Five Europe destinations that won't kill your budget

Start your tour in Brasov, a pretty medieval city where you can spend a day exploring its historic churches and fortifications and take a cable car to the top of Mount Tampa (about $3) for a great view of the city and surrounding mountains. Then, head to nearby Bran to visit Bran Castle (about $5), which is also known as Dracula's Castle. This restored site fits the Hollywood ideal of what a vampire's castle should look like, and has even been used in the filming of several Dracula movies.

Another important site for Dracula fans is the birthplace of Vlad Dracula (the bloodthirsty warlord who spawned Dracula myths) in the Saxon town of Sighisoara, one of the most well-preserved medieval cities in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "Sighisoara is the most beautiful town we visited in Romania," says Rudberg. "It almost looks like a little Prague." You should also visit the town of Sibiu, another medieval Saxon city that was honored as a "European City of Culture" in 2007. While in the area, if you are fit and have a few days, you should try climbing the country's highest mountain, Mt. Moldeveanu. The hike is nontechnical and you can stay in mountain huts along the way. For details about the hike, go to SummitPost.org.

Trip planning: Traveling around Romania by yourself requires a lot of patience and improvisation as English isn't widely spoken and the tourism infrastructure can be poor to nonexistent. If you're not up for the hassles, consider signing up for a guided tour. The U.K.-based active travel company Explore runs eight-day Land of Dracula tours from $1,140 per person, which covers accommodations, ground transportation, some meals, activities, and a tour guide.

If you're more adventurous, try going on your own. Rudberg favored a "fly-by-the seat-of-your-pants" travel style, arranging to stay in guesthouses along the way and talking the local proprietors into driving her around to the various sights. If you'd feel more comfortable arranging accommodations in advance, you certainly can. Some affordable, recommended lodgings include the Casa Cristina B&B (from about $52 per night) in Brasov, The Casa Legenda (from 33 euros) in Sighisoara, which is housed within an ancient building where Vlad Dracula is said to have kept a mistress, and the elegant little La Maison Francaise (from 55 euros) in Sibiu.

If you'd like to live like a count for a few days, stay at Count Kalnoky's Estate in the village of Miklosvar near Brasov, where you can stay in recently renovated aristocratic guest houses and be treated to freshly prepared Transylvanian meals and a daily schedule of activities and cultural experiences (spend a day learning about shepherding, explore nearby caves, hike to remote Saxon villages). All-inclusive rates start at 320 euros for three-night packages.

Mid-August flights from New York to Bucharest start at $1,177 round-trip, including taxes and fees, on Delta. From Bucharest you can catch trains to Brasov and other destinations within Transylvania. RailEurope sells five-day first-class Romania rail passes for $202. You'll likely pay less if you buy second-class seats when you get there.

To learn more about Transylvania tourism, visit the Romania tourism website.

Moravia, Czech Republic

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