The Transfwhat? The Transfagarasan (Highway), its a road, and an awesome one at that!
Built between 1970-1974 on the personal orders of communist politician Nicolae Ceausescu, the highway stretches some 150km, passing over the Fagaras mountains in Transylvania, Romania. I’m here today to give you a few pointers on how you might best spend a few days driving what has been called by some ‘the best road in the world’.
My chosen Transfagarasan route
So effectively my chosen Transfagarasan route was a big loop, both starting and ending in the Romanian capital of Bucharest. I figure this is most likely where you would rent a car whilst in Romania, and it is exactly where our band of merry troops picked up our nippy 1.2 Opal Corsa.
My route proceeds clockwise from Bucharest, around to a little mountain village called Corbeni, then north along the Transfagarasan Highway before then turning east towards Brasov and then back down towards Bucharest.
The loop would only take you 9 hours of continuous driving, but I think its best done over at least 3 or 4 days. Checkout my break down below.
Day 1 – Bucharest to Corbeni
As you fly into Bucharest (assuming you’re not already there or in Romania), the temptation may be to spend your first night in the Romanian Capital. That is obviously your decision, but I would argue against it on the basis of already being at a location (the airport) where there are plenty of car hire options (hopefully you’ve pre booked anyway), and that if you were to stay in Bucharest, chances are you may have a drink, and then be a bit worse for wear the next morning. With alcohol in the system you ain’t going nowhere, as Romania imposes a zero limit on alcohol and driving. Best in my opinion to just get on the road straight from the airport to Corbeni in the mountains … but not without stopping off in Curtea de Arges first.
Curtea de Arges, or Court upon the Arges as it translates, is a town that sits alongside the Arges river, flowing south from the Fagaras Mountains. Its not a massive place, but its ideal for stopping off for a bite to eat after making your way out of Bucharest, and it also has a couple of interesting churches and a very grand 16th Century Monastery.
From Curtea de Arges up to Corbeni is a simple jaunt up a single road (the same road you’ll be travelling the next morning). Corbeni is a small, stretched village, quiet with a couple of restaurants and its own Monastery. In fact quiet is a bit of an understatement, but in a good way. Whilst the sun is still in the sky its worth just simply taking a wander and having a look down by the river. Once the sun goes down just look skywards and play dot to dot with a star riddled skyline. The lack of light pollution means that the nights sky above Corbeni is really something special and best enjoyed from your guesthouse balcony.
Day 2 – Corbeni to Brasov
Day two, and this is the big one! This is where you snake up and then down the Fagaras Mountains on what is said to be one of the worlds greatest roads. I can tell you from experience that the drive is exhilarating, but it is broken up into sections as there are plenty of reasons to stop off along the route from south to north, and this gives you ample opportunity to switch drivers and allow every driver on the insurance a turn at navigating the Transfagarasan bends and curves.
So leaving Corbeni at a relatively early hour so that you beat the rush, the first stop is a mere 5 minutes drive north and will be to the foot of Poenari Castle, the REAL home of Dracula … or so some might say. There’s a bit of leg work involved to reach the castle, as it is located 1500 steps skywards and up what felt like a small mountain. Safe to say I am not the fittest and found 1500 steps first thing in the morning somewhat tiring, but it was worth it as the castle afforded some great views over the surrounding area, and helped top up our knowledge on Vlad The Impaler … and yes there were people impaled outside the castle … but not real people I should add.
Poenari Castle is worth around 1 hour of your time I would say, but you want to be back on the road by roughly 10.30-11am and driving towards the next stop, which is really a kind of 3 in 1 stop off. Each of the 3 are incredibly difficult to miss
So what is this 3in1 stop off? Well, it combines Lake Viradu and dam, and a rather futuristic looking monument.
The Lake Viradu Dam built between between 1961 and 1966. Some 80 people lost their lives through its massive construction. How massive? Well the Dam sits at a height of 166 meters and its arch length is a whopping 307 meters. Its pretty big, and you get to drive right over it.
Parking is a bit sparse around Lake Viradu, but its worth the effort of finding a spot so that you can get out and walk up to the Prometheus monument. Yes this means more stairs, but again it worth it, and from the base if the lightening holding giant (the lightening is a symbol of all the electricity produced by the dam) you are afforded even more spectacular views of this area of Romania.
All in all, Lake Viradu will probably take up at least another hour of your time, that is if you don’t take a scenic boat ride over the lake, in which case you’re probably looking at a 2 hour stop off and a late lunch as a result.
From one lake to another, although the second is much much smaller than the first.
Reached via the longest tunnel in Romania, Lake Baleau is your next stop and the obvious place to stop for lunch on day 2. This glacial lake is only accessible by car during the summer time, during the winter months a ride in a cable car will be necessary to reach its waters. At an altitude of 2034 metres above sea level, its not hard to understand why driving to the lake is not permitted during the winter. Even upon our visit in mid July, patches of snow and ice could still be found dotted around the area.
Surrounding the lake are a few restaurants and a number of food trucks and market stalls, and even a zip wire if you feel the need to indulge in some adrenaline fueled activities before/after lunch. We chose a simple stroll around the lake, and in my case a small tumble on some slippery rocks. Never one to miss an opportunity to embarrass myself.
Post lunch and it is on. This is what you petrol heads came for. The next hour of your life will include some of the most incredible corner taking you’re ever likely to experience, if only there were more of said corners and the drive latest just that bit longer. I mean, just look at it …
… yup, even in a Opal Corsa 1.2, that series of twists and turns were incredible. Queue the epic soundtrack and you’re off.
Sadly the buzz of that dive does eventually wear off, but its cool because you’re now en route to Brasov, and Brasov is a pretty cool place to spend the night, with a bustling main square, plenty of bars and some very fine restaurants – Sergiana is highly recommended if you are a meat (inc fish) eater.
There is also a free evening walking tour which is very good I’m led to believe, if it doesn’t rain … when we attempted to join the tour it rained.
I liked Brasov, it was a colourful city and somewhere I’d definitely liked to explore again.
Day 3 – Brasov to Bucharest
OK so this isn’t strictly the Transfagarasan Highway anymore, but there are still a few cool attractions you should take in on your way back to Bucharest from Brasov.
Bran Castle, the home of Dracula … well sort of. Whilst Bran castle does match some of the fictional details in Bram Strokers 1987 tale of the Count, its not an exact match. Built by the Teuton knights in 13Th century as a defense fortress to protect the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. In the 15th century Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) was incarcerate here, and it was this blood hungry ruler who inspired Strokers character Dracula.
Now it is here where I tell you that I didn’t actually make it inside Bran Castle. Upon my visit the queue to get in was HUGE, and our merry band were on a timer i.e. we had to get our hire car back, save being hit with a fine. So the decision was made to simply admire Bran Castle from a far and move onto another castle in the area, but if you’re not so pressed for time as we were, I reckon Bran Castle would well be worth a visit, despite the slightly tacky, Dracula merchandise pushing market stalls plotted around its front gates.
Official Site: http://www.bran-castle.com/
So we ditched on Bran Castle, but with good reason. On the advice of one of our party who had been lucky enough to explore this area of Romania already, we decided to head on to Rasnov Fortress, and a good decision it was too.
Situation high up upon a hill, well protected from foreign invaders, Rasnov Fortress was built in the 14 century and houses what was once the deepest well in Eastern Europe – 146m deep. The well was built off of the back of a previous surrender due to a lack of water, and took 2 turkish prisoners 17 years to dig. In exchange for their efforts, they were given their freedom back.
From the Fortress on a sunny day visitors are afforded beautiful views of Bucegi & Piatra Craiului Mountains, and have the opportunity to try their hand at axe throwing … badly in my case.
As with Bran Castle, Peles Palace is not a site I have visited, but a stop here comes highly recommended. Peles Palace is … well a palace, and as such is rather large. 160 rooms large, many of them with different themes.
Considered by many one of the most stunning castles in Europe, built between 1875 and 1883 Peles Palace is a masterpiece of German new-Renaissance architecture. It used to be the home of the Romanian royal family, but was turned into a museum in the early 1950’s.
Official website: http://visit.peles.ro/
The end of the road
From Peles its a quick and easy drive back to Bucharest, and the completion of the roadtrip.
I should tell you that we completed the entire journey on a single tank of petrol, BUT that it was close, and we were very nearly stranded on the side of a Romanian motorway, so I wouldn’t advise trying the single tank method.
This route would obviously also work anti-clockwise, but personally I though the Transfagarasan Highway looked more fun driving from south to north. Your call.
So there it is, my awesome Transfagarasan Highway Route. I hope you enjoyed the ride, and if you fancy taking a look at what I have just detailed in real time, why not have a look at my Google+ Story below? – It has a few extra pictures if you’re interested.
Thanks for reading.