The place where elegance dances on Romanian balads

Somewhere in the heart of Transylvania, a story is being written about the old and the new, about love and challenges, about the beautiful and the memorable. Somewhere in the heart of Transylvania, you can rediscover the extraordinary. Somewhere, in the heart of Transylvania, lies Bethlen Estates.

We continue our March series about women who gave a special vibe to Romanian tourism and built not only mere accomodations in our lands but also holiday concepts, experiences that nobody should miss. This time, the spotlight is on the owner of Bethlen Estates, a fascinating place, surrounded by the most spectacular Saxon heritage villages, such as Biertan, Richiș, Alma Vii, and towns such as Sighisoara and Medias..

However, before revealing more details about this wonderful location, we should turn back time to discover the story of how such a tourist attraction came to be, as it undoubtedly stands out among the classical accommodation offers in Romania.

Gladys Bethlen is the wife of the late Count Miklós Bethlen, the youngest son of Count Bálint Bethlen (the last /resident of Castle Bethlen). After spending his childhood in the middle of nature, of green valleys and the crystal-clear lakes of the Criș, Count Miklós was forced to flee to Austria after the Second World War, more precisely during the rise of communism and nationalization in Romania. Count Miklós did not have the chance to return to Transylvania until 1967. However, when he finally returned to the land of his childhood, he was saddened to find a ruined house and an almost forgotten community. Therefore, in the following three decades, the count focused on saving the family’s local heritage and on supporting the locals, establishing a charitable fund to protect the area, scholarship programs for the young, and obtaining UNESCO status for the castle. Unfortunately, Count Miklós died in 2001, but his heritage is fervently perpetuated by his wife and son.

The count’s numerous visits to Romania with his family led his wife, Gladys, and their son, Nikolaus, to stay in contact with the local and family tradition, which is why they created Bethlen Estates. Currently, Nikolaus Bethlen is the owner of all Bethlen properties. He was born in Austria, went to the French high school in Vienna, which he graduated with a French baccalaureate and the Austrian Matura. After that, he studied economics at the University of Durham. He then worked with Morgan Stanley and KKR (a private equity group) in London. He was the Managing Partner at Mid Europa Partners, a private private equity fund, headquartered in Budapest, after which he moved to Frankfurt, where he worked at Montagu Private Equity Group. He is now a Managing Partner at Comitis Capital. Together with his mother, Gladys, he established the project in Transylvania.

After the death of his father, Nikolaus took over his wish to rebuild the area and began purchasing more houses in the vicinity, involving more people from around the world in the restoration process. However, it was his mother, Gladys, who guided him to transform the houses, successfully combining their own design vision with local crafts, making them available to tourists, promoting the buildings and the Criș area even more. Ever since 2015, the project has been in continuous development, and the tradition and love for the place are growing along with the family’s involvement and the number of guests that step onto these fascinating lands. One of Countess Gladys’ wishes is to continue “creating this paradise of beauty and tranquility for our guests and their wellbeing and to share with them the life philosophy in this country rich in history” (according to her words).

RICH IN HISTORY indeed. The Criș was the spiritual and cultural center of the Bethlen family. Built as a fortified castle, it was never invaded during its entire history. It even escaped destruction under emperor Leopold II of Austria, who ordered all Hungarian fortresses in Hungary and Transylvania to be demolished – because of rebellious Hungarian aristocratic families – as it was proven that Criș was a castle and not a fortress. Even if every building on the estate was devastated and abandoned during communism, and all artwork vanished, the family managed to renovate the place with style, bringing back the sweet smell of bygone times, the history rich in stories and great deeds, along with the love for people and for the homeland.

For the renovations, they worked with local craftsmen and builders, who understood the required level of quality and carried out exceptional work that suited the owners’ tastes. They kept the original proportions and measurements and used old materials and spare parts, maintaining the authenticity of the purchased houses, in which you can stay overnight if you decide that you need something special for your next getaway.

The houses are only the core of this story that seems taken straight out of an old history book. The landscape of Criș valley will certainly fascinate you, as nature is in a constant bloom of life, sounds, and colors. Both day and night, each corner of tradition is dressed in imperial clothes, opening toward you at each step and inviting you to explore, discover, and be amazed. Other experiences also complete the portrait painted by the Bethlen family: you can participate in wine tasting, hike or ride a bike in the vicinity, or cook with the castle’s head chef. Undoubtedly, the surprises don’t stop here, so we also invite you to discover them on our website and particularly on location.

And the owners’ big plans don’t stop here. In May, they will open the so-called Depner home (whose name is an homage to the former owners). It will house 4 people in 2 double bedrooms with their own bathrooms and showers, and the old barn will be changed into a comfortable greenhouse with an open fireplace. In September, they will open the Corner barn, which will have 4 double en-suite bedrooms and a comfortable living room on the ground floor, along with a terracotta fireplace in an old alcove. And, before August, the renovation of the old Saxon school will also begin, which will host 14 people when completed. It will also offer a billiard room and a very large living room with a separate entrance, for the use of all guests.

Do you think anything could still be missing?

And if we haven’t yet convinced you that this place is a distinguished show, we invite you to an imagination exercise. We asked Countess Gladys Bethlen what a perfect day in the Criș valley would look like for her. She replied: “I would start by enjoying the wonderful decorations of each house, would then have a fantastic breakfast prepared by our cook Robert and by our maid Tatiana, and next participate in some of the proposed activities, such as visiting tourist attractions, cycling, and riding. I would then return to have tea in the afternoon, an appetizer before dinner and then enjoy the dinner prepared by chef Robert and his staff. Until July, I would enjoy the pool and sit on the porch while sipping a glass of champagne. At night, I would look at the incredible sky filled with stars and gaze in wonder at the full moon. I would do all of these while listening to the singing of the various nearby birds, which are enchanted by the beauty of this part of the world.”

It is exactly this type of perfect day that the owners provide to their guests, so if you are longing for such a wonderful story, we would like to kindly invite you on our website to discover these unique stays in Romania, similar to what we described:
Cris- Bethlen Estates: Depner's House
Cris- Bethlen Estates: Caretaker's House (4-8 pers)

Don’t forget! One needs to write stories before one can tell them, so we are waiting for you to write the story of an adventure that will be worth sharing for a long time from now, from generation to generation…

Photo Credit: Philip Vile