sees his family fulfilling the role their ancestors did before them.
"The real value of aristocracy is something I'd like to deepen here," he said. "A sense of responsibility toward the place and people here."
The road to Miklosvar seems almost designed to keep visitors away. People hoping to make their way to this village deep in the center of Romania must brave potholes and gravel that pummel the bones of passengers in even the most luxurious of vehicles.
The reward for enduring the three- to four-hour trip from Bucharest is a part of Transylvania that appears to have changed little over the past century. Farmhouses, adorned with outsize, ornate wooden gateways, hug cobblestone and dirt roads. In nearby fields, men and women cut hay with scythes. Traffic, for the want of a better word, consists of horses and carts passing by once in a while.
For most people though, the idea of Transylvania conjures images of Bram Stoker's "Dracula," and by all appearances, Miklosvar seems well qualified as an appropriate backdrop. While Bran Castle, the towering fortress most closely associated with Vlad the Impaler, is about 65 kilometers, or 40 miles, away, Miklosvar offers a deserted manor cum castle, bats that fly through the unlit streets at night and even a charming count who speaks in faintly accented English.
But these are not the reasons that the count, the man responsible for bringing most outsiders there, would have you visit. For the past decade, Count Tibor Kalnoky, a former veterinarian and ornithologist, has been working to turn this village on the eastern edge of Transylvania - the Hungarian-speaking region in central Romania - as well as the surrounding woodland into an environmental retreat and a preserve of the region's architectural heritage.
Descendants of the feudal overlords of the area, whose roots there date as far back as 1252, Kalnoky and his family run a company that provides tours and accommodations for up to 20 guests in four farmhouses in Miklosvar. The money raised from Count Kalnoky's Estate, as his company is known, goes toward restoring the humble steep-roofed buildings in the village as well as two of the family's ancestral homes (one in Miklosvar and another nearby).
The company is also committed to promoting and protecting the local wildlife. It is lobbying for the woodland behind the village, home to such rare birds as the lesser spotted eagle, black storks and white-backed woodpeckers, to be protected under Romanian and European law.
Guests stay in one of four farmhouses, all of which have been restored over the past decade. The 19th-century main guesthouse, or Upper House, has two stories and a cellar. Drinks are served in a drawing room with high- backed armchairs and a table covered in embroidered white cloth.
Another guesthouse, formerly a serf's dwelling, is up a path. It is a much simpler affair, painted in light blue (the color of houses belonging to serfs or bonded workers). The two other guesthouses are a five-minute walk away and face each other across an enclosed yard.
The family's former hunting manor, which combines Renaissance, Baroque and neo-Classical architecture, is the most ambitious restoration project, and lies empty at the northern end of the village in its own park. During Communist times, it was used as the village's main meeting hall and fell into neglect. Now it is open to visitors as the Kalnokys restore the stonework and frescoes on the outside walls.
While many villages in this region share this heritage, what makes Miklosvar different is that it has retained much of its original population. The villagers still make their livings almost exclusively from the land.
Visitors can set out to track bears or wolves, visit bat-filled caves, walk through primeval forests and return each evening to the comfort of farmhouses with open fires and antique furniture, and eat rich local dishes like goulash with caraway seeds and sour cream.
Nearby there are numerous castles, former manors and fortified medieval churches to visit as well as crumbling Saxon villages, home to members of Romania's ethnic German minority for 800 years until nearly all emigrated to Germany after the collapse of Communism. The beauty of this area and the Kalnokys' restoration work have attracted interest from both architecture and wildlife enthusiasts.
The creation of Miklosvar as a rural retreat began about 19 years ago, when Kalnoky, the second son of a Hungarian aristocrat exiled to France, was 21 and Romania was still under the grip of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
The count's family fled Romania on the eve of World War II; the family's property was seized by the Communists when they came to power at the war's end. In 1987, about two years before the collapse of Communism, Kalnoky and his father made an illicit visit to their family's former home, a U-shaped
19th- century manor house built around a courtyard, in Korospatak, a village close to Miklosvar. When they came out of the house, a huge crowd had gathered to greet them in the courtyard.
"People were crying and embracing my father," Kalnoky said.
The crowd disappeared as quickly as it gathered though, as word came that members of Ceausescu's dreaded Securitate, the secret police, were making their way to the village. As aristocrats and foreigners traveling in a country where foreign tourism was virtually forbidden, there was a risk that they could be accused of spying or trying to foment unrest. They made a hasty departure down a back road.
That, said the count, was "the trigger moment," when he decided to dedicate himself to taking back his ancestral home.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall a year later and a revolution in Romania paved the way for people to reclaim property seized by the state.
Just as Miklosvar has remained largely unscathed by modern progress, it has also remained poor. Even while urban areas in Romania experience sharp growth as it prepares to join the European Union in January, the accompanying wealth eludes many rural areas. And so Kalnoky appears to have given at least some in the village a renewed sense of pride and purpose as foreigners flock there.
But there is an odd feeling, too, of a hint of a return to a feudal order.
Villagers refer to the Western-educated veterinarian as "the count" (guests usually call him Tibor). The kitchen staff and housemaids wear traditional dress, and linguistic barriers mean there is little communication between the visitors and the employees or villagers.
Miklos Cserei, who runs a small bar just near the Kalnokys' main farmhouse, remembers the apprehension of many villagers when the count won his property back. "I think the older people were afraid," Cserei said. "They could still remember stories when people here were peasants who worked for the count."
He said that some of those fears subsided when the count gave gift packages to the elderly at Christmas, a tradition he has kept up ever since.
Yet, in some ways, even Kalnoky himself sees his family fulfilling the role their ancestors did before them.
"The real value of aristocracy is something I'd like to deepen here," he said. "A sense of responsibility toward the place and people here."


http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/08/29/news/trtrans.php

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article and very informative. Thank you for posting!

By the way, this idea with the clippings is very good. Keep on, spread the news about Transylvania!

October 07, 2006  

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