A day on Transfagarasan road

A day on Transfagarasan Road is something you shouldn’t miss when in Romania!

More than 150 kilometres in length the Transfagarasan Highway is Romania’s most spectacular and best known road. And thanks to an appearance on BBC Top Gear in 2009, now is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. I recommend you to do it during hot summer months because here you can enjoy spectacular landscapes at reasonable temperatures. And still find so much snow on the surroundings hills.

I think that Transfagarasan road has never been more popular and definitely one for the bucket list!

I’ve always been a Yes Girl and I’m prided myself on that. Travel has been a natural extension to that facet of my personality! I love how it continually pushes me out of my comfort zone and forces or invites me to try new things. And I’m lucky enough that every time I’m doing it turns out to be unexpectedly entertaining!

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Now that we all agree, let me tell you a little bit more about this hot July day spent on Transfagarasan Road. Here is one of my favorite shots and a ritual taken on the peak of the mountains. If you’ve visit already Romania, you should know that Transfagarasan road is not for the fainted heart! Now be warned that is a scary drive in some places! There are large sections of non bariered road with sheer drops of over a 1000 ft. I didn’t pick up the full story but I know brake failure is a common cause for fatalities on the Transfagarasan.

If you want to get on Transfagarasan Road keep in mind that is fully open only from June to October.

No matter which side of the pass you begin your drive on, either from Bucharest or Sibiu, the picturesque scenery begins immediately. The road initially gently coils up the hillside, framed on either side by verdant, lanky pines.

I started my trip from Sibiu, more exactly Avrig town, because I was there for Feeric Fashion Days. I climb the road over the Fagaras mountains in order to get to the highest point, Lake Balea, at 2042 metres. The Transfăgărășan or DN7C is the second-highest paved road in Romania after Transalpina. It starts near the village of Bascov, located near Pitesti, ending on the crossroad between DN1 and Sibiu, in the small town of Avrig. This picturesque little town nestled at the foot of Fagaras mountains is famous for its baroque Brukenthal Palace and is an ideal place to base yourself for a few days after your drive.

Before I started the ascent we decided to take lunch at Albota Pescaria, one of the most famous restaurants in that part of the country known for her good trout fish.

It’s such a picturesque place for a picnic or a break on your way up!

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When planning your trip along the Transfagarasan road give yourself plenty of time for the crossing. It is a mistake to calculate your day by simply looking at the distances on a map. It’s not just vehicles that use the highway, many shepherds use the same route with large flocks. Once they enter the road they are committed until they reach a path or grazing land. No, this is a trip to be taken at leisure. And the photo opportunities are endless. You will not want to rush and will feel the need to pull over every few minutes for another spectacular photo opportunity! Like I did, of course! This amazing mountain pass has reached legendary status and many motoring and cycling enthusiasts flock to the pass during the summer months to experience the thrill of traveling on one of Europe’s most spectacular roads.

The journey becomes a rhythmic motion of accelerating, braking and turning as you negotiate the stairway of the switchbacks. An elevation of over 1800 meters is gained rapidly on the ascent to the summit. You’ll notice your ears pop during your journey as your car works hard to power you up the steep mountainside.

Whereas the southern side is a relatively gentle climb, made in the most part through the trees along the side of Lake Vidraru, the scene on the northern side is little short of spectacular. A wide open valley with the road serpentining its way down visible as far as the eye can see. Luckily, concrete barriers on the more aggressive, west side of the pass offer protection, allowing your eyes to be captivated by the serpentine. With the highest point at 2042 m, Lake Balea, the Transfagarasan Road is the second highest paved mountain pass in Romania. The rapid ascent combined with the high elevation will have you noticing the thinner oxygen in the air at the peak. At this point you may feel the effects of the altitude and it’s common to feel a slight shortness of breath.

This is the classic picture postcard view of the Transfagarasan road.

Jeremy Clarkson call it ‘every great corner from every great race track lined up one after the other.’

Believe me! It’s a true adventure!

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As you arrive at the highest point the weather changes starkly. Only 10 minutes before I was wearing a backless top soaking up the warmth at the foot of the valley. But here I was literally freezing. So I decided to put on my jeans and a T-shirt with long sleeves. The snow on the surrounding slopes gradually melts topping up the lake.

Incredible Lake Balea marks the highest point of the Transfagarasan road. Often shrouded in mist the lake is an amazing natural wonder. Even if we were at the beginning of July we found some snow melting on the rocks.

Because I couldn’t stop taking pictures with the lake we decided to enjoy this amazing views and weather from Cabana Balea Terrace. There is a restaurant located on the edge of the lake and rooms too if the weather closes in. The prices are a little expensive, but I suppose they are covering the costs of transporting supplies and staff to such a remote location.

There are two comfortable pensions (Cabana Paltinu and Cabana Balea Lac) and – in winter – an ice hotel if you want to stay up here the night. In winter there is a cable car which provides access to the cabins and ice hotel from Balea Cascada, as the road is closed. There is also a rather tacky, touristy market next to the large car park at the exit of the tunnel, selling all sorts of things as well as such as kürtős kalács.

This road has literally been carved into the mountainside and on the eastern side of the pass, you will pass through a narrow tunnel cut out of the rock, if you want to go on the southern side. which links the northern and southern sides at Lake Balea. The Capra Tunnel links the northern and southern sides at Lake Balea, having 890 metres long.

After about 90 minutes hanging at the top, I started my descent through the tunnel and down to the southern end of the Transfagarasan Road at Bascov. I passed a large valley driving along the mountains to the top of Vidraru Dam, the next landmark of the highway. The Transfagarasan road follows the outline of the lake Vidraru, the water often visible through the trees on your right. One of the largest hydroelectric plants in Europe, Vidraru Dam offers fabulous views of Vidraru lake.

As you come off the dam look out for the electricity pylon disguised as a statue of Promotheus – representing power – on the cliff directly in front of you. If you can find a parking space some steps allow you to climb up to the statue, from where there are even better views of the lake. During the summer there are boat trips on the lake. A couple of hundred metres further along the road there is a hotel, the elegant Hotel Posada Vidraru. The scenery is stunning, with the road clinging in places to the cliffs as it passes through a wonderful natural gorge. From here a series of hairpins and three short tunnels bring you to the last village, Capatenii Pamantului, before you arrived at Curtea de Arges and then Pitesti on my way to Bucharest.

So..I should point out that the Transfagarasan Road is Romania’s most celebrated mountain road. Though the Transalpina a little further west is higher and more spectacular, the northern side of Transfagarasan road is one of Romania’s defining images. In 2009 it was called by BBC Top Gear as the Best Road in the World.

A Little History

The Transfagarasan road was built from 1970-1974 on the personal orders of Nicolae Ceausescu. The legend says that he wanted to create a strategic route across the Fagaras Mountains to ferry troops north should Romania be invaded by the USSR. This legend of course ignores the fact that a perfectly  and far quicker route around the mountains, the Valea Oltului, already existed. Any other strategic impact of a road open for only a few months each year would have been minimal. Still, who are we to question a good urban myth?

A far more likely explanation for the construction of the road was the simple fact that the mountains were there, and that the road across the very top would serve as a proud example of just what socialist Romania could achieve. Much like the Danube-Black Sea Canal project, the Transfagarasan road was built as a status symbol with little regard for cost or usefulness.

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The Transfagarasan road iconic status means that it is also one of the most popular drives in Europe.

And it is better than the Stelvio!

What is the most spectacular road you’ve ever driven? Share in the comments below!