It is not common to have directions be given to you in the form of a story. “You go past a deep green house with a weeping willow in its backyard. Later on you’ll see a road that goes steeply downhill, do not turn left there” …We did turn left. And we ended up driving for another 5 minutes in the wrong direction. One thing was for sure. The scenery was stunning.
“Hi, Arabella, this is Adriana. I think we took a wrong turn.” “You took the first turn left, right? I don’t know why everybody who comes here does that. Come right back up and only then turn left. It’s the one right next to the turn you took.” But we stayed for a little longer. We took pictures and we were wondering what it was like to live up there, in the village of Măgura, Zărnești.
As we were making our way back everything was getting prettier. And then we reached our destination: Arabella McIntyre-Brown’s beautiful home. Who is this woman?, you might wonder. That is what we are here to find out. Who is the writer, the sister, the daughter, the person that we know as Arabella?
How did it all begin?
“I came on holiday. It’s a typical story: people go on holiday and they go woah!. We were a small group of people and we came up here with a căruță (Romanian for horse wagon). I felt really at home here. It’s limestone. It’s a great mix of Sussex and Scotland and Greece! It’s not like The Alps, which are just too big and too pointy. It’s just perfect. This happened in 2003. The thought of buying a holiday home here was out of the picture since I did not have any money. But in 2004 my sister died and she left me some, not too much but it was enough to buy a house in Zărnești. So I spoke to my friend who organised the holiday and asked him to find some houses to look at. But nothing was really right for me. So we came up to Măgura to look at the sunset, even though I said I won’t be buying a house up here. My friend was really sneaky, he knew there was a house here for sale.
It was not the house. The house is fine, there was nothing special about it… But the location. They always say location, location, location! The view is absolutely stunning.
And in that moment I knew that if I walked away from this house I would regret it all my life. And so I had just about enough money. And I bought the house. It needed a lot of work, there was no flooring, there was nothing here. Whenever I had a bit of money I would throw it at the house. I then moved here almost exactly 11 years ago, in
One thing is for sure, Arabella McIntyre-Brown is at home in Măgura, Zărnești. The locals know her and they have embraced her as one of their own. She has come to know them, formed friendships that have lasted for years. “People always ask me: okay, but when are you coming back home? And my answer is always the same: this is home!
One of the reasons we decided to include Arabella on our list is her writing. Her book A stake in Transylvania tells her journey from the beginning. From rural Sussex to London and Liverpool and then to the place she now calls home. With an amazing feedback from both English and Romanian readers (the book has been translated to Romanian), it is a great mix of humour, painting like descriptions, mental health awareness and a homey feeling.
“People from Diaspora have written to me saying I reminded them just how beautiful their country is.”
Another great surprise was “Floss the Lost Puppy”. A story in which the main character (Floss) is 100% true. Set in Hay village, Transylvania, the book follows Floss as he finds a family, manages to win every member of it over and faces exciting challenges. The children’s book has sold more than 20,000 copies and the story has taken over the bilingual children’s book section. Since the initial release, Floss has made quite an impact and the following books, “Floss and the Circus” and “Dahlia’s Pet Detectives” have enjoyed the same warm welcoming.
We often tend to forget to look around. We fail to see what is right in front of us. Arabella, through her books and through her own story reminds us to take a step back and take it all in. The mountains, the sky, the birds, the flora and fauna. “It is all in the scenery. Look around. Waking up and seeing this everyday is just a blessing.” At times, an outside perspective is all we need to see the full potential in the things that we ignore each and everyday.
Falling in love with your country through the eyes of a foreigner is not a usual thing.
Arabella’s story is inspiring, motivating, exciting and the sense of hopefulness just lingers around as she speaks. Leaving everything behind: friends, family, house, packing everything up and moving to a country where you do not speak the language seems close to madness to some. But to those who can see the excitement, the adventure, the challenge, her story is awe inspiring. It leaves you wondering if you could ever have the power, the strength to do that yourself.
To our readers we propose an exercise: think about it for one second. Imagine yourself putting all your belongings in a car and leaving. Could you? Where would you go?
Pictures taken by Raluca Lazăr