Transfagarasan: world's best road trip according to Top Gear
The Transfagarasan mountain road or national road 7C is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It is 90 km (56 miles) long and is located in Romania. It runs trough the Fagaras mountains (trans + Fagaras), a part of the Transsylvanian Alps. The road connects Transsylvania with Muntenia. The Transfagarasan starts at Bascov, near Piteçti. It follows the valley of the river Argea and after mounting to the highest point, it descends to Cartisoara in the Olt valley, where the road ends.
The Transfagarasan rises to a height of 2134 meter and has sharp hairpin turns, a challenge for every driver. The maximum speed is 40km/h (25 miles/h). The road is often closed from October till June due to the snow that is blocking the road. Sometimes the road can be open as late as November, but on the other hand it has been known to snow as late as August so it's always good to check ahead of time on the weather and road conditions.
The road has more tunnels and viaducts then any other road in Romania. On the highest point of the Transfagarasan near Balea Lac (Balea-lake) is located the longest (ca. 875 m/0.53miles), and highest tunnel of Romania. This tunnel is the connection between Transsylvania and Walachia. In September 2009 the British television show Top Gear was filming along the road. Host Jeremy Clarkson claimed the Transfagarasan as the best road in the world.
The Transfagarasan was built between 1970 and 1974 by military forces. After the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviets, Nicolae Ceausescu had it built as a strategic military route to cross the mountains in the event the Soviets attempted a similar move into Romania. The builders used 6000 tons of dynamite to clear a path for the road on the northern side of the mountains (this is the most spectacular) and on the tunnel. 40 soldiers lost their lives during construction.
Transfagarasan Road Trip:
A few miles beyond Curtea de Arges the Transfagarasan road starts to face the mountain slope. You can see a typical mountain landscape with pines and alpine meadows. The road is not in good shape here, so pay attention for holes and stones.
The Transfagarasan runs trough the Arges River gorge. After travelling beyond the last village, Capataneni, you'll see a road sign to Poenari Castle. This castle was property of Vlad III the Impaler. Vlad earned his nickname by impaling, torturing, burning, skinning, roasting, and boiling people who did things that displeased Vlad; stealing, lying, and adulterous relations. In this way Vlad kept his people in order and taught them that stealing would not be tolerated in his lands. Bram stoker's Dracula was based on his personality. When you look up on the mountains you can see his fortress on the top of a high and remote cliff. It will take 1480 stairs before you reach the top, but the view is certainly worth the effort.
If you follow the road further north, you'll reach Vidraru Lake. This lake is a man-made reservoir retained by a dam. The dam is 165 meters high, 305 meters long and holds 465 million cubic meters of water. When the dam was completed, it ranked 5th in Europe and 9th in the world. In an average hydrological year it can generate approximately of 400 GWh/year. The road runs over this dam.
At this point the road splits up. One follows the left side of the lake, the other the right side. You should take the right one, it's in far better condition then the left one and it's 3km/2miles longer. Both roads meet at the northern side of the lake.
As you continue you will see a waterfall and some great scenic spots. Eventually, when you're near the top of the road you will see the tunnel under the Paltinu Ridge. Be careful inside the tunnel. Regardless of weather conditions outside, the road in the tunnel is always wet and can be slippery. When you leave the tunnel you are at the highest point of the Transfagarasan, Balea Lake.
There is a parking just after the tunnel. Balea Lake is a glacier lake with clear, icy water. It's surrounded by mountain peaks. The first European ice hotel was built here in 2006. Since then it's constructed here every year in December with ice from the frozen lake. Since the road is closed during winter, it can only be reached by cable car from Balea Falls. Usually the hotel remains open until it melts in April.
When you go down on the northern side of the road, you can see the sharp descent and the hairpin turns. In good weather the road is almost entirely visible.
Along the way to Balea Cascada (Falls) you can see the cable cars gliding up and down the mountain. In winter, when the road is blocked by snow, this is the highest point you can reach by car. There are some great viewing points here.
While descending, views of rocks, jagged edges and meadows are replaced with dense pine forests. Eventually you'll end up in Cartisoara, where you can visit the Cistercian monastery. The road ends a few miles further North. If you are on vacation in Romania between June and September, the Transfagarasan road is an amazing and unforgettable driving experience for drivers and bikers.