Mozart's Requiem floats over the walls of a 14th-century citadel and wafts down the snowy slopes that tower over this Transylvanian town. Little wonder that the producers of "Cold...
RASNOV, Romania Mozart’s Requiem floats over the walls of a 14th-century citadel and wafts down the snowy slopes that tower over this Transylvanian town.
Little wonder that the producers of “Cold Mountain” chose this enchanting location to film the biggest Hollywood movie ever made in Romania. Its medieval charm long has lured thousands of tourists and the scenery in the film is bound to entice many more.
Directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Reneé Zellweger, “Cold Mountain” was shot in 2002 in the mountains and forests of this magical corner of southeastern Transylvania.
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Saved production costs
Based on the novel by Charles Frazier, it tells the wrenching odyssey of a wounded Confederate soldier who returns to his North Carolina home. Though the story is set in Virginia and North Carolina, nearly all of the movie was filmed in Romania for its landscape and low costs.
Minghella found the unspoiled beech and birch forests and mountains home to bears, deer and wolves and the rural farmlands the closest thing to the North Carolina of the Civil War.
Yet there’s more to the region than spectacular scenery.
Tourists are drawn by the Dracula legend and the medieval charm haunting this land that endured centuries of invasion.
There are 15 citadels and fortresses in the area, which were built by peasants to keep out marauding armies of Turks and Tartars and cruel local medieval lords. Many have been preserved or renovated and breathe an air of timelessness in a land at once in the 14th and 21st centuries.
The most famous is Bran Castle, a Gothic fortress perched on a rock. It needs only a couple of bats in the late afternoon to make it the perfect setting for a horror film; and indeed, the castle has appeared in numerous Dracula movies.
Romania’s most infamous prince, Vlad the Impaler admired for defending this corner of Transylvania from Turkish invasions by cruelly impaling Turks and thieves on wooden stakes was the real-life inspiration for “Dracula” author Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel.
Tourism has developed here since communism ended in 1989, allowing for the flourishing of private enterprise.
Comfortable and clean inns are dotted along the roads of villages and towns for those who dare to drive the area’s hairpin mountain turns and precipitous dropoffs.
Much of the local food is heavy, suitable for a winter mountain climate, and the ingredients are often organically grown.
Plenty of history
Hardcore Dracula fans will find the Wolves’ Inn, tucked just a few fields away from where filmmakers built the “Cold Mountain” sets. In Rasnov, there’s also the Count’s Home hotel.
At the gates of Bran Castle, vendors offer Dracula sweaters hand-knitted from the thick wool yield of local sheep, and offer Vampire wine red, of course. It’s an easy day trip from the popular ski slopes at nearby Poiana Brasov.
Local artisans peddle beautiful blouses made from a mixture of silk and cotton and as delicate as a moth’s wing, decorated with hand-sewn embroidery. Also on offer are lamb’s wool hats for men and airy cheesecloth nightshirts for children, all for under $100.
The picturesque town of Rasnov, 100 miles northwest of Bucharest, received $600,000 for serving as the backdrop to “Cold Mountain.” But Mayor George Soiu is disappointed that the filmmakers didn’t leave the set behind he had hoped to turn it into a rural inn.
The site where the movie’s main scenes were filmed is just a short drive across snowy fields.
The mountain is called Cheita, or the Little Key, and looks pretty much like dozens of other mountains in the area. There are riding and bungee-jumping facilities in the nearby fields.
Locals who were hired to help construct the set were pleased to earn $15 a day, a good wage in Romania, where the average monthly salary is just $140. Yet the down-to-earth Transylvanians aren’t easily impressed by Hollywood stars.
“The blond actress with freckles?” said Victor Soima, the citadel’s manager, when asked about Kidman, who plays Ada Monroe in “Cold Mountain.”
“Yes, she visited the citadel,” he says, changing the music from Mozart to Strauss. The strains seem amplified by the deep winter snow, which creates a deathly still across the surrounding countryside.
Foreigners help the economy
Soima, a 58-year-old former army officer, chomps fist-sized pork steaks piled high on a platter and says he’s pleased that foreigners are discovering Rasnov. Without them, he said, Rasnov would be “a dead town, with no industry, no agriculture nothing.”
As many as 200 people visit daily in the summer months, and winters draw a couple of dozen a day. Among the more unusual Transylvania tourist attractions at the citadel is a glass panel in the floor through which visitors can peer at a human skeleton lying in an open grave.
“Foreigners come here for Dracula,” said Catalin Coman, a 20-year-old Romanian student enjoying a pizza with his girlfriend at Bran before returning to his studies in Germany.
“We must take advantage of this legend,” he said. “We have a beautiful country, and it’s shame not to make money from tourism.”