By Jennifer Harper
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published March 25, 2007
For sale: Big home with mountain view, ideal for large family, pets. Fixer-upper, potential in-law suite or home office. Formal dining, fireplace. Nice. Plumbing as is; may need exterminator. $77 million, OBO. (Please contact Igor in little cottage down by the lake before sundown.)
Just in time to shore up a flagging real estate market, Dracula's Castle has come up for sale in Bran, Romania, nestled there in the brooding foothills of the Carpathian Mountains near Transylvania. It's everything a stronghold should be -- just ask Igor, and maybe his lovely wife, Rapunzel. Thick stone walls, red-tiled turrets, four looming towers, a secret passageway, barrel arches, tapestries, dark pines, a large inner courtyard big enough for villagers holding torches.
"Bran Castle was originally a fortress built by the Knights of the Teutonic Order in the year 1212," notes the official description from the Romanian government, which has operated the immense property as a tourist site for decades.
It has a complicated pedigree. After years of court and political complications, descendants of the old Habsburg monarchy managed to regain their ancestral title to the castle in 2006. The new owner is one Dominic Habsburg, a New York architect who is perfectly willing to sell the fortress back to the local government, which pines to preserve it as a dignified historical landmark rather than a theme park or worse.
Yes, Dracula's Castle conceivably could be bought by Disney. Imagine. The company immediately would trademark the name Disney's Dracula Adventure and erect the Inn at Transylvania Commons, the Bela Lugosi Buffet & Cafeteria and the Black Forest Safari Ride.
Starbucks could nab the property, too. We then would be subjected to the Dracu-Mocha Chocolatte. And Bat Muffins. Maybe Michael Jackson would be interested; oops, he has to sell Neverland first.
Meanwhile, Mr. Habsburg -- who grew up in the castle before fleeing from Romania's then-communist government in 1948 -- is still negotiating with the locals over ownership. He vows to do what's best for his family and the surrounding countryside, according to recent British press accounts. As in any real estate deal, the two sides are still talking.
There has not been any Sunday open house yet, though it might not be a bad idea for Igor and Rapunzel to set out fresh flowers, buy new window treatments and light linen-scented candles to entice potential buyers. The castle gift shop continues to do a rousing business selling Dracula T-shirts, coffee mugs, drink coasters, baseball caps emblazoned with the motto "Got Blood?" and throw pillows boasting a Count Dracula portrait worthy of Albrecht Durer.
And why not get in there and merchandise a little? The castle has some competition. It's not the only fortress for sale on the planet.
There's also Schloss Matzen, a 60-room castle in the Tyrolean Alps built in 1167. That's only $6 million. There's always Castle Schwalenburg in Lower Saxony, Germany, which is 42,000-square-feet and has a little zoo. The asking price is $2.2 million.
Why not Castle Messina, located in Sicily? The 12th-century site once belonged to the Princess of Lancia and boasts "a marvelous blue sea view with the mythical Eolian Islands on the horizon." It has a watchtower, large rose garden and inner compound -- all for $1.6 million, which might procure a little shack in Bethesda or McLean.
Not to be outdone, South Africa's Stratford Castle, which features stained-glass windows and a Finnish sauna, is a mere $365,000. The owners will throw in the furnishings -- armor, antiques, rugs and all -- for another $98,000.
Even as we cope with one-room condos in Manhattan for a million bucks, there is a real estate company that only sells castles. For the past 12 years, Texas-based Castles of the World has maintained a directory of castles, palaces, chateaux and medieval buildings for sale -- or rent -- throughout the world. Its listing includes the 20-room Castle of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., complete with great hall, eight bedrooms, six baths, wine cellar and tower. It's priced around $1.8 million.
The company's Web site is worth a look (www.castles-for-sale.com).
Still, the sales saga of Dracula's Castle continues. Will Mr. Habsburg get his $77 million? Will the townsfolk go on selling snappy Dracula throw pillows? Will Igor get his real estate license and go into the business? The mind reels.
Dracula's castle is a bargain in certain respects. Forbes magazine has just issued its annual list of the world's most expensive homes. The newly built Updown Court in the English countryside is at the top of the heap. The 103-room home is set on 58 acres and features a bowling alley, movie theater, helipad, twin ballrooms and a "panic room" just in case the dogs and children are acting up.
The price? At $138 million, it's almost twice as much as Dracula's place. But hey, it has no secret passage, no turrets, no gun battlements, no moat. Hah. You call that a castle? Somebody call Igor.