Worldwide Photographic Journeys

Europe (including Svalbard)

TRANSYLVANIA, ROMANIA – Bears & Landscapes in the Shadow of Dracula

Saturday 4th September – Saturday 11th September 2021

Leader: Zoltan Nagy

8 Days Group Size Limit 6
Sunday 4th September – Sunday 11th September 2022

Leader: Zoltan Nagy

8 Days Group Size Limit 6

TRANSYLVANIA, ROMANIA: BEARS & LANDSCAPES IN THE SHADOW OF DRACULA PHOTOGRAPHY TOURS WITH WILD IMAGES

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Romania is an ancient landscape, where Brown Bears live in the dark shadows of forests that reach down to pretty meadows around secluded villages. This is Transylvania, the ‘land beyond the forest’. There have been some exciting recent developments here! Gone now are the days when rich trophy hunters could plunder the bear population, here in one of its last European strongholds (although there is still a little hunting allowed where bears have become problematic). Consequently, bear numbers are increasing and therefore sightings of them are too! Local bear enthusiasts have been working hard to install thoughtfully positioned and purpose-built photographic hides as well as building the superb new Harghita Bear Lodge, aiming to offer the best possible bear experience at an affordable price. A far cry from the horrible Ceaucescu era concrete shooting bunkers with random unsuitable backgrounds one had to endure formerly.

We will spend five full days in bear country with daily photo hide sessions in the hope of a variety of encounters but photographically speaking Transylvania is not just about bears. There are numerous other worthwhile subjects here ranging from birds and other wildlife to landscapes and people. Harghita is one of the best places to photograph the shy and elusive Hazel Grouse, which sometimes feeds in front of the bear photo hides, although we will need some luck for this one and the Bear Lodge itself has several bird-feeder photo hides for smaller forest species. We will also make an excursion to Békás Gorge a spectacular steep-sided, narrow limestone canyon famous for its Wallcreeepers (which can often be seen by the roadside there).

The pretty rural Transylvanian countryside of rolling hills covered by mixed forests and meadows is popular among landscape photographers, there are also some interesting churches and we also plan to visit a charcoal burning operation, which can offer interesting people photo opportunities. Of course, Transylvania is also famous for vampires and a visit would not be complete without including some sites associated with the legend of Dracula. We will visit the picturesque Bran Castle (or Dracula’s Castle) as well as the well-preserved medieval town of Sighișoara, a UNESCO site and birthplace of Vlad Dracul, the 15th-century real-life tyrant who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel character.

The Bear Photo Hides

The bear hides are wooden structures with a mixture of shooting through high quality photo glass and ‘pop-out lens openings’ without any glass between your lens and the bears. At present there are three photo hides in operation, one in mature woodland, another by a woodland clearing and a third by a picturesque stream and a small lake. Where you are shooting through glass, the window is covered by a special innovated layer, it is not one-way glass but it does reflect the photon spectrum of colours. The special glass layering does not interfere with contrast and sharpness so you can still achieve excellent results. However, incoming light is reduced by around 1.3 stops. The bear hides all have comfortable chairs, curtains, fog-clearing ventilators and shelves. It is also important to avoid using chemicals inside the hides, which the bears can smell like insect repellent, perfume, deodorant etc. The ideal effective focal length is in the range of 200-500mm but short focal length wider angle photography can also be interesting. Use of a tripod is pretty much essential for best results. Although bears are of course the main focus, other species are possible such as Wild Boar, Red Deer and Red Fox as well as Hazel Grouse, particularly at this time of year. We must stress that while there is a very good chance of many bear encounters during your five afternoon sessions they are not 100% guaranteed. In fact, a previous client complained about the lack of bears and all they had managed to photograph that session was a Eurasian Lynx! Although this is a one-off, lynx sightings are very rare indeed! The hides are all located within 250m walk of the nearest vehicular access and can take a maximum of four, six and six plus photographers respectively. The walk to the two larger hides is quite flat but the smaller hide is up a fairly steep forest jeep track.

Accommodation & Road Transport: All accommodation is in ensuite rooms in comfortable hotels or lodges. Food is good. Road transport is by minibus or car depending on group size and roads are good.

Walking: The walking effort is easy, except the short uphill walk to one of the three bear hides.

Climate: Autumn days at this time of year are usually dry and sunny but it can sometimes be wet or overcast.

Photographic Equipment: We recommend a 200-500mm telephoto lens, with either a 1.4X extender or ‘crop body’ at the lower end of this range for best results. The bears in particular can come quite close to the hides so a shorter lends can sometimes be useful too. The use of a tripod in the bear hides is essential. For landscape photography and people photography where opportunities allow we recommend a range of focal lengths from short wide angle upwards to 100-200mm.

 

CUSTOM DEPARTURE AT OTHER TIMES

We can also easily arrange custom tours to the Harghita Bear Lodge and its photo hides, including transfers from/to Bucharest (five hours), Cluj Napoca (3.5 hours) and Sibiu (3 hours) International Airports, please contact us for details. The bear photography season starts in spring and we can easily arrange a custom bear photo tour as an add-on to our Romania’s Danube Delta: Bird Photography tour.

This fantastic eight-day tour focuses on the Danube Delta and Dobrodgea area of Romania which is an amazingly diverse breeding and migration hotspot of Europe! The tour combines hide-photography and stalking photography, though these two will merge together in our special photo-boat inside the delta allowing superb possibilities getting close to birds!

About your boat

This 6.5 m long very stable flat bottomed boat was designed for photographers. It has four seats in the middle of the boat which are removable so when needed photography takes place from cushions allowing the lowest possible angle. The boat is installed with special photo-through glass – the same as in our hides in Hungary – on both side and also with a curtain system. The windows are turn able so photography also possible through the curtains only. The boat can be used in all weather as it has a removable roof as well.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of a good standard for most of the tour. In the Macin area slightly lower standard but it is clean (one night). Road transport is by minibus and roads are generally good.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy throughout the tour.

Climate: In June most days are warm, dry and sunny and temperature is up to 30C. We will focus on the early morning and late afternoon hours however so it will not be inconvenient.

Recommended equipment: All sort of lenses can be used but a larger 400 or 500 mm lens is recommended on this tour. We will supply special beanbags in the boat. These are useful when photographing through the curtain or without. Tripods are essential to bring for the tour. It is possible to use them in the boat as well when the special windows installed.

Photographic Highlights

  • If you go down to the woods today… in Trasylvania you will find some surprisingly well placed and comfortable bear photo hides!
  • Chance of the shy and retiring Hazel Grouse feeding in front of a bear hide
  • Forest birds at photo hide feeders including Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Marsh Tit
  • Dawn breaks over the beautiful rural Transylvanian landscape
  • A variety of Brown Bear encounters at close range against photogenic backgrounds during our five afternoon escorted photo hide sessions
  • A Wallcreeper flutters across the immense limestone walls of the spectacularly narrow Békás Gorge on one of our morning outings
  • Watch charcoal burning foresters at work, an unusual and different photo subject
  • A glimpse of medieval Transylvania, at Bran Castle and the ancient city of Sighișoara, both closely associated with the Dracula legend
  • Relax after your photo hide sessions enjoying tasty local food and drink at the superb new Harghita Bear Lodge, located in the heart of bear country

OUTLINE ITINERARY


To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Wild Images Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

Tips/Gratuities at the accommodations are not included.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)


2021: £1570, $2080, €1750, AUD2930. Bucharest/Bucharest.
2022: provisional £1570, $2080, €1750, AUD2930. Bucharest/Bucharest.

Single Supplement: 2021: £130, $170, €150, AUD250.
Single Supplement: 2022: £140, $190, €160, AUD260.

If you are travelling alone, the single supplement will not apply if you are willing to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in Euros. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

TRANSYLVANIA, ROMANIA: BEARS & LANDSCAPES IN THE SHADOW OF DRACULA PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

 

Day 1

The tour will start this afternoon at Bucharest Otopeni Airport. From here you will be transferred to the village of Simon near Bucegi Natural Park, where we will spend the night. Nearby Brașov is known as the Transylvanian Saxon capital of Romania where many people of German ethnic origin settled between the 12th and 19th centuries. However, after WWI and the dissolution of Austria-Hungary their numbers have declined and only just over 36,000 remain. The mountain range here towers over the city of Brașov and forms part of the Southern Carpathian range, rising to around 2500m asl.

 

Day 2

In keeping with our Dracula theme, this morning we will visit the dramatic Bran Castle, often referred to as Dracula’s Castle. However, it is not associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and only tenuously with Vlad Dracul but the medieval fortress, which started life as a fortified wooden structure built by the Teutonic Order of Knights in 1212, is an important and very photogenic landmark. After the wooden fortress was destroyed by the Mongol Invasion in 1242 a stone castle was built in the fourteenth century. It is now one of Romania’s premier tourist attractions and apparently one of the world’s top ten most prestigious real estate properties!

On our way to the Bear Lodge we will also call at historic Sighișoara, a UNESCO site and widely considered to be the most beautiful and best-preserved inhabited medieval citadel in Europe. It is also famous as the birthplace of Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Impaler (c.1428-1477), who was the real-life inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula character. Vlad Dracul was actually much more terrifying than anything Bram Stoker came up with and was a cruel tyrant responsible for the barbaric torture and deaths of tens of thousands of people in the historic region of Wallachia. He is, however, now thought of as a national hero in Romania for his exploits against the Ottoman Turks. The townhouse where Vlad is reputed to have been born now hosts a medieval-style restaurant on its ground floor. There will be an opportunity to photograph some of the buildings here, which date back to the middle ages.

Our northward journey will take us deeper into Transylvania, a region commonly associated with vampires thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel. Following the withdrawal of the Romans around 271AD it was settled by a succession of tribes and in the middle ages became part of the Habsburg Empire, later Austria-Hungary and to this day it has a significant population of ethnic Hungarians (c.18%). However, in Harghita county, where we are ultimately bound for today this rises to a majority 85+%! Hungarian language is spoken here instead of Romanian and the names of the people you meet will be Hungarian. The small Romanian minority is in fact concentrated in the north and east of the county, so Harghita really is a little part of Hungary tucked away deep inside modern-day Romania.

We will see the Székelyland flag in this area, a golden sun and silver crescent moon on a blue background. The Székelys are the ethnic group of Hungarians, who continue to seek a degree of autonomy from Romania. The word Szék refers to ‘seat’, which was an autonomous privilege given by the Hungarian Kings to local rulers in exchange for military services and historically the Székelys were the fearsome protectors of Hungary’s eastern frontier. Székelyland is also known for its fortified churches, mineral springs and spas, salt mines, pottery and wood carving. Summers in the mountains here are warm and winters very cold, there are woodpiles of winter fuel next to the attractive village homes and the region is particularly known for its ornately carved wooden gates to fenced properties. We will also hope to sample some of the delicious local blueberry brandy for which the area is well-known. Eventually, we will reach the delightful Harghita Bear Lodge, located not far from the town of Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc), our base for the next six nights.

 

Days 3-7

Our morning session will be a photographic excursion in the Harghita region.

Depending on the weather, our photo session could include bird feeder photography from hides around the lodge, which sometimes produces Grey-headed Woodpecker and Eurasian Jay or landscape photography (often before breakfast), a visit to local charcoal burners and Békás Gorge for Wallcreepers and spectacular scenery. The afternoon sessions will be spent entirely in the bear photo hides, where we will hope for a variety of different encounters. Bears have very charismatic faces affording endless different photo opportunities.

The Carpathian Brown Bear is the same species as found across Europe, Asia and North America where it is known as Grizzly Bear and the population in the Carpathian Mountains is estimated at around 8,000 with Romania home to the majority of these at around 5,000. A fully-grown male bear is a very impressive sight and can stand over two metres tall and weigh up to 400kg. It is a thrilling experience to sit in a photo hide, close to one of these magnificent creatures!

 

Day 8

This morning, after breakfast, we will be transferred back to Bucharest Otopeni Airport, where the tour will end around midday.


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