Driving the Transfagarasan Highway: what to expect
In 2009, Jeremy Clarkson dubbed the Transfăgărășan Highway as ‘the best road in the world'. We haven’t yet found anything that beats it.
Opened in 1974, it was built by Ceausescu's army to ensure quick access across the Fagaras mountains in case of a Soviet invasion. It took four years, hundreds of lives and over 6,000,000kgs of dynamite. We've written this post to provide a guide to those who wish to drive this truly epic road.
What to expect
The road twists and turns its way through the Southern Carpathian mountains and reaches an altitude of 2,042m at its peak. It has steep hairpin bends and sharp descents that become extremely dangerous in the winter months, so the pass is shut over the cold period, typically from the middle of October until early June.
For this reason, if you want to drive the road, make sure you time your trip over the summer/autumn months. We cut it very fine by driving the road on 30th October; in 2015 it shut on the 1st of November.
We set off at around 8am on a Saturday from central Bucharest, though we would recommend leaving earlier. Escaping the torment of Bucharest’s traffic took 2 hours and it would have been better to have driven all the way to Brasov in daylight.
Once we left Bucharest, we took the reliable E81 towards Pitesti and the Carpathian Mountains. The road really opens up and we were able to appreciate rural Romania for the first time. We drove across huge open plains and alongside horse and cart. Whilst it is illegal to drive horse and carts on the sealed roads in Romania, it is still fairly common practice.
At around 11am we hit Curtea de Arges and started to climb through the Southern Carpathians. A canopy of golden brown and deep red stayed with us as we began to wind up the mountain road.
The first major landmark is the Vidraru Dam, where bungee jumpers dive 140m to the Arges river below.
The Cascada Capra sits at around 1,700m and signals the final stretch of the ascent up to 2,042m.
After the peak, we passed through the Balea tunnel to the waterfall and lake. We reached this area at 15.45 and the sun had already began to hide behind the mountains, which didn’t make for the best photos, so try to get there early than we did!
The best part of the road was the first part of the decent. The views are incredible but more excitingly, the edges of the corners are marked like a racetrack. You'll be hard pushed not smile as you zip round the zigzag bends.
As we descended, we rejoined the trees and enjoyed some longer, straighter sections of road through as the road began to plateau again. The roundabout with the Castel 2000 Motel signified the end of the track. From here, it was another 100km (1.5hrs) to Brasov or 45km (45mins) to Sibiu.
OUR TOP TIPS
- The road is closed over the winter period, typically from mid October until early June. Time your Romania trip accordingly.
- If driving from Bucharest to Brasov/Sibiu, set off early in the morning. We left at 8am and arrived in Brasov at 6pm.
- Take a packed lunch, there aren’t many place to stop for food.
- Take care when driving in darkness; many rural communities still rely on horse and cart to get around and they are fairly commonplace when driving outside of the cities.
- Use your gears when driving downhill and park off the road when stopping to take photos; some people drive very quickly!