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TTF Talks: Roy Chowdhury-Mikes on Zabola Estate Transylvania – “it is a labour of love”

Dear Mr. Chowdhury-Mikes, many thanks for receiving me and for taking the time to answer the questions on Zabola Estate despite your busy schedule.

First of all, congratulations on your fabulous work at Zabola. Spending a weekend there, I soon realized the hard work behind the touristic part of the estate. I am saying this because I noticed customized services for the pickiest traveller from the reception booth to pretty much everything one can imagine.

For more details on Zabola Estate, click on the link!

Mr. Roy Chowdhury-Mikes, the brain behind Zabola estate
Mr. Roy Chowdhury-Mikes

So, let’s begin:

How often did you come to these Transylvanian places as a child? Where did you live in your early years before returning to your origins on your mother’s side?

We visited Romania every year during the 80’s to see family members. That of course, continued after the end of communism. I was born and raised in Austria, studied in Austria and London where I then worked in an investment bank before moving to Romania in 2002. As a student I did an internship in 1998 in Bucharest and Budapest when I felt the economic vibe of the larger region and friendships were created that last until today.

I read in an interview that you enjoy being close to nature and the Carpathians. Do you manage to take advantage of nature at Zabola given your busy schedule?

The estate is on the foothills of the Carpathians, and it is a nature reserve on its own. Therefore, continuously in our day-to-day work we are surrounded by nature. If time permits, we enjoy a ride in the forest or outside of the village. As we have our own conservation project, we do spend time visiting the different sites and discuss with scientific researchers a lot.

Nature and horses - a perfect match
Nature and horses – a perfect match

I know that your family went through tormented historical times. How much did it affect you/did you feel the burden of your family’s past?

The past is indeed a link to the future, but the family had to deal with similar challenges in each generation for over 700 years. I have a quite “relaxed” view on the topic and look forward to the new challenges until the property is passed on to the next generation. I see myself merely as a custodian.

Unfortunately, the atrocity of communism is something still not properly dealt with in Romania today. Many family members spent years in prison and some even died. Hopefully Romanian society will eventually openly discuss these topics.

Which is your mother tongue? What languages do you speak?

German mother tongue. English, Hungarian, Romanian, and some French.

This is more like a question for girls: Is living at the castle so spectacular as one would generally imagine? Is being a count today a fairytale?

These places look spectacular from the outside, but of course it is all related to hard work. They have been built in different times for different purposes. The challenge is to find a modern use.

I see myself as an entrepreneur with a strong social responsibility and try to use my network to develop the place and the region.

Room at Zabola Estate
Simply fabulous room at the Zabola Estate

I see that your educational background relies mainly on economics. Did you intentionally prepare for this field or was it a subconscious choice to help you take over the Zabola estate together with your family? When did you start playing with the thought of taking over the reins and make Zabola great for tourists?

When I went to university there was no clear path for what would happen in Romania. Economics is a great subject with big theoretical background. I studied law and political sciences as well, but, as the challenges go from construction to forestry, farming, tourism, historic research or garden planning, no university would have provided that. Since my brother and I grew up in Austria, we always thought that tourism is the future for this region as we have seen in Austria.

Immediately when the state moved out, end of 2005, we started to renovate the building and opened the first bed and breakfast, The Machine House, in 2006.

How hard was it to restore the beauty of Zabola estate and turn it into a (profitable) resort?

Restoring the beauty of Zabola Estate and transforming it into a profitable resort has been a challenging but rewarding journey. When we first gained access to the estate, it was in a state of disrepair. Our initial focus was on vital rehabilitation projects, and our vision did not originally include creating a resort.

One of the ongoing challenges we face is the size of the estate. With its vast grounds, maintaining it in top condition requires a dedicated team. Ensuring that the property remains in pristine shape is a significant task. Additionally, covering the operational costs with just 50 beds can be a financial challenge at times.

Nonetheless, the journey to restore Zabola Estate and share its beauty with guests has been immensely rewarding. It is a labour of love, and we are committed to preserving the estate’s charm and heritage while making it accessible to visitors.

Part of Zabola's vast grounds
Part of Zabola’s vast grounds

You are involved in so many projects: organic agriculture, tourism, conservation and even clothing industry. How can you focus to not lose sight of your several objectives?

Indeed, we do many things at the same time. However, I believe in people and a good team. I see myself more as a facilitator of new ideas.

Do you live for challenges? Do you love adrenalin?

From an Estate and family history point of view I do not see this as a challenge but simply as a mission to be accomplished and part of daily life.

Still the best kept secret? Do you want Zabola to (still) be the best kept secret?

In the past regime the existence of such places was deliberately kept almost secret.

During the initial stages of its revival, Zabola remained a well-preserved secret, accessible only to those who were willing to venture off the beaten path, embrace a bit of adventure, and immerse themselves in its romantic and enchanting atmosphere.

Today, the concept of keeping Zabola as a best-kept secret has evolved into something of a marketing strategy, as secrets have always held a unique allure. However, stepping onto Zabola’s grounds feels like entering an entirely different world, one that seems almost detached from today’s fast-paced reality.

We believe that the moments spent at Zabola will continue to be a cherished secret for those who have experienced its magic. It is a place where memories are created and treasured, where the outside world seems to fade away. So, yes, in many ways, we do want Zabola to remain a secret to the outer world, preserving its special and secluded charm for those who seek its enchantment.

Zabola Estate
Representative picture of Zabola Estate

Short questions. Please provide short answers:

Animals or nature? As we breed horses and I founded “Conservation Transylvania” I would answer: both!

Favourite breakfast/food: one Egg Florentine on the terrace in Zabola. My Zen moment of the day if I have the time.

Favourite pastime activity: galloping in full speed on open meadows.

Favourite country/place to be: obviously Transylvania, but I do love spots in Austria, India and Norway.

Mr Chowdhury-Roy, many thanks for your kindness and time! Looking forward to meeting you at Zabola!

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