Writing his timeless Gothic novel Dracula, Bram Stoker gave his Count a lair overlooking the forbidding forests of Bârgău Valley, 45km east of Bistriţa. Today, a themed hotel has sprung up at this very spot, near Piatra Fântânele village. While Hotel Castel Dracula is camp compared to the fictional den of Dracula and his bloodthirsty sirens, it’s an awe-inspiring location, especially when night falls and wind whips across the valley. Plus it’s easy enough to leave behind souvenir stalls and vampire kitsch if you prefer hiking trails to harrowing tales.
More low-key is Lake Colibiţa, locally nicknamed 'the sea in the valley', which sparkles 15km south of the main road from Bistriţa and Piatra Fântânele. It’s a soothing place to break up the journey between the two, idling by the water or bobbing around by kayak.