Two of the most popular historical-geographic regions in Romania, Wallachia and Transylvania, are separated by the Fagaras Mountains, the highest massif in the Southern Carpathians! And thanks to the former communist leader of the country – Nicolae Ceausescu, today we can cross them on one of the most beautiful roads in Europe… Transfagarsan!
The dam wall
Our first stop on the famous Romanian road DN7C is Vidraru Dam. The dam wall, built in 1966, is of impressive size – just over 166 m high, 305 m long and holds 465 million cubic meters of water! We left the car just after the tunnel at the junction to the west bank and walked along the road to enjoy the wonderful view of the waters and shores of the dam. It has been turned into one of the attractions on the Transfagarsan road, as it offers the possibility of boating or bungee jumping from a specially built platform.
Apart from the metal statue of Prometheus towering over all, armed guards can often be spotted around the dam wall. The reason for this is that there are many explosives in the rocks around it. They were placed deliberately so that the rocks could be blown up in case of danger and create a natural barrier.
The story of Transfagarasan
Driving on the 120 km track is one of the most spectacular things to do in all of Romania! Built by Ceausescu in the period 1970-1974, Transfagarasan was of strategic importance in the event of an invasion by the USSR. The idea of a rapid crossing of the mountain came after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops in 1968 and the desire of the Romanian leader to have the opportunity to react if this happened to his country.
Troops and equipment were supposed to pass quickly and undisturbed along the route passing through the ridge of the mountain, in places reaching an altitude of over 2000 m… The method of construction is interesting, as construction started simultaneously on both sides, and by the time of completion, tons of stone and concrete and 6 million kilograms of dynamite were used. There are also human victims, as according to official data they are 40 workers, but according to unofficial data there are hundreds…
💡 The road passes by 833 small bridges, 28 viaducts and through the longest tunnel in Romania at the moment – “Capra” (887 m)!
What to expect and how to prepare
– slow driving – no one drives fast, everyone traveling this route is there as a tourist to enjoy the wonderful scenery and stop suddenly at all sorts of detours. Average driving speed is around 30-40 km/h.
– the fog – often the weather conditions are very changeable and thick fog can fall quickly… At times we could not see anything in front of us, but we were lucky that it passed quickly…
– closed in winter – the main part of the pass is officially closed from December 1st to May 1st, but due to bad weather conditions, it often happens that it is impossible to visit it from the end of October until June. You can find up-to-date information on the website of the Romanian Road Agency – HERE.
– a close overnight stay – spend the night before the Transfagarasan trek at a close distance so that you can leave as early as possible!
– avoid weekends – due to the popularity of the place, crowds of Romanians and foreigners gather on weekends. If you don’t like jostling with crowds, you might want to plan a weekday visit. We were on a Monday and the workload was balanced and not overwhelming.
– driving on it isn’t difficult – although it is mentioned in many places on the Internet how challenging driving on Transfagarasan is, no professional driving skills are required. You don’t have to lose your concentration as the S and U turns follow each other, but the road is in excellent condition and as already mentioned, there are no hurried drivers to squeeze you. If you have never driven on a narrow mountain road, then you should be doubly careful!
– wear thick outerwear – even if you visit in the height of summer, temperatures in the highest parts of the road can be significantly lower than in nearby towns. Especially around Lake Balea. The weather there changes in seconds and it is mandatory to wear thicker clothes.
The turns and views from Vidraru to Balea
The route can roughly be divided into two parts – from Vidraru to Lake Balea and from there to Kartsišoara. This of course is in a south to north, the direction we crossed it. Many people from northern Romania travel only on the second part and turn back when they reach the lake, making the first less popular section of the Transfagarasan. We liked her much more! Mostly because of the winding road up the steep mountains and the picturesque views it creates! To make it easier for you to prepare for the trip, I’ll point out a few essential stops and sights along the route that you might want to stop at.
We were impressed by the spectacular and varied landscapes that unfolded before us! In addition to the many bends, the road passes beautiful tunnels, mountain streams and even majestic waterfalls, such as Capra Falls. Descending steeply down the high cliff, the waterfall, whose name means ‘Goat’, dissects into numerous tributaries to complete the idyll of nature!
The listed stopping points are only some of the possible ones along the way! You can stop almost anywhere you think there is something to see… In places there are stalls selling local delicacies such as cheese, salami, honey and jam.
💡 Transfagarasan’s popularity reached unprecedented heights in 2009, when the British TV show Top Gear declared it one of the best driving roads in the world!
The highest part of the trek is around Lake Balea. The glacial lake is located at an altitude of 2034 m above sea level in the Transylvanian Alps. You can park in the paid parking lot (10 lei per hour) or find a free space around the road. Be aware that the car park is run by somewhat doubtful people and often tourists who have parked around the main road to avoid the car park fee find their cars scratched…
The whole area is a well-established tourist hub, with plenty of stalls selling local delicacies, various souvenirs, interesting products and plenty of eating options. Also several hotels. The most pleasant thing to do is a refreshing walk around the crystal clear waters of the lake. From there, various marked trails start in the mountain that lead to nearby peaks and huts. And very close and at an accessible walking distance is the famous view of the turns of Transfagarasan…
The way down
Driving the entire route is a unique experience! If you haven’t figured it out yet, the main attraction on it is the road itself! We still had a little bit left… The weather became changeable, it started to rain and we didn’t stop in many places from the second part to Kartsišoara. One baby poop in the diaper gave us the opportunity to visit one of the lay-by shortly after the start of the descent and get a closer look at the upcoming route. We also saw the lift that starts somewhere around the Balеa waterfall. Oh yes… and the huge herd of sheep grazing on the steepest possible meadow…
Many people report encountering bears during their visit… And we will get into that statistic! Suddenly, several cars in front of us stopped with their emergency lights on, and when we caught up with them, we found out the reason… Mommy bear and little bear! A great view to end our whole Transfagarasan adventure! The bears were sitting by the road and did not pose a threat to tourists in any way, but it is good not to feed them, so that they aren’t encouraged to leave their traditional homes, which are deep in the forest…