by CHARLIE OTTLEY
featuring the Prince of Wales
Broadcast in the UK on the Travel Channel, 30 October 2011
The last thing I expected was for Prince Charles to crack a joke about being descended from Dracula. But when I spoke to him for my new TV show Wild Carpathia, he told me he can trace his ancestry back, through his great-grandmother Queen Mary, to the half-brother of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula. Prince Charles seemed quite amused by his dark lineage.
A friend took him to visit the monastery, near Bucharest, where Vlad is buried and showed him his grave. ‘So I do have a bit of a stake in the country,’ he joked. Prince Charles has been visiting Transylvania – the home of his infamous ancestor – for more than a decade and feels passionately that it’s the last corner of Europe where there’s still a real balance between mankind and nature. And it needs to be preserved, not just for its incredible biodiversity but because it nourishes the soul. To visit Transylvania (part of modernday Romania) and the Carpathian mountains is to enter a time warp. It’s one of the last great wildernesses in Europe, where bears, wolves and lynx roam a medieval land in which farmers and shepherds live as they’ve done for hundreds of years. Prince Charles has fallen in love with this place, and so have I.
When I travelled to Romania earlier this year to make the programme, we stayed in the remote village of Zalanpatak, in a 400-year-old farmhouse and barn that have been restored for HRH by his friend, Count Tibor Kalnoky.
Sadly, if we don’t preserve this landscape, there’s a danger it will disappear within the next ten years. ‘Transylvania has so much to teach us,’ Prince Charles told me. ‘It’s the last corner of Europe where we see true sustainability. We must learn from that before it’s too late. ‘People will say, “Oh, you’re trying to preserve things in aspic, you’re trying to prevent progress.” But you’d think by now we might have learned our lesson from all that’s gone wrong with the agroindustrial approach,’ he said, referring to the large-scale, highly mechanised production prevalent in farms today.
That’s why Prince Charles has been working with Count Tibor to restore some of these beautiful houses, not only to preserve local skills, but to promote responsible tourism so people have a means of supplementing their incomes. If you wander through villages like Viscri, now designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site, you see a landscape much like England was in the Middle Ages.
Prince Charles believes it’s vital that Transylvanian farmers continue living in harmony with the natural world – and that we in the West also put nature back at the heart of the way we produce our food. ‘The great thing about Transylvania,’ he told me, ‘is that unique relationship between man and his surroundings.’ Because that’s what’s missing from our own society. ‘People yearn for a sense of belonging, identity and meaning,’ he went on. ‘It’s in us but we’ve denied it and
discarded it as if it’s irrelevant. It isn’t.’