Standing on a Transylvanian hillside watching a Prince, assisted by a Count, judge a scything competition, it occurs to me that it’s a scene that probably hasn’t changed much in 500 years – if you discount the TV news crews, photographers and journalists. They, like me, are here for one reason: His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
We have tagged along on what is supposed to be a private visit to Transylvania. In celebration of 50 years of Radio 4’s On Your Farm programme, we’ve been granted a rare exclusive interview with Prince Charles to talk about his passion for the countryside and the work involved in keeping rural communities alive.
The Prince’s enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the British countryside is well known, from supporting organic farming with his Duchy Originals food line to the Prince’s Countryside Fund, an organisation focused on funding projects to preserve rural areas.
But why are we in Transylvania? The Prince explains that when he first visited the country 20 years ago he was confronted by something unique. “I hadn’t been aware just how extraordinary this part of the world is,” he says. “With all its biodiversity, the wildflower meadows… It just seemed to me, particularly this area of the Carpathian mountains, to be literally the last unspoilt, untouched area.”
So taken was he with the beauty and heritage of rural Transylvania that in 2006 he decided to buy and restore an 18th-century house in the south-east of the region. Four years later he bought another, larger, property in the nearby village of Zalanpatak with its own forest, meadows and springs and it’s here that we are due to talk to him.
We arrive before the Prince and are met by Count Tibor Kalnocky, a local man who manages the house in his absence. As we get out of the car, I’m aware of Romanian press and TV crews poking over the wall. I am bemused; the Count amused. He explains that it’s rumoured that the Prince’s wife is accompanying him on the trip (she isn’t). It appears that I’ve been mistaken for the Duchess of Cornwall.
As the count guides me past the disappointed journalists he explains that people in Zalanpatak survive on subsistence farming. Because of this, he worries about the village’s economic future.
Improbably it is Britain’s future king who is riding to the rescue. After renovating the house, the Prince decided to rent it out as a holiday home when he’s not in residence. He hopes that this steady stream of tourism will contribute to a sustainable future for the local community. [For booking information and a virtual tour see www.transylvaniancastle.com/viscri.html]
“Because we get more and more visitors coming to stay, it’s providing quite a lot of employment to the people of this village. That’s making – I hope – quite a bit of difference.”