Tibor Kalnoky was born in Germany and raised in Paris. He is fluent in five languages and well connected to the network of European nobility. However, Kalnoky (49 years old) says he feels most at home in the simplicity of rural life in Transylvania.
Tibor moved to Romania 20 years ago. His work was largely hidden until 2016, when Prince Charles announced he would be sending Count Tibor Kalnoky as his official representative to the funeral of Romania’s Queen Anne.
Count Kalnoky manages the property the Prince of Wales owns in Valea Zălanului. His relationship with the British royal family goes back many years. In 2011, he was a guest of honor at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
“I’m ready, let’s do something together!”
Prince Charles has at least 10 traditional properties in Romania and Count Kalnoky affirms that the heir to the British throne loves them deeply.
“In Romania, he discovered exactly what he has been preaching about in England for forty years. That’s why he’s so passionate about our country.“
While in England, the Prince of Wales learned about what we were working on in Micloșoara. Through some mutual friends we passed along an invitation for him to visit us. He said, “I’m ready, let’s do something together!” He wanted to have his own place to reconnect with the natural world. First, he bought a house in Viscri and a little while later, he bought the house in Valea Zălanului” recounts Tibor Kalnoky.
The Count explains how quickly Viscri became a tourist attraction, inspiring Prince Charles to increase his impact on the community by creating a center for tradition and craftsmanship.
“We transformed a shed into a great conference hall and this year we had eight different cooking, restoration and sewing classes for people in Romania. We also gave scholarships.
People in Viscri have a beautiful life but are missing the critical element known as capital. We are looking for ways to generate income in Romanian villages. We believe that tourism, craftsmanship and artisanal production will help greatly.
We also believe there is a chance of accomplishing this through cooperatives. It’s difficult to have the benefits of cooperatives understood in Romania because they were abused in the past.”
Prince Charles and The Count walked for 18 kilometers
“After he bought the house in Viscri, I had a discussion with the Prince of Wales regarding a certain reality. Even though his vacation home was beautiful, I believed he would be better off finding a place that was closer to nature, more isolated. A place that has pastures and flowers. After the Prince described his ideal location, I said, ‘Yes I know this place – Valea Zălanului!’
As a result, in the spring of 2008, during a visit to Micloșoara, The Prince and The Count took an 18 kilometer walk to Valea Zălanului.
“We climbed on the rooftop of an old home and had a splendid view over the valley. I asked if this would work.”
The Prince was thrilled and he decided to buy the property. It is a place he now visits every spring.
From Brâncoveanu to Franz Josef
The origins of the Kalnoky family date back to the 13th century. Noble titles were distributed in the 17th century and Tibor Kalnoky says that during this time one of his ancestors was named the Chancellor of Transylvania in the Viennese Court.
Also in the 17th century, the Kalnoky family became close to the Lord of Wallachia, Constantin Brâncoveanu. In this way, an entire generation of his family was raised in the court of the Lord from Bucharest, occupying specific functions in the central administration.
Tibor’s most famous ancestor was Gustav Kalnoky, who was the Minister of External Affairs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for 14 years and the right-hand-man of the Emperor Franz Joseph I.
Neither Tibor Kalnoky nor his father spoke Hungarian
When communism was established in 1947, Tibor’s father was only 8 years old. His father was exiled to the United States where he had a difficult upbringing. His dad spent his career working for IBM, which ultimately brought him back to Europe. Tibor was born in Germany in 1967.
In 1987, while Tibor was studying veterinary medicine, he convinced his father to carry out a clandestine excursion to Romania to discover their roots.
“We came to Romania in the darkest of eras, when there was no gasoline or light. We had very few expectations. We came to visit some family members and the family home.
What surprised us were the people. They were very welcoming. This is how we rediscovered our homeland, the place we belong.
We assumed that all the good had disappeared and very bad people would inhabit all that was left of this land. When my father left Transylvania, it was during an incredibly turbulent period that he considered a living hell. He believed that if he returned, he would end up in jail.”
Tibor recounts how people remembered his father the minute he stepped foot in Covasna. Every single person in the village gathered together to get a look at them. Although they couldn’t communicate with the locals directly, because neither he nor his father spoke Hungarian, this moment was an extremely touching experience.
Moreover, the locals helped them escape the agents of the Securitate who had found out about their visit and had come looking for them.
“At some point we received warning that a convoy of cars was on its way. Since very few cars circulated during that time, the people assumed that it was the Securitate and so they helped us escape through the forest” recounts Kalnoky for The Telegraph.
As a result, the first visit was a short one but Tibor says this was the moment when he fell in love – unequivocally – with Transylvania.
“It’s embarrassing, this color means poverty!”
After 1990, Tibor bought a peasant home in Micloșoara and began the process of reclaiming his inheritance.
“We returned in the nineties. I left behind my entire life in France and in England, where I was raised, and look, it’s going great. I am in need of nothing. My old friends still visit me here and I think we’ve become closer because our guests find this place to be extremely intriguing.”
In 2004, the Kalnoky family moved to Valea Crișului. There, a 19th century school bearing his name can be found, along with the castle that he restored.
Their home in Micloșoara was turned into a heritage guest home and the Count added more peasant homes to his patrimony.
“When the locals saw that I was painting the house blue they said: No, don’t do it. It’s embarrassing, this color means poverty! This was because they associated our traditional architecture with the difficult existence they had to endure for such a long time. To their great surprise, this house is the principal attraction for all the visitors and officials who come to visit us.”
Museum of Transylvanian Living
In November 2016, Tibor inaugurated his newest project, the Museum of Transylvanian Living in Micloșoara. The museum is a family estate that has been standing for 500 years. After it was confiscated by the communist regime, it became an agricultural warehouse, and finally, a tailor’s workshop.
“Our motivation is cultural. We want to protect the values and the traditions of this area. It’s not about inheriting wealth. The castle is not my property as it belongs to the state. I made a concession. It’s about a need of mine, an instinct.
We have this tradition of restoring homes. This is because in our family history, every 50 years, someone came and would demolish everything. First came the Mongols, then came the Hapsburg’s and so on. The castle was destroyed in 1848 by Austrians. The library was burned down … there was always someone who came and destroyed our things.
“The estate and castles in Romania are a forgotten treasure. They were either destroyed in communism or neglected in the post-communism period. The nineties were the hardest time for historic monuments here in Romania.”
In 1997, when The Count moved to Romania, his ancestors’ estate was a wedding hall. The building was in an advanced state of degradation.
Tibor supervised the restoration work in order to ensure the traditional methods of restoration were respected and consulted historical documents to ensure that the medieval aspect of the building was accurately remodeled.
“These decorative designs were brought back from Vienna, when a member of our family was the Chancellor of Transylvania” recalls The Count pointing to the yellow frames on the facade of the building.
“When the Chancellor was living in Austria, he sent a letter home with images describing how to decorate the house. It still has great effect. This type of exterior decoration is unique in Romania.”
A renaissance garden was recreated on the 12 acre estate to replicate the way it had been described in 1698. There is also a lake with a pavilion and an English park with lush trees. On the interior, the museum will occupy three furnished rooms, reflecting the 17th to 19th century.
Amidst the most valuable artifacts is a Renaissance harpsichord that will be used for concerts.
“My objective is to demonstrate how life was in the previous centuries in a building of this sort. It will be a living museum. I’ve visited many museums since I grew up in Paris. I know the Louvre like the back of my hand, but I don’t like a sterile concept that’s devoid of any life. When you see objects with tags on them, you lose the capacity to connect with them.”
“In Romania, we have a few ethnographic museums and memorial homes. Thank God, a trend has started in rural Romania.”
What’s missing, because the communists destroyed it, is a representation of the upper echelons of society. We don’t really have the estates or castles looking the way they did two hundred years ago. We have Peleș and Bran, but the others don’t really display any sort of continuity. This is the goal we want to accomplish.