Why Visit The Transfagarasan Highway?
Lets face it, the daily commute can often get quite boring for those of us who find ourselves negotiating congested city roads day in day out. But despair not. There are numerous adventurous alternatives to the dull daily commute, and this no doubt one of the best! Introducing the Transfagarasan highway, the “best road in the world”!
Built in the 1970’s, the Transfagarasan was constructed under the orders of Nicolae Ceausescu. It’s intended purpose was to provide quick access over the mountains in the event of a soviet invasion. Reaching heights of 6,699 feet, it’s the second highest mountain pass in Romania. Traversing the southern section of the Carpathian Mountains, this spectacular road leads to Romania’s most visited lake, Baela Lac, an attraction in its own right.
The meandering road was the focus of a 14th season episode of Top Gear in which Jeremy Clarkson referred to Transfagarasan as “the best road in the world”. He then went on to say…
“From above, it looks like every great corner from every great race track in the world has been knitted together to create one unbroken grey ribbon of automotive perfection”
The Transfagarasan offers some of the most spectacular views into the valley below as you twine your way to the top. The serene glacial lake of Balea at the summit is a great place to spend a few hours trekking. Cows and pigs freely roam the roadsides. And large herds of sheep can be seen defying gravity as they graze along steep mountain slopes. The thick lush coniferous forests filling the valley makes for an impressive setting. This truly is a heavenly highway. In a nutshell, Transfagarasan is an absolute essential road trip for one and all!
Getting There & When To Go
The road isn’t very hard to find, but here are a few things you might just want to know!
The closest city to The Transfagarasan is the brilliant Sibiu in Transylvania. This beautiful city hosts a mix of old gothic architecture, cobbled streets, a “Mediterranean” style old town centre, and a plethora of great places to eat, drink and sleep. The route from Sibiu to the start of the Transfagarasan is roughly a 45 minute drive.
Please note: The road is closed from October to June. HOWEVER, Google maps may indicate a journey time of roughly 4 hours 30 minutes from Sibiu, EVEN when the road is open. Based on the assumption that the road is closed, it’ll take you the long way around. The actual total journey time to lake Balea is in the region of 1 hour 30 minutes from Sibiu (not including photo stops).
To avoid the erroneous extended route, set your sat nav to the village of Cartisoara (a 45min drive from Sibiu). Leave Sibiu along the E81, take the E68 and finally join the C7. The C7 will take you through Cartisoara where your ascent up the Transfagarasan will begin.
Alternatively, you could drive to the Transfagarasan from Cluj-Napoca, however, the drive from Cluj to Sibiu is roughly 2 hours 30 minutes, so you’ll need to leave early and may need to book a room in Sibiu to save the long dive back. There are numerous cheap options for a basic room for the night in Sibiu, and it’s actually the better place to stay!
The Legend Of Balea Lake
It seems a good legend goes a long way in Transylvania, and if Dracula wasn’t enough, check out the legend of Balea…
Balea was a hard-working man whose poor mother begged him to get married, but he insisted a girl would find him by fate. One day, as he was herding sheep in the nearby forest, he was attacked by a bear. Having bravely defeated the bear, word spread and he was invited by the king to be one of his guards.
Soon enough, Balea became commander-in-chief of the King’s troops. However, Balea began to miss his old life of herding sheep, and decided to return home. Preventing him from doing so was the king’s daughter who had fallen in love with him. Balea was convinced and decided to marry her.
One day as they were making wedding arrangements on the mountain, a huge storm began to brew. Unable to find shelter, they were overcome and fell into the lake holding hands. Locals named the lake after Balea, and today it continues to bear his name.
What’s at Lake Balea?
On the way up the Transfagarasan, there is a local market situated on one of the meandering bends. Here you’ll find local food and objects being sold. At lake Balea itself, there are similar such stools, restaurants and parking available. Parking costs roughly 4 lev/hour.
There is also a guesthouse at which you can stay the night, although this should be booked in advance. During the winter months, there is also an Ice hotel, which should also be booked in advance. The ice hotel is rebuilt every winter using 4 foot blocks of ice taken from the nearby Fagaras mountains.
Tranfagarasan and Lake Balea can get busy, but it’s nonetheless one best roads you’ll ever traverse, at least in Europe!
If you’re a fan of great roads and scenic routes, check out our video and post on Scotland’s North Coast 500.