Many steep turns, breathtaking mountain scenery, gorgeous lakes, and long tunnels, a paradise for extremely passionate drivers; these are the words that could best describe the famous Romanian Highway, Transfagarasan. Or maybe, Jeremy Clarkson from TOP GEAR described it much better and succinctly in 2009, by labeling the road that links Transylvania and Wallachia, as “the best road in the world” – video.
I consider myself very lucky to have such a spectacular route in my home country, and for that matter, I visited a few times now, but this time I will tell you about my last visit in early October, this year.
My boyfriend came to visit me, so it was imperative to show him one of the best things that Romania has to offer, especially after how much I praise it already. Therefore, we started our road trip in Ramnicu Valcea, on a Sunday morning, around 9 am. My city is about an hour drive away from Albeștii de Arges, the place where the beautiful road starts. We had already decided to finish it at around 3 or 4 pm, so we can also enjoy the city of Sibiu, located in Transylvania, a place that you shouldn’t miss when visiting Romania. The plan went exactly as expected.
The road, with a total length of about 150 km, was completed in 1976, on September 20, under the command of the former communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu. Officially named DN7C, Transfagarașan is the second-highest paved road in Romania, following Transalpina, rising at a maximum altitude of 2042 m, the point in which you can admire Bâlea Lake.
There are plenty of places where you can stop along the scenic way, to enjoy the beautiful landscape, and I promise that they will leave you breathless. Făgăraș Mountains are absolutely impressive in any season, whether you see them green in the spring, or snow-covered peaks in full winter. We chose to make several stops, where we considered we’d really need to breathe some fresh air and marvel in front of the work of art, that mother nature created. Here are the stops I recommend you to make along the highway:
1st Stop: Halfway between Poenari Fortress and Stan Valley
This place is very good to make the first stop, and this is because there is a forest road, where you can take some great pictures and where you can realize how quickly the altitude of the road grows. Basically, from this place, you can see where you’ll be in about 10 minutes, at about 200 m above.
2nd Stop: Vidraru Dam
It was built in 1966 on the Arges River and is one of the largest hydroelectric plants in Europe. They say that, if the dam breaks, Pitesti city would be 12 m under water in a very short period of time.
The dam provides a spectacular view of both Lake Vidraru and Arges Valley. Think about how great it could be to do bungee jumping here. If you think is only a dream, you’re wrong. You can actually practice this extreme sport from up here, considering that the height of the building is no less than 166 m.
Until the next significant stop, you would have to drive a few kilometers more, surrounding the huge lake. To be more explicit in terms of its size, you should know that the length of the lake is approximately 11 km. Just imagine the amount of water that the dam needs to hold together.
3rd stop: Right above the Capra chalet
This is the best place where you can precisely appreciate the height at which you are. From here, the road is already beginning to sway long enough, and the landscape is increasingly beautiful. From up here, one can see a beautiful view of the Capra Chalet, but also the snowy peaks of the mountains, in contrast with their foot still green.
4th stop: Salvamont Cota 2000
Yes, you guessed it, you are exactly at 2 km altitude. The road already started being snowy, but the authorities successfully cleared the snow, so the traffic was not at all affected and we could drive without facing any problems. The next stop is after traversing the longest tunnel in Romania, with a length of 884 m.
5th stop: Bâlea Lake
Bâlea Lake is situated at the highest altitude of Transfagarașan highway, at 2042 m. Its dimensions are not impressive (390 m long and 190 m wide), but the view is a dream even so. Unfortunately, this time I wasn’t lucky enough to catch a sunny day on this side of the mountain. In fact, we felt as if the tunnel was splitting two completely different seasons. Before entering the tunnel, it was very clear and sunny, while on the other side of it, we encountered a lot of snow, fog and cold weather, just like two different worlds. It was downright impressive.
Given that the big part of Transfăgărășan is closed during the cold season, the access to the lake it can be made only with cable cars. But the rest of the year is full of cars on both sides of the road, tourists, and kiosks from where you can buy souvenirs, grits, pancakes and other things.
Sorry, I can’t show you any picture of the lake, considering that we weren’t actually able to see it due to the foggy weather. Even though, you must know that it is approximately 12 m deep, and is a glacial lake. If you want to spend the night here, you have two options, Bâlea Lake Chalet or Paltinu Chalet. In the winter time, they also build a beautiful ice hotel, up here.
We stopped somewhere on the way, to enjoy an overview of the twisted road. It almost looks like Lombard Street in San Francisco, but bigger. In general, if you google Transfagarasan, you will get thousands of images with a green panorama, but I managed to capture it full of snow, and I’m glad for that.
Random stops on the road
Except for the 6 most important stops, we had quite a few others along the highway. We wanted to get out of the car and admire the picture that unfolded in front of us. Easy, easy, we descended to Sibiu and the mountains were left behind, somewhere on our left. Transfăgărășan will always be one of my favorite roads in the world.
Sibiu is a city in Transylvania and former cultural capital of Europe in 2007. The city is very nice and welcoming, especially due to the friendly people and medieval architecture, present even in the city center. Because we only had a few hours available, we chose to visit the center, more exactly Piața Mare (The Big square) and Piața Mică (The Small square). Here, you will think you are being watched by the lovely houses, because of their windows installed on the roofs, that resemble so much with human eyes.
In Piața Mare, you can sit at a beautifully landscaped terrace and eventually, attend one of the free concerts that take place here. Piața Mică is my favorite because here is located the Liars Bridge (Podul Mincinoșilor), a place where I suggest you to not make any love declaration, in case you want to be taken seriously. To warn you more, I have to mention the legend that says the bridge will collapse if someone sits on it and tells a lie. Also, in Piața Mică you can buy a souvenir to remind yourself of this chic city, or you can try many sorts of house made chocolate. I recommend you the coffee flavor.
Where to eat
Super Mamma is a restaurant located in downtown. Here, you can enjoy a delicious meal for which you don’t need a very large budget. I had a kebab for 15 lei (about $3.5). To find out more about the history of the city and the places you must visit, you can check the official website.