Western Europe does not hold a monopoly on enchanting castles. Romania holds its own when it comes to the influence of monarchs and their illustrious abodes. In May of 1866, at a time of great tension in western Europe wherein Austria and Prussia were on the brink of war, the German Karl von Hohenzollern crossed hostile Austrian territory under a false Swiss identity, sailed down the Danube, and entered Romania. Romanian emissaries had been sent to Napoleon III’s court to request a foreign-born monarch and Karl was selected. According to Romanian historian Neagu Djuvara, Romania’s political elite thought Romania could never truly be free unless it was unleashed from the infighting of the country’s most powerful families. A Western king who could united them was their highest aspiration.
Once selected, Karl was approved by referendum in Romania and became King Carol the First. Peleș [Pe-lesh] Castle, in the Bucegi Mountains north of Bucharest, was built as his family’s summer residence. The Neo-Renaissance abode seems to have been pulled straight from the Bavarian countryside. I explain the history because, upon entering the castle, my first question was how does such a castle end up in the middle of Romania?
Built by a German architect with many raw materials imported from Germany, Peleș Castle is completely furnished – a feast for the eyes inside and out. Visitors must pay to take photos of the interior. I did not pay. At one point, every one took out cameras/smart phones and started snapping away. I did likewise, before a docent reminded us of the rules.