Fundatia ADEPT Transilvania, Associated Press
SASCHIZ, Romania — On the last day of Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles joined his mother on Buckingham Palace and waved to the crowds in a ceremony watched by millions around the globe.
The next day, the 63-year-old heir to the British throne was a world away, in the heart of Transylvania, the tranquil haven he calls "the jewel in Romania's crown," where he goes to reportedly recharge his batteries and soak up rural scenes that look like pages from Grimms' fairytales.
Life has all but stood still in the small 13th century town of Saschiz for centuries. With its Saxon fortified church, a UNESCO protected site, the wolves and bear that roam wild in the woods, and the lush meadows next to forests brimming with organic fruits, it is an unspoiled treasure luring Westerners in search of a quieter life.
"This part of Transylvania is unique - miles and miles of wildflower-rich grasslands, rolling hills with oak and beech forests sheltering wolves, bears, and eagles. And all this is still in ecological working order, in which small-scale farmers coexist with the richest natural diversity of anywhere in Europe," said Nat Page, a former British diplomat who now works as a conservationist.
After Romanian communism ended in 1989, the region spiraled into an economic and social decline as tens of thousands of well-educated young and middle-aged Saxons, a Germanic tribe who resettled in hat is modern-day Romania in the 13th century, emigrated to Germany in search of better paying jobs and a more stable lifestyle.
Their farming skills and business savvy left a dent in the community. Another trend has emerged now, however, with mainly British entrepreneurs and conservationists moving to Transylvania and turning the bounty of the land into thriving and sustainable businesses that respect the local environment and provide a livelihood for residents.
Take the humble rhubarb. The Saxons brought the rhubarb to Romania 800 years ago and the pink stalked fruit, together with the elderflower and a basketful of other hedgerow fruit, are the core of business here. Jars of fruit and relishes based on traditional Saxon recipes are sold in places as diverse as Bucharest Airport Duty Free, to London's elite Fortnum and Mason store.
The elderflower is king of the crops here. It is so abundant that a British company harvested a hefty 26 tons this year from 1,200 residents who plucked it from their gardens. Yet that was a more mere drop in the potential elderflower crop after a study concluded that only 3 to 4 percent of the potential elderflower crop was being harvested in the area.
After the flowers are picked, the juice is extracted from the scented cream petals, which then gets transported to Britain to be bottled as delicate elderflower cordial, sold in upmarket supermarkets and pubs.
"The elderflower product is the backbone of our business. In 2012, we set out to collect 13 tons of elderflower. Now when we thought about it, one flower weights 6 grams. It's quite an exercise to envisage what 13 tons would look like," said Jim Turnbull, a British entrepreneur who ended up producing twice that amount this season.
"We are putting a huge amount of money into community every May and June just for elderflower, but we're using the same teams to collect other fruit and berries that we're making into jams and juices," he said.
Charles visited Turnbull's premises on his most recent visit and has given his stamp to Transylvanian "royal" honey, which will soon be sold in Fortnum and Mason. On his regular visits, Charles stays in a restored 19th century manor in the hillside village of Valea Zalanului, which is available for guests when he is not there, or farther down the valley in the village of Miclosoara, in cottages owned by Transylvanian Count Tibor Kalnoky. Charles' younger son Prince Harry spent Easter in the area and was filmed riding a motorbike along snowy tracks.
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