Thirdeyemom

A Drive along Romania’s Stunning Transfăgărășan Highway

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”.   Jack Kerouac

I fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) tend to be that traveler who has to try to see it all no matter what. I think half of my obsession with seeing and doing it all is that I normally don’t have a lot of time in a given place. Usually my trips last under ten days and in the case of Romania, I was literally on the ground for only five full days before I had to begin the long day and a half journey back home.

Despite only having five short days in Romania, I felt that I truly got to see quite a bit of this magical place. I had a full day in Bucharest, several days in Brasov, saw the Bran Castle and the Rasnov Fortress, went hiking in the Carparthians and on the last day took a crazy adventurous drive back from Brasov to Bucharest via the world famous Transfăgărășan Highway.

It may have been a little bit crazy but deciding to take the Transfăgărășan Highway on our last day in Romania ended up being the highlight of our trip. This says a lot for someone who hates car trips and gets carsick on windy roads. But the drive along the Transfăgărășan Highway was one of the most stunning drives I’ve taken in years and it gave me a wonderful glimpse into Romania’s majestic countryside. A place of sheep herders, men in horse drawn wagons, and women clothed in traditional long dresses. Old churches, stone walls and terra cotta rooftops awash in greenery and flowers were just as I had imagined it would be in the nostalgic Romanian countryside.

“Also labeled “the Road to the Sky”, “the Road to the Clouds”, “the Best Driving Road in the World” and even “A spectacular Monument to Earth-Moving Megalomania” the Transfăgărășan climbs, twists and descends right through Moldoveanu and Negoiu – the highest peaks in Fagaras Mountains and in Romania. This is no pass through a gap but a frontal assault, a stark and spectacular reminder of unchecked power stamping itself on an obstreperous landscape”. – Romanian Tourism

The Transfăgărășan Highway (DN7C) is the second highest paved road in Romania, after the Transalpina further west, which travels for 56 miles/90 km through the southern section of the Carpathian Mountain across the Făgăraş Mountains. The road twists and turns up to the altitude of 2,042 metres (6,699 ft) with enough hairpin curves to make your stomach leap and adrenalin rush with excitement.

Constructed from 1970-1974 during Ceaușescu’s iron-fist rule for presumably military reasons, this amazing feat of engineering required lots of money, manpower and dynamite making people question the true reasoning behind its very existence. At the time, there were plenty of other high mountain passes that could be used for strategic reasons yet  Ceaușescu instead that the Transfăgărășan Highway be built.

Today the Transfăgărășan Highway is one of the most touristic drives in Romania and driving enthusiasts, bikers, hikers, tourists and locals alike flock to this spectacular road making it one of the top scenic drives in the country.

Romanian countryside

I had seen pictures in my guidebook of the drive and knew I had to see for myself what it was all about. The short two and a half hour drive from Bucharest to Brasov along the freeway was quite frankly pretty boring so why not try a more exciting way back? All I had to do was convince my dad who was driving.

I asked the staff at the hotel in Brasov how long the drive would take and no one really knew. They guessed about 4-5 hours, and further research online couldn’t tell me either. With only one day left in Romania, we figured there was nothing to lose. We packed our suitcases, took our Romanian map and ancient GPS and were on our way. Little did we know we would spend a bit of time being lost and instead of 4-5 hours it would take us nine hours to get back to Bucharest.

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. –  Lewis Carroll

We drove along Highway 1 towards Sibiu enjoying the gorgeous scenery. I had to pinch myself it was so incredibly lovely. We didn’t honestly have very good directions. All we knew was that Highway 1 would drop us off into the village of Curtea de Arges where we would easily find the turnoff sign for DN7C, The Transfăgărășan Highway. We should have known by now that finding your way around a foreign country is not always as easy as it seems. We turned too early, didn’t find the sign and ended up lost in a tiny little town.

Transfăgărășan Highway

The start of the Transfăgărășan Highway is off in the distance, in the mountains beyond

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The wonderful news is that Romanians are extremely friendly and helpful, even if they do not know English. We pulled over at a little market and used sign language to point at the map and show them where we were trying to go. A kind man inside the shop jumped on his motorcycle and indicated for us to follow him. We followed along for ten minutes until he frantically pointed which way to go. We were all set.

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I love these travel stories because I honestly don’t know many Americans who would do the same thing. We were grateful that he took this time out of his life to help strangers, and it left us with yet another warm memory of the country and its people.

Once we found the The Transfăgărășan Highway, it was obvious what we had done wrong. We turned off Highway 1 too early. The highway is well marked and we joined in a long line of other cars going up for a beautiful scenic drive.

Transfăgărășan Highway

Transfăgărășan Highway

The start of the Transfăgărășan Highway

“The high road is always respected. Honesty and integrity are always rewarded”. –  Scott Hamilton
Transfăgărășan Highway

 Transfăgărășan Highway

Transfăgărășan Highway

Transfăgărășan Highway

Transfăgărășan Highway

Transfăgărășan Highway

The start of the Transfăgărășan Highway is relatively tame until you reach the a series of steep, hairpin turns and S-curves climbing up all the way to the top. We could see sheep herders, cattle, and hikers along the way and I was absolutely amazed to see how the weather changed as we approached the top. It went from t-shirt and shorts to freezing cold, cloudy and gray all within a matter of minutes.

Transfăgărășan Highway

Transfăgărășan Highway

View looking up to the top

Transfăgărășan Highway

View looking back down

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The road is usually closed from late October until late June because of snow.  Depending on the weather, it may remain open until as late as November, or may close even in the summer so it is best to check before you go.

The highest point is at Bâlea Lake (Balea Lac) where you can stop and camp for the night. The road passes through Bâlea Tunnel, the longest road tunnel in Romania at 884 m (2,900 ft). We didn’t have time to stop at the lake but I did see its gorgeous blue waters sparkle through the trees.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it”. –  Greg Anderson

Once we reached the top, we began our long descent down through twisting, turning, winding curves of absolutely spectacular views. Despite my lightheadedness and nausea, I perservered and couldn’t stop taking photos of this achingly beautiful place.

Transfăgărășan Highway

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A little after two o’clock we found a beautiful place for lunch. We were famished and enjoyed some delightful homemade soup and perfectly ripe red tomatoes with cheese. Several people were camping and picnicking nearby but we still had hours left of our journey ahead. If only we had more time!

We got back on the road again, passing the gorgeous lakes we couldn’t stop to visit but still taking pictures from the open window of the car. The air was pure and fresh, the sun glowing strong. It was exactly how I’d imagined Romania years ago. A place of dreams and fantasies. A fairytale kind of land.

Transfăgărășan Highway

Transfăgărășan Highway

Transfăgărășan Highway

Transfăgărășan Highway

Hours later we finally arrived at the outskirts of Bucharest. It was nearing six o’clock and rush hour traffic was in full swing. Once again, we relied on our out of date GPS to find the way to our airport hotel and took a wrong turn costing us an additional hour to an already very long journey. Utterly exhausted, we arrived at our hotel well past 7 with just enough time to eat dinner before beginning our long journey home the next morning.

It took nine hours in total. A very long day in the car for our last day in Romania. But would I do it again: Yes! It was one of the highlights of the trip. Next time, however, I’d take more than one day and truly stop to enjoy the drive.

If you go:
To get to the Transfagarasan from Bucharest, the best way is to take the A1 motorway to the industrial town of Pitesti where you can easily follow the signs from there. This is the most common route. We did the drive from north to south, starting from Brasov and getting on the highway at Curtea de Arges. Be prepared for a long day but it is worth it! I’d recommend doing the drive over a few days and stopping at some of the sights nearby.

Want to learn more?

Romanian Tourism website

In Your Pocket Bucharest – The Transfagarasan Highway

36 comments

  1. Sounds and seems most excellent if a bit long. On my first visit to Romania I drove a little Toyota jeep of a Japanese friend with him and our host in tow from Bucharest to Sibiu and back just so that we took some photos in the square there and immediately returned. Now I see on Google Maps that it was 4 hours in one direction. I have no idea if we took this highway or the one more to the west and am curious now, but I think it was the other one. Still, I remember amazing views, animals and holes in the road, and the lovely town of Sibiu.

  2. Recently made a friend from Romania and that has only heightened my desire to see the country. You’ve taken some really good pictures. I love the one with the waterfall coming down to the road. Gorgeous!

    Hopefully next time you can visit for more than just 5 days, but looks like it was 5 days well spent.

  3. I think this might be my top activity there, too! Well, maybe after the hiking …
    I love driving, I love twisty, turny roads in the mountains, and I love the freedom to stop and take pictures, get food, or do whatever I want on the way. You are moving Romania up my list one post at a time!

  4. Just beautiful! From your pictures, parts of it are reminiscent of Glencoe in Scotland. I loved following your journey through Romania- I think it would be a wonderful place to visit!

  5. I have never been to Romania, but have romanticized about it and this post certainly captures the sheer beauty of the landscape and countryside. I know well of journeys that are supposed to take four hours but end up being double the time ~ It is interesting though how in getting lost or diverted one can stumble on something really interesting or beautiful. I am definitely not one for windy roads and will often change plans if I hear that the road is steep or windy, so well done to you for facing that head on. Sounds like an amazing trip.
    Peta

    • Thanks Peta! I did love our visit there. Hope all is well for you. I enjoyed your post on Chinese medicine and meant to comment. I do acupuncture all the time! Love it!

  6. If you had to get lost, at least you were in a beautiful country! This reminded me of our time in Europe. I too have deal with motion sickness and often felt queasy driving the winding, mountainous roads. When we first picked up our lease vehicle at the Paris airport, we seemed to drive around in circles with the aid (sort of) of our female GPS. We thought we would never get out of Paris. We switched to a male British voice, whom we named Winston, and that did the trick! I would love to visit Romania. I have suggested to hubby that we take an extended trip to Europe, like we did Mexico, and get on with our international travels. He’s not totally convinced yet, but I’m working on him. I would love to do something like this, volunteering along the way. If I get him warmed to the idea, I may be looking to you for volunteer suggestions.

  7. wheremyarrowleads

    I am from Romania and I’ve never go to Transfagarasan Highway, shame on me… Thank you for reminding me where to go on the next vacation. Great pictures, you are really awesome.

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