Europe Diary: Transfagarasan Road Trip

‘No one can manipulate anyone else. In any relationship, both parties know what they’re doing, even if one of them complaints later on that they were used.’
Athena of The Witch of Portobello

I am NOT a Paulo Coelho fan. I’ve always been intrigued by those who rave about it.
But at MYR 14.90, what’s the risk really? I got ‘The Witch of Portobello’ – an enigma; dissatisfied and lost soul who conjures anger, support, respect, disgust with those she had encountered. Revered and feared, a saint and a demon, she partakes a journey around the world into an unseen spiritual world.
As a reader I found myself highly irritable and in most part impatient with Athena, but I have to admit she left an imprint on me.
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Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May sealed the deal by snaking their way through national road 7C in their Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin.
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I had always thought that Romania’s appeal {for me at least} would lie with the bears in the Carpathian Mountains … and ok, a quick visit to Bran Castle more commonly known as Dracula Castle {thanks to the myth created by Bram Stoker who himself have never stepped foot into Romania!} 

Who would have guessed that  national road 7C {transfagarasan mountain road} would be the highlight of the Romanian trip?

The Transfagarasan was built between 1970 and 1974 by military forces on Nicolae Ceausescu’s instructions as a result of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviets. 

Nicolae Ceausescu built the Transfagarasan as a strategic military route to cross the mountains in the event the Soviets attempted a similar invasion on 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 are reported to have lost their lives during construction.
Purported to be one of the most spectacular roads in the world, the Transfagarasan is 90 km long and runs throught the Fagaras mountains (trans + Fagaras), a part of the Transsylvanian Alps, and connects Transsylvania with Muntenia. 
© Penelope Haque – All Rights Reserved – The Transfagarasan, ROMANIA
The Transfagarasan starts at Bascov, near Piteçti, and follows the valley of the river Argea. Upon  mounting to the highest point, it descends to Cartisoara in the Olt valley, where the road ends. 
Besides rising to a height of 2134 meter and has sharp hairpin turns; proving a challenge for every driver, the Transfagarasan has more tunnels and viaducts than any other roads in Romania, with the longest and highest tunnel connecting Transslyvania and Walachia located near Balea Lac (Lake Balea). 

The Transfagarasan Road Trip
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A few miles beyond Curtea de Arges, the Transfagarasan road starts to face the mountain slope. What lies ahead for the next few miles is a typical mountain landscape with pines and alpine meadows.
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; and not the Bran Castle that has frequently been mistaken. Vlad earned his nickname by impaling, torturing, burning, skinning, roasting, and boiling people who did things that displeased Vlad – such as stealing, lying, and adulterous relations. This was apparently the way Vlad kept his people in order and taught them that stealing would not be tolerated in his lands. 
His fortress – the Poenari Castle – is visible high above a remote cliff and is accessible through 1,480 stairs!

Ascending slightly more than 10% of the way up, the prospects of sinking my teeth into some roasted corn while dipping my toes into the stream at the foot of the hill was more alluring and logical. Without much hesitation, I descended the stairs, fished out some change and got a corn plus a ring of oversized “pretzels” that doubled up as edible fashion accessories … something I was sorely missing by then, having brought only 2 pieces of Tiffany & Co. with me during the 3 week trip!
Following the road further north, you’ll reach Vidraru Lake. A man-made reservoir, retained by a dam that is 165 meters high, 305 meters long and holds 465 million cubic meters of water the dam was ranked 5th in Europe and 9th in the world upon completion generating approximately of 400 GWh/year. 
The Transfagarasan road runs over this dam.
At this point the road splits up; with one route to the left side of the lake and the other passes the right side of the lake, We had taken the right one based on recommendation that it is in a far better condition then the left one despite being 3 km longer. As I’m unable to comment or compare, either road you chose will meet at the northern side of the lake.

Passing through some scenic spots and waterfall, you’ll eventually see the tunnel under the Paltinu Ridge as you approach to the top of the Transfagaran Road. Take the tunnel but be careful! – regardless of weather conditions, the road in the tunnel is always wet and slippery. Exiting the tunnel brings you to the highest point of the Transfagarasan – Balea Lac (Lake Balea).
Lake Balea is a glacier lake with clear, icy water, surrounded by mountain peaks. Temperature can drop to sub-zero even during the summer months here and strong winds will wreak havoc. Nonetheless, it worth parking just as you exit the tunnel, stroll along the food stalls dotting the road side and take a walk to the lake.

© Penelope Haque – All Rights Reserved – food stalls around Lake Balea, ROMANIA 

As you descent the northern side of the Transfagarasan road, you’ll will be able to see the sharp descent and the hairpin turns of almost the whole Transfagarasan road stretch; especially in good weather. 
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 and the rest is accessible by cable cars. 
© Penelope Haque – All Rights Reserved – The Transfagarasan, ROMANIA
Unlike Jeremy, Richard and James, you’d probably want to do the Transfagarasan Road in the comforts and safety of a 4×4 than a swanky sporty car as the maximum speed imposed is 40km/h (25 miles/h) … and even if you’d wanted to burn some rubber with your Ferrari, the vehicle swallowing portholes at the lower altitudes would not permit you.  
The road is often closed from October till June due to snow.

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others that might be of interest
Behind the scenes video of Top Gear filming at the Transfagarasan Road:

The could have been a great advert shoot for Toureg:

© Penelope Haque – All Rights Reserved – along The Transfagarasan, ROMANIA – arse!!! roadblock by some ass!

6 thoughts on “Europe Diary: Transfagarasan Road Trip

  1. Ben, they have car swallowing port-holed roads!!! Well, in the valley and lower bits at least. Yes, its a nice scenic drive up … not too steep, just really sharp bends which the GPS alerts you way in advance. Only need to watch out for the donkeys!!! I think we were lucky to come across them. Smelly buggers. Drolled all over the car too and tried to eat the mirror.

  2. errr… you went with a 4×4?!?What's wrong with ya?More so for someone who once owned a sports car.Age catching up?Getting conservative and cautious?lolzDon't get upset ok?Ben

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