The Transfagarasan Road is one of the best driving roads in the world. Fun and andrenaline do not come without a little bit of risk, so the road has also made it on the top 7 riskiest roads!
While well-known in the world of auto enthusiasts – its 90km of hairpin turns and dramatic descents earned it the title of “best road in the world” by the BBC Top Gear crew – fewer casual drivers know of Romania’s second-highest road. Built as a military route in case of an invasion in the 1970s, the road connects the two tallest mountains in the Southern Carpathians, Moldoveanu and Negoiu, and ascends a total of 2,034m in altitude.
“If you like changing gears every three or four seconds, you know it’s fun,” said Romanian native Razvan Baba. Even more fun? Nobody tends to be around to enforce the 40km/h speed limit, Baba said – though the hairpins make it tough to go much faster.
Some 40km east of Sibiu, the DN7C, also known as the Transfagarasan Highway, branches off the road to Brasov, heading straight for the towering Fagaras Mountain range. The highway is open only a few months a year due to snowfall; snow can still block roads in June, while October brings the first new loads.
The road makes for a perfect weekend trip from Bucharest (or even a very long day trip) if you have your own transport. It’s lonely at the top (we know), so make sure your car is fit for the trip and bring warm clothes.
Approaching from the south, you´ll pass the fantastically twisted monastery at Curtea de Arges, the (real) Dracula Castle ruins at Poienari and the huge Vidraru Dam. After that, nature takes over, and the gravel road slowly makes its way up through forests and alpine meadows to the ridge.
The road does not actually cross a pass as the ridge is too jagged; a 890m long tunnel (the highest point of the road; 2,042m) links the two valleys.
The difference between the two sides is stunning. On the southern side, the road slopes up gradually through pleasant green scenery. Once through the tunnel, you may notice a sharp decline in temperature and possibly a dramatic change of weather. Here on the northern side, the landscape is barren and alpine, there is snow even in the warmest months, and the road steeply drops in sweeping curves down an amazing glacial valley before levelling out on the Transylvanian plain.
A cable car runs between Balea Lac (near the tunnel) down to Balea Cascada (a waterfall 12km from Cartisoara). This also functions in winter, when the higher reaches of the highway are blocked.
The Transfagarasan Highway was built at considerable cost in the 1970s. After the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Ceausescu was afraid the same thing might happen to maverick Romania, and had this road built so that troops and tanks could cross over the Carpathian mountains quickly.
The efforts made to build the road were enormous. It was built using essentially slave labour – soldiers – in only four and a half years. In this time, just on the north side of the range, 3.8 million cubic metres of earth and rock were removed. More than six million kilos of dynamite were used to blast through the rocks on this side – that’s 625 train wagons full. Four years long, there would be five blasts every day at set times. In between, soldiers would drag the rocks away, and would bring machinery higher up.
Monuments may praise certain pioneer groups for overcoming a difficult stretch, but there is no plaque to commemorate the casualties. Unofficially, it is estimated that 38 soldiers died during construction. On September 20, 1974, the road was opened by a happy dictator and his beloved wife, and was even named after him – “Drumul Transfagarãsan Nicolae Ceausescu.”
Nature paid its price too: the once pristine crocus meadows are still strewn with the concrete foundations of workers’ barracks and concrete and iron from the lifts. Sadly but unsurprisingly, nobody feels inclined to clear up the mess.
The peaceful road is still a fantastic way to see snow in August, breath fresh air and escape from dusty cities, and highly recommended, now by Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear team, no less.