The Transfagarasan in Romania, also known as the Ceausescu's Folly, is one of the greatest European roads to drive on. If I could compare to any other, then I would say the thrill of driving on the Transfagarasan is similar to that of driving on The Crown Range in New Zealand. I've first crossed the Romanian Transfagarasan when I was about 16, during one happy summer and have been returning almost yearly, ever since. So what is so special about the Transfagarasan? When should you visit and most importantly, why should you drive on it?
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What is Transfagarasan, Romania?
I'm going to start by telling you that you need to be a good driver to cross the Transfagarasan. You will be challenged by narrow winding roads going up the hill and hairpin turns which require good clutch skills. The Transfagarasan is a paved mountain road, taking us up to 2,042 m altitude. It is the second-highest highway in Romania, after the Transaplina. The Transfagarasan stretches for 90 kilometres, during which everyone can enjoy outstanding views. The Transfagarasan is not for the faint-hearted, as I can assure you that I had the adrenaline kick in during several turns, whilst driving the car next to some seriously scary chasms.
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The Transfagarasan highway leads to Balea Lake, a glacier lake covered in fog for most of the year. During my first three visits, I always got to Balea Lake during the thick fog season. If this happens to you, please be very wary, and stick to the main roads. The visibility is usually so low, that you won't be able to see less than a metre ahead of you. This is scary enough when driving, let alone during a promenade at the top of the Transfagarasan, where somewhere, in the fog, there is a freezing cold lake which you can't see. Measure your steps carefully. It is a very fun adventure, a bit scary, but definitely exhilarating.
Where to drive from Transfagarasan, Romania
Once at the Balea Lake, you will want to either turn back the same way you came or descent on the other side of the mountain towards Vidraru. This is the route I recommend. The roads are not paved as well as the Transfagarasan, but the view is definitely worth the hassle. To start descending you need to cross a tunnel through the mountain from the Balea Lake. The tunnel is the longest in Romania and usually has low visibility. If the Balea Lake is completely covered in thick fog, then the tunnel will be foggy too, which reduces the visibility even further. This requires outstanding driving skills and a great intuition because you won't see anything in front of you. The tunnel is also very narrow which means you need to make allowances for cars coming in the opposite directions. All in all, I would only recommend this for adventure lovers. Don't do this unless you are a confident driver. I'm serious, you can't put yourself and others in danger.
Once you make it out of the tunnel, you will notice that the other side of the mountain always has amazing weather in comparison to the Transfagarasan. It's usually sunny and warm, whereby there is almost always snow around the Balea Lake. The Balea Lake tunnel feels almost like a time travelling device. It's a really epic feeling. Descending towards Vidraru, you have two options. You either continue driving down the hill (expect S and hairpin turn still) or you allow one of your friends to drive whilst you pick up the bike from the trunk and descend in style. Biking this part of the highway is one of the coolest things ever, but you need a good bike with extremely great breaks. Make sure you are a good cyclist with plenty of experience. You don't want to lose control of your bike and cycle off the highway and into the abyss or into the Vidraru Lake (which is no less than 155 m in depth). Stay cool, pedal slowly and enjoy your ride.
When should you visit the Transfagarasan
The Transfagarasan is a great road to drive on, but it's also very dangerous, hence the local governments have taken some extra precautions and decided to close the road during snowy seasons. I have been on the Transfagarasan just days because of the closing date and it's proved to be challenging. The roads were extremely icy, very foggy at parts, which meant not seeing the turns properly and some stretches were lined with 2 metres high of snow. Although driving through a tunnel of snow was a lot of fun, it also felt very dangerous. The Balea Lake tunnel had close to zero visibility, which made it a challenge to cross through. Always check the weather conditions before driving on the Transfagarasan.
The Transfagarasan or DN7C is open between 18th of June 2016 - 30th of October 2016. You can check live updates by checking this website.
Why should you drive on the Transfagarasan
If I haven't managed to convince it so far that the Transfagarasan road is one of the best highways to drive on, then maybe a comment made by Top Gear will: in 2009 Jeremy Clarkson said the Transfagarasan is the best road in the world. The Transfagarasan is well paved, the views are outstanding the drive itself is one of the most exhilarating road trips ever. You will have moments when your heart will skip a beat, you will have moments when you will just want to turn around out of fear, but all in all, I can assure you that driving on the Transfagarasan will be one of the most incredible rides you'll ever have. Who needs a theme park, when you have your own Transfagarasan ride, which by the way, is free for all.
A few last notes are to say that the Transfagarasan really is just for experienced drivers. If you already read why driving in Madeira in challenging, then imagine this being ten times more difficult and dangerous. If you know what you are doing and are willing to be extremely careful, then go and drive on the Transfagarasan. This really will be an adventure of a lifetime. Besides, we believe the Transfagarasan is also one of the most Instagrammable places in Romania.
Over to you now. Would you like to drive on the Transfagarasan or would you be too afraid? Would you like to cycle part of the road towards Vidraru Lake or would you stick behind the stirring wheel? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.