The Transfăgărășan highway, or DN7C, was named ‘the best road in the world’ by BBC’s Top Gear. This scenic drive stretches all the way from Wallachia to mysterious Transylvania. It takes a bit of bravery to drive it, but when you do, this will be the highlight of your trip to Romania!
After visiting the Transfăgărășan twice, I still believe this should be #1 on any bucket list for Romania. The journey will be long and curvy, but so worth it!
The Transfăgărășan highway is located right in the middle of the Făgărăș mountains, the highest mountains of Romania, connecting the region of Transylvania to Wallachia. It’s the second highest paved highway in Romania, after Transalpina, so expect breathtaking views from almost every angle.
History of the Transfăgărășan road
The Transfăgărășan road was built between 1970 and 1974 by the army, who got their orders from former dictator Nicolae Ceauceșcu, who wanted quick military access across the mountains in case the Soviets came to pay a visit. It is believed they used over 6000 tons of dynamite to build the road. 40 soldiers died during the building process, although this number could have been higher.
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Things to do on the Transfăgărășan road
Apart from enjoying the scenic surroundings, there are a few stops worth mentioning. Please note that they’re not exactly in order because it all depends on where you start you journey. You could either start in Curtea de Arges (Wallachia) or Cartisoara (Transylvania).
Curtea de Arges Monastery
The Monastery of Curtea de Arges was founded between 1512 and 1517, in the time of Voivode Neagoe Basarab. After several renovations, it is now one of the most important places for pilgrimage. The monastery is famous for its gorgeous mural paintings in oil by the French painters F. Nicolle and Ch. Renouard and by the Romanian painter N. Constantinescu.
The Curtea de Arges Monastery is part of an interesting legend, the ‘legend of master Manole.’ Contractors who built the monastery worked hard on it every day, but at night, everything they made fell in ruins. Manole then had a dream that the construction only would survive if he’d built his wife into the walls of the monastery. Nowadays, the exact spot of where this would’ve happened, is marked by a red outline on the walls of the monastery.
Manole’s construction survived and Neagoe Basarab was very pleased with the result. He ordered his servants to take the stairs that took to the roof so that nobody could build a more beautiful church. Manole then fabricated wings to make him fly off but they didn’t work. Legend says a spring appeared on the exact spot he touched the ground. The spring represents Manole’s tears and still exists today.
They call it the real castle of Dracula as this was the place Vlad Dracul visited often. Accessible through 1480 steps, Poenari looks out on the Carpathian Mountains. Back in the day, the hills were so steep this was the perfect place to protect Vlad Dracula from his enemies. Poenari Fortress is located close to Curtea de Arges so technically you could visit it without driving the rest of the Transfăgărășan road.
Read more: A guide to Dracula tourism in Romania
Close to Poenari, you’ll find the Vidraru Lake an dam. Not only is the Vidraru Lake great for a scenic drive, there are also many picnic spot to be found along the route (Do watch out for bears!).
The Vidraru Dam can only be described as HUGE! The dam is 165 meter high and 305 meter long. At the time of building, it was supposed to be the 5th largest dam in Europe.
It also attracts a lot of visitors so be prepared to search for a parking spot for a while. On busy days, people park inside of the tunnel of the dam, making it a tiny bit dangerous to walk or drive there.
Lake Balea & Balea Cascada
Lake Balea is a glacier lake and the highest point of the Transfăgărășan road. In 2006 there was an ice hotel openened next to the lake, which can be visited in winter only. Because the Transfăgărășan is closed from October to April, it can only be reached to a cable cart starting at Balea Cascada (the Balea waterfall). The hotel stays open until it starts to melt, which is usually in April.
Practical information for visiting the Transfăgărășan road
- The road is open whenever the weather permits it. Usually this is between April and October.
- The maximum speed is 40 km per hour, although nobody seems to care about that. Do take care when driving it, the hairpins curves can be tricky! You can drive the Transfăgărășan road in about 3 hours if you don’t stop. However, leisurely drives can take up the whole day or longer.
- You can access the Transfăgărășan road by car, although some daredevils conquer it by bicycle or motorcycle. There are some tours going there. The second time I went, I had The Land of Dracula guiding me to the Poenari Fortress. Although I loved my first trip, which I took with friends, having a guide at the Poenari Fortress, was great for learning a thing or two about the real Dracula.
- Watch out for bears!
- In the mountains, you can hike everywhere you want. Make sure you watch out for slippery soil, high cliffs, bears and sheep dogs.
- The DN7C highway is paved and in good condition. Some roads around the Transfăgărășan road are, however, in very bad condition. Especially when you want to drive to Brasov through the Prahova Valley, there are some gravel roads to conquer. Drive carefully here as the gravel can seriously harm your (rental) car.
- There are several hotels and pensions around the Transfăgărășan road. Although it is possible to drive it in one day, I’d suggest taking it slow by staying the night. You can do so at the famous Pensiunea Balea Sat, which has an amazing view. There are also a lot of cheaper accommodations available: Pensiunea Eden and Vila Balea are just two examples of pensions at the Transfăgărășan road.
The road is also the perfect spot for wedding photos!
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